Removing & Replacing Plaster With Drywall: How To

Historic homes have an old-fashioned charm that homeowners try to preserve as much as possible. But as time passes, various issues will come up that will require fixing.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Fixing a historic home is not as simple as working on a contemporary one. And even if it can be done, it will cost a pretty penny.

That is why these homeowners are often torn between practicality and aesthetics. Should they go for fixes that they can afford but will change aspects of their home? Do they still try their best to retain the look of their home, even if it means going beyond their budget?

One common instance for this dilemma involves the lath and plaster walls typical for such homes. They have a character that cannot be easily replicated by modern means, especially if it has a unique texture. Drywall may be more readily available, but it does not look and feel the same.

Suppose you consider changing it out anyway, knowing how to remove lath & plaster walls & ceilings and replace it with drywall. In that case, it is important before you can make a final decision. Once you know the processes involved, it may be much easier to decide on this aspect.

However, did you know even the ground around your house could be contaminated with lead and could poison someone?

If you’re interested in the cost to replace plaster with drywall, it will typically cost somewhere between $1,020 and $2,800 if you get a pro to do it.

Should I Replace it?

Most historic homes use lath and plaster for the interior. While wood lath is commonly used, some homes also use metal or rock laths.

But whatever material is used, the construction method remains the same. Lath strips are nailed to the timber studs present, which are then covered up by typically three layers of plaster.

It starts with a render layer used for bonding and filling up the gaps between laths. It’s followed by a floating layer that will provide a smooth surface for the third layer. It’s known as the setting layer, where the decorative elements will be placed.

But before you decide whether to replace it, you need to keep these in mind:

Keep it if:

  • You are prepared to get it regularly checked out by a pro and do periodic maintenance if you want to preserve its appearance.
  • You are after its benefits, like soundproofing and better fire resistance. Maybe you want better insulation, among others. The current drywall cannot provide it.
  • You do not want to deal with the mess and hassle of tearing down the walls. It can make your home inhabitable for as long as several weeks.
  • You are willing to spend a minimum of $15 per square foot to professionally install new lath and plaster walls if you plan to expand your home and have a uniform appearance.
  • You have had your home tested for the presence of dangerous heavy metals and asbestos. They are dangerous but common in historic homes, and are clear of it or have gotten them encapsulated.
  • You have curved or irregularly shaped spaces that cannot be easily replicated.

Because replacing will involve a lot of time, money, dust, and debris, the most practical option is to replace it only when necessary. Fortunately, minor issues are repairable and even doable by DIY work.

But if the damages are extensive and may affect the structural integrity of your entire home, sticking with your lath and plaster is bound to be expensive. You need to find a certified contractor who can install this type correctly to avoid any potential issues.

If lead or asbestos is detected, replacing it is recommended if encapsulation is impossible. Encapsulation or replacement is needed if there are any cracks or missing sections and you see some chalking or dust on those areas. Asbestos and lead dust are very dangerous and can cause illnesses that can be fatal to anyone exposed.

It’s important to note that our recommendation is always to use a pro if there is the slightest chance that your home may have lead in it.

How to Remove Plaster on Walls

Before doing the replacement, you must remove plaster on the walls of your home first. This is either to check if the existing lath framework is still in good condition to support the panels that will be installed. It can also get rid of the lath and plaster completely and make way for a new wall.

A teardown of lath and plaster is not as simple as using a hammer to smash everything and remove it. You need to be methodical about it due to the safety risks involved. It ranges from lead and asbestos exposure to having plaster come crashing over your head and so much more.

That is why anyone who will be involved in its removal must always follow basic safety measures and preparations, such as:

  • Wearing safety gear that typically consists of safety goggles and work clothes that can completely cover up the skin. You’ll need the right face mask as well. An asbestos mask will work best, especially one that can also protect the wearer from lead exposure.
  • Removing furnishings present in the room or space where plaster will be removed. If this is not possible, covering them up with plastic sheets may do. Outlet plate covers should also be removed, and the floors and entryways must be covered up to avoid getting damaged and to limit the mess. Floors are best covered by plywood to avoid damage.
  • Switching off the HVAC system and covering up vents and other openings to prevent dust from entering. Avoid the dust being blown off to other parts of your home. Lead and asbestos dust can settle inside these vents without you noticing and can affect your household even long after the work is done. Exposure to them can happen immediately once you switch on your HVAC system.
  • Turning off the power and water supply and identifying the location of any supply lines that may be running along the walls. Their lines may be accidentally damaged and cause even more problems and even injury.
  • Checking blueprints and floor plans to see if the work will compromise the structural integrity of your home. It’s especially important if you are working with load-bearing parts.
  • Only going for the DIY route if you are knowledgeable with home improvement and construction projects. If not, you must let the pros handle the work.

