Restoring and Painting Plaster and Lath Walls


  • Most homes prior to the Second World War were built with lath and plaster walls, as opposed to the drywall method more commonly used in today's construction. Thin pieces of cedar (called lath) were nailed onto the 2x4 framing, then wet plaster was applied onto the lath in one to three applications.

    Depending on the quality of the original installation and the maintenance of the home, such lath and plaster walls, may be in good condition. With adequate maintenance, they may be fully serviceable and usable. In some cases, layers of wallpaper were applied on top of the plaster for decorating purposes. Since that wallpaper contributes to the stability of the plaster in some instances, its removal could contribute to the demise of the wall covering.

  • While most of us would agree that drywall has numerous advantages over lath and plaster walls. However, certain wall details, such as coved ceilings, are not easily duplicated with drywall. A few lath and plaster contractors do exist, and are available to restore old plaster walls, repair damage, or create the special acoustical effects associated with plaster surfaces. Such plaster work is relatively expensive. However, with continual maintenance it is not usually necessary.

  • In rooms where most of the plaster is securely attached and damage is restricted to some blemishes and cracks, the following steps will result in a successful job:

    1. Remove all unnecessary hooks, nails, fittings, and loose or broken trim.
    2. Remove and save electrical cover plates and light fixtures.
    3. Using a four inch putty knife lift off any loose pieces of wallpaper and plaster.
    4. Paint the entire wall surface with a pigmented shellac. This pigmented shellac will reduce the moisture damage from patching plaster and other products used in the restoration process. The pigmented shellac is also a very good primer.
    5. Patch any holes or imperfections in the wall surface using a patching plaster or similar compound. Use a latex caulk to patch thin cracks.
    6. Re-prime all patched areas and inspect for any new areas of bubbling or other damage caused by the patching or priming. If wallpaper bubbles appear, cut them out, re-prime, patch and prime the patched area again.
    7. Once all the wall surfaces have been primed, patched, and re-primed as necessary, latex paint may be used for the final paint coat. It may be necessary to use a texturing additive in the paint, or use a texturing coat unde