Repairing Historic Flat Plaster Walls and Ceilings (Part D)

By The Old House Web

The National Park Service recommends retaining historic plaster if at all possible. Plaster is a significant part of the "fabric" of the building. Much of the building's history is documented in the layers of paint and paper found covering old plaster. For buildings with decorative painting, conservation of historic flat plaster is even more important. Consultation with the National Park Service, with State Historic Preservation Officers, local preservation organizations, historic preservation consultants, or with the Association for Preservation Technology is recommended. Where plaster cannot be repaired or conserved using one of the approaches outlined in this Brief, documentation of the layers of wallpaper and paint should be undertaken before removing the historic plaster. This information may be needed to complete a restoration plan.

Reading List

Ashurst, John and Ashurst, Nicola. Practical Building Conservation, English Heritage Technical Handbook, Volume 3. Mortars, Plasters and Renders. New York: Halsted Press, 1988.

Gypsum Construction Handbook. Chicago: United States Gypsum Company, 1986.

Hodgson, Frederick Thomas. Plaster and Plastering: Mortars and Cements, How to Make and How to Use. New York: The Industrial Publication Company, 1901

Jowers, Walter. "Plaster Patching, Part Il." Restoration Primer. New England Builder, November, 1987, pp. 4143.

Leeke, John. "Problems with Plaster, Part One." Landmarks Observer, Vol. 12. March/April, 1985., pp. 10,14. Also "Problems with Plaster, Part Two." Vol. 12., May/June, 1985, p. 12.

Leeke, John. "Saving Irreplaceable Plaster." Old House Journal. Vol. XV, No. 6, November/December, 1987, pp. 5155.

McKee, Harley J., FAIA. Introduction to Early American MasonryStone, Brick, Mortar, and Plaster. New York: National Trust for Historic Preservation and Columbia University. 1973.

Phillips, Morgan. "Adhesives for the Reattachment of Loose Plaster" A.P.T Bulletin, Vol. XII, No. 2, 1980, pp. 3763.

Poore, Patricia. "The Basics of Plaster Repair." Old House Journal, Vol. 16, No. 2, March/April, 1988, pp. 2935.

Shivers, Natalie. Walls and Molding: How to Care for Old and Historic Wood and Plaster. Washington, D.C.: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1989.

Stagg, W. D. and B. Pegg. Plastering: A Craftsman's Encyclopedia. Woodstock, New York: Beekman Publishers, 1976.

Van den Branden, F. and Thomas L. Hartsell. Plastering Skills. Homewood, Illinois: American Technical Publishers, Inc., 1984.

Weaver, Martin. "Nuts and Bolts: Properly Plastered." Canadian Heritage. Aug./Sept., 1981, pp. 3436. Also "Nuts and Bolts: Fixing Plaster." Oct., 1981, pp. 3335.


Preservation Brief 21 was based on an article in Old House Restoration on repairing historic plaster published by the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign, 1984. Kay D. Weeks, Preservation Assistance Division, Technical Preservation Services Branch, expanded the article and made substantial contributions to its development as a Brief. Special thanks go to the technical experts in the field who reviewed and comment upon the draft manuscript: Andrew Ladygo (Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities), David Flaharty, Gilbert Wolf (National Plastering Industries), Michael Kempster, and Walter Jowers. Insightful comments were offered by the Technical Preservation Services Branch which is directed by H. Ward Jandl. Finally, staff member Karen Kummer, Small Homes CouncilBuilding Research Council, University of Illinois, provided invaluable production assistance.

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