This task is guaranteed to be messy. It will help a lot of garbage cans be present in the workspace. It will make cleanup a lot easier and a dumpster that will hold all the dust and debris generated.

You may also add support to the wall where plaster will be removed, especially if you are unsure of the condition of the framework. This is done by attaching boards measuring 1×2 inches to the perimeter of the wall.

Once safety measures are in place, and the prep works are completed, that is the ‘time to start removing the plaster on the walls. Again, it must be methodically done. It normally follows these steps:

Time needed: 2 hours.

How to Remove Plaster on Walls

  1. Carefully remove the decorative elements you want to preserve

    This includes things such as wood molding and baseboards.

  2. Start working at the center of the topmost section of the wall.

    Using a crowbar or hammer, repeatedly tap the area until a hole is created. You finally see the lath behind the plaster. You may either do this lightly or forcefully, depending on the condition of your wall.

  3. Place the claw end of the crowbar on the hole in the wall

    Drag it downwards to create a tear or gap.

  4. Use this gap as the starting point for plaster removal

    Use a spade, crowbar, or any other tool to separate the plaster from the lath. Make sure to do it horizontally. This allows you to remove the plaster in larger chunks and with less dust created than by repeatedly striking the wall with a hammer.plaster being removed

  5. Continue peeling off the plaster.

    Make sure to do it slowly to prevent accidental damage to the lath. You can use a scraper or putty knife to separate it from the lath for stubborn plaster.

Suppose you prefer installing the panels over the existing lath. It is only possible if the lath framework is still in good condition and shows no signs of rot, which is common to wood laths.

Be sure to inspect the wall after the plaster has been removed. Many homeowners used to leave stuff inside the wall as souvenirs or believe that placing certain objects inside the walls could protect them from harm. You may also be in for nasty surprises. Animals can burrow inside and become trapped. Finding bones of animals in there is quite common.

How to Remove Lath

Lath removal must be done carefully and while still wearing protective gear. The wood used is very brittle due to its very dry state and will easily break apart, and its splinters can cause injuries.

Removal is normally done this way:

  1. Find the timber studs where the laths are attached to. It is better to start working on the end of the lath strips so that they will be removed in one piece. A broken strip is much more difficult to remove than an entirely whole strip.
  2. Using a crowbar or the chiseled end of the hammer, pry one end of a lath strip from the timber stud that it has been nailed to. The nails and laths are easy to remove. You can remove multiple strips on the same side before removing the opposite ends of the same lath strips.
  3. Carefully set each piece of lath aside to avoid stepping on the nails embedded to it.

Removing lath strips is a lot more straightforward than removing plaster. It is still very time-consuming and messy work. Dust and debris may likely settle behind the laths, and these may also contain traces of lead and asbestos.

Only the studs will remain. This will be reused to install drywall. It acts as the base for the drywall panels.

How to Replace It with Drywall

If you replace the lath and plaster with drywall, there are two ways of doing so:

  • Simply installing it over the existing lath after removing the plaster.
  • Complete the removal of the old lath and plaster and replace them with panels of drywall.

Homeowners like you may have a hard time deciding whether to remove the laths or not when replacing them with drywall. But before you decide, here are some things you need to know:

  • Maybe you are only replacing the plaster with drywall. Installing panels over existing laths will not require you to adjust any existing components attached or connected to the walls. It includes things such as window casings and door jambs. But if the laths are removed, the new wall with drywall panel will be deeper than your old one. It requires you to make a lot of adjustments.
  • With laths present, it will be very hard or even impossible to install new wiring and insulation. You are free to do so on drywall.
  • If you install drywall over a lath in poor condition, this can be evident even when covered up.

Whichever way you choose, the installation process is essentially the same. Here is how it is done, with or without the old laths present:

  1. Make sure that the lath strips are completely secured. Inspect each lath strip and nail them back into place if necessary. If there are loose nails, they also must be hammered back. There should not be any nails that are sticking out.
  2. Clear the laths and studs of dust and debris.
  3. Starting from the topmost corner, place a drywall panel horizontally, directly below the ceiling. Make sure that the ends of the panel are located at the center of the studs. It ensures that they will be screwed in properly.
  4. Place drywall screws measuring 2 inches on the ends of the panel. These screws must hit the timber studs, and a 6-inch space should be present between each screw.
  5. After finishing with the first panel, install the next one beside it. If it is done correctly, the ends of the two panels must meet at the center of the stud. Aim to have as little gap between panels as possible. It’s even if you use tape to cover up the gap, it may still be visible even after painting.
  6. It is likely that you will have to cut the last panel to finish a row. To do that, you can simply score the paper face of the panel with a utility knife. Then turn it over and bend it near the scored line for a clean break.
  7. Once the first row is completed, install the next panel directly below the first panel installed. Repeat this entire process until you finish installing the panels on the entire wall.

