Restoration Guide: Finish Walls and Ceilings

Shannon Lee

Editor's Note: This is article 5 of 6 in Chapter 5: The Partitions, Ceilings, Walls, Stairs Guide of Old House Web Restoration Guide. This guide was developed and edited for old homes from original materials in the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Rehab Guide.


Section 1--Restoration and Preservation of Plaster and Drywall

Plaster and gypsum board, otherwise known as drywall or sheetrock, have been two of the most common wall and ceiling materials for decades. The damage to most plaster ceilings and walls comes from the breaking of the plaster "keys" that attach the plaster to the wood lath that supports it. Damage to drywall often results from the simple wear and tear of age, but can also be caused by structural problems or excessive moisture.

In many cases, old house preservation with finish wall and ceiling materials is done by patching the damaged area with like materials. More extensive issues might require replacement of the original materials. It is always best to start with what can be salvaged and take your home restoration from there.

  1. Refastening plaster. Plaster can be difficult to repair, especially if it has pulled away from its base. Stabilizing the plaster with metal washers or opting for professional repair with an adhesive system are both good options.
  2. Refastening drywall. Drywall can be refastened to studs or joists with nails and screws, as long as the drywall is not severely damaged or crumbling.
  3. Repairing plaster cracks or holes. Small cracks and holes in plaster can be easily repaired with patching plaster or drywall compound.
  4. Repairing small issues with drywall. Simple joint compound, a taping knife, and good sandpaper are all you need to repair minor dents, cuts, gouges, and the like in drywall.
  5. Repairing medium-sized holes. Using fiberglass mesh tape, criss-cross two or three strips across the damaged area. Use joint compound over the tape, smoothing it down with the taping knife.
  6. Repairing larger holes. Use the same method as with medium holes, but be prepared to add more layers of joint compound if necessary to make the final result uniformly smooth.
  7. Repairing torn drywall paper. To get a smooth surface, remove the torn paper and replace it with a coat or two of joint compound. Let it dry, then sand it smooth.
  8. Using a gypsum repair kit. Repair kits are available to help with larger holes. The kits include clips to hold new pieces of drywall in place while you are working on the repair.
  9. Extensive drywall repair. Moisture damage to large areas of drywall should be handled with replacement rather than restoration.
  10. New drywall. If over half of a plaster wall needs repair, simply laminating the area with drywall might be your best bet for replacement.
  11. Fiberglass mats. Fiberglass mesh fabric rolls are available that can effectively cover damaged areas and leave a ceiling or wall ready for painting.
  12. Replacing damaged walls. When replacing drywall that has suffered abuse, wear and tear from heavy traffic, or moisture damage, consider new products that are designed to combat those factors.
  13. Corner bead and joint compounds. Fast-set compounds on the market today cut the time you spend working on the drywall, and increase the ease of installation and restoration.
  14. New taping tools. New products that handle both fiberglass mesh tape and joint compound can make repair of large holes and other damaged areas much easier.

Section 2--Painting and Wallpapering

Paint is the most common finish for walls. Paint is available in oil-based and water-based varieties, both of which have their advantages and drawbacks. When working with an old house, take precautions where lead-based paint might be present.

Wallpaper provides an easy, fast change in the look of a home. Traditionally made of paper and applied with an adhesive, newer wall coverings are vinyl and come pre-pasted, requiring only water and a sponge for installation.

  1. Stains on painted walls. Try simple soap and water to remove stains. Chemicals can be used to reduce or remove stains, but some stains will require a repainting of the area.
  2. Cleaning wallpaper. Some wallpapers are not meant to be washed, and can only be dusted lightly with a dry cloth. Washable paper or scrubbable vinyl can make a cleanup job much easier.
  3. Repairing wall coverings. Seam adhesives work well to repair wallpaper, and vinyl patching can be easily completed with a matching piece.
  4. Removing wallpaper. Commercial strippers usually work well for removing wallpaper. If the wallpaper has been painted, a scoring tool can help.

Section 3--Trim and Moldings

Trim and moldings are usually decorative, but can also be quite practical, such as molded chair rails that protect plaster walls from chairs and furniture. In most cases, molding and trim is easy to repair.

  1. Repairing trim. Patching compound is a simple method for repairing trim. Damaged pieces can be replaced with trim of a similar style.
  2. Patching trim. If the trim is severely damaged in one area, patching it with matching trim might be your best bet. Cut out the damaged trim, and then cut a piece that seamlessly replaces the old trim.

If your trim has suffered more serious damage or if you cannot find matching trim, it might be necessary to replace it entirely.

About the Author

Shannon Dauphin is a freelance writer based near Nashville, Tennessee. Her house was built in 1901, so home repair and renovation have become her hobbies.

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