Old house's hair-plaster walls need a face-lift

Resident Expert

Q We have an 1840s-era home with lath-and-plaster walls that were originally mixed with goat hair. What is an effective way for us to remove wallpaper to repaper or repaint the walls without damaging the plaster surface? What are the relative merits of either painting or repapering?

- P.C., Bass River, Mass.

A The condition of your plaster is key to the decision whether to paper or paint, says Howard Clark, a licensed construction supervisor based in Hopkinton, Mass.

Patching small blemishes is best done with lightweight spackle or topping joint compound. Deep holes are best tackled with a setting-type compound and mesh patches. Patching cracks is an art unto itself, requiring careful chipping, mesh tape, and layers of repairs.

Little can be done with badly damaged "hair" plaster, and any patch the size of your fist or larger will show through new paint, since the new material is fresh and porous and will accept paint differently than the surrounding surface.

Before you embark on stripping, look for areas of plaster that may have come loose from the lath (the plaster has "lost its clench"), or visible settlement cracks. A defensive approach may be needed in those areas. Until you've got the patience and pocketbook for messy, invasive repairs, removing loose coverings, doing a quick spackling, and then re-covering all the old wallpaper with new paper may suffice.

If you have lots of paper to remove, a garden sprayer is a worthwhile investment. Mix up the paper remover following container instructions, but in gallon quantities.

Using painters' masking tape, attach plastic sheeting to the baseboard and spread it over the floor. This way you can towel up excess remover and scoop up wet paper before you soak the carpet or stain hardwood floors.

Mist the walls several times before you begin scraping. If you've got many, many layers to remove, you must lightly score the surface with a utility knife so the remover can better penetrate. Once the walls are scraped, thoroughly wash off all of the paste residue before patching, painting, or resizing, and then allow the walls to dry thoroughly.

Older walls are best covered with flat paints and nonglossy wall coverings, as this will better hide imperfections.

Readers: Pose your questions and we'll seek out experts on home repairs, gardens, food, and family legal issues. Send queries to the Homefront Editor, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail home@csps.com

Compiled by Joshua S. Burek and Stephen Humphries

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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