How to Keep Your Plaster-Walled Home in Good Repair

One of the most common problems with older homes is the development of cracks and holes in plaster walls and ceilings. Usually, the cracks aren’t indications of any more serious structural problems, but are unsightly at least and, at worst, can spread and worsen until the problem becomes so serious that it requires professional attention.

The best thing you can do to keep your plaster-walled home in good repair is stay on top of the little cracks and holes by spot-filling them as soon as they develop.

And use a bit of homeowner foresight, too. Be careful with tools, furniture and appliances around your plaster walls. An ill-fitting window air conditioner can leak profusely into your plaster without a hint of a problem, until the plaster becomes saturated and starts to crumble, literally before your eyes!

If you own a plaster-walled home, you should always keep a few supplies on hand for emergency repairs, including:

– spackling compound, pre-mixed paste or water-soluble powder

– a flexible metal putty knife, with the blade about three inches wide

– a metal plaster trowel to smooth the repair compound

– a chisel to hack away old plaster when necessary, and

– sandpaper, preferably fine-grit.

It’s always a good idea to keep a few clean paintbrushes on hand, too. You’ll always use at least one clean pail as well.

The two key ingredients that only you can supply to your plaster-repair project are patience and care. It’s not difficult, but can’t be rushed. Like painting, plastering requires a fairly methodical approach that, if violated, will produce flaking and peeling, and yet another do-over.

So save yourself time and trouble by doing it right the first time! Here’s how to fix a typical crack or hole:

1. Prepare your mixture. Follow the directions on the package. Pre-mixed spackling compound and pastes are available at most hardware stores, and are much easier to use and less messy than water-soluble powders.

2. Begin by widening the crack or hole. What you want to do is make a repair that essentially bonds the new plaster to the old, to produce a seamless and smooth wall. That means you’ll need to fuse the new with the old, from the inside out.

3. Using your chisel and a clean, dry paintbrush, chip carefully at the crack or hole and immediately brush away dust and debris. Think of the opening you’re creating as an inverted pyramid. You want it to be wider at the bottom, nearer the lathe, than at the top. That way, the base of the plaster repair is wide and strong.

4. When you’re satisfied that all of the broken plaster has been removed, wet your paintbrush in your pail of clean water, and saturate the repair area.

5. Use your putty knife to scoop out a wad of spackling compound or whatever repair mixture you’ve chosen. Press the stuff deep into the opening, repeatedly, until the opening is filled.

6. If you are repairing a large hole, you might need to make the repair in two batches. If so, you have to allow the first batch to dry completely before beginning the second patch. A metal trowel is handy for these bigger jobs.

7. Spackling compound will shrink as it dries. You want to leave no air pockets or bubbles, so press down hard, moving your putty knife up, down, back and forth as you probe for a tight, solid seal. It’s best to overfill, then use your putty knife to scrape the excess off.

8. Take your sandpaper and gently sand the new plaster patch entirely, making sure the repair is completely smooth and there are no ridges or bumps where the new patch meets the old wall.

9. Check carefully as the plaster is drying. To ensure a smooth bond, wet the area slightly and press down on the trowel to smooth the damp patch to the wall.

10. When the area is completely dry and you’re satisfied with the repair, simply paint or wallpaper to match the old wall. If you’ve been careful about your process, you’ll be enjoying your fabulous plaster walls for many years to come!

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