How Much Does It Cost to Remove Plaster and Hang New Drywall?

DIY work is possible when it comes to plaster removal and installation of drywall. It should only be done by those who are already versed when it comes to construction work. Otherwise, you need to call the pros to do the work for you.

You may be wondering how much it will cost you to remove the plaster and hang new panels in its place. This section will aid you in coming up with a budget for this project. Note that your budget should not be limited to the actual task. You also must consider your prep work and cleanup expenses.

Asbestos and Lead Testing

The plaster and paint used in historic homes may contain asbestos and lead, which are known to be toxic. This is why it is vital to test your home for their presence before anyone can start working on them.

Professional asbestos testing will cost you $500 on average, while professional lead testing is cheaper at $300. If your home is positive for lead and asbestos, this amount will only cover the actual testing and not the necessary fixes.

To cut down on costs, you can opt to purchase asbestos and lead testing kits and do the testing yourself. The process is straightforward, but make sure to follow the instructions completely. It is also advisable to do the test twice per area to get a more accurate result.

Each kit will only allow you to test a handful of times on average. It is typically enough for only one room. Buying asbestos and lead paint testing kits in bulk is recommended, especially if you replace the plaster with drywall in more than one room.

Prep Work

We have already mentioned various preventive measures to protect your home from damage during ongoing work. This means transferring your stuff to another place while work is ongoing or simply covering them up with a plastic sheet and the like. But if you do the latter, you are still at risk of getting your stuff damaged. It’s the case if large chunks of plaster come crashing down.

To save, you can opt to transfer your stuff to other areas of your home that still has space or will be unused. Otherwise, you may have to pay around $500 for movers to place your stuff in temporary storage.

And because removal is guaranteed to be messy, you will also need a container for all the debris produced. Renting a dumpster is ideal because there will be a lot of dust and debris for this project, especially if you are removing it from your home. The cost of renting a dumpster normally ranges from $300 to $400.

Having a historical home may also mean having unique flooring, which you will also want to protect. Unfortunately, plastic sheets may not be enough to protect them from damage. The best way is to place plywood over your flooring. A 4×8 sheet of plywood can cost from $5 to $50, but you can opt for the cheapest one.

On the other hand, tarps and plastic sheeting that you can use as cover can cost between tens to hundreds of dollars. It depends on your preferred thickness and size.

Removal of Plaster

If you go with the DIY route, your only expense for the actual removal job is in terms of the equipment you will use. This covers your safety gear and the tools you will need. Buying the necessary safety gear will cost you around $100 on average. The cost of equipment will depend on what you prefer to use.

Since you don’t need heavy-duty equipment for this task, you don’t have to spend much to purchase the tools. Even $50 may be enough. And if you already have them in your toolbox, you may not even have to buy anything.

If you need to hire a contractor for this task, expect to pay between $300 to $1,600 for the entire plaster removal. Depending on your arrangement with your contractor, the cost may include the prep work and cleanup or just the removal alone.

Hang or Install Drywall

Drywall panels have different sizes, and the cost of each panel will depend on its size and thickness. The size commonly used in residential properties is a 4×8 panel. There are also bigger-sized panels available, namely 4×12 and 4×16. These are more challenging to install for a DIYer, so only professional installers typically use them.

A single 4×8 panel has a minimum price of $9, while the price of the bigger panels starts at $16.

Panels also have varying sizes for specific purposes. A 1/4″ drywall normally used for repairs and overlay costs $11 on average. The 1/2″ sheet best for walls and ceilings is normally priced between $10 to $20. In contrast, the 5/8″ drywall primarily for fireproofing has an average price of $13 per panel.

There are also different types for specific purposes, such as:

  • Standard – $10 to $20
  • Water-resistant – $14 to $25
  • Mold-resistant – $13 to $15
  • Soundproof – $50

Do note that the prices indicated are the cost per panel.

Insulation is also a must. If you are replacing your lath and plaster with drywall, you are installing it for the first time. Expect to spend between $0.75 to $1 per square foot of insulation.

But for a professional installation, you will spend between $1 to $3 per square foot. This normally covers labor, materials, and cleanup.

Cleanup

Cleanup is a must before you can move back into your home unless you are willing to live with all the dust. A single pass of sweeping or vacuuming is not enough to thoroughly rid your home of dust and debris afterward. Because of the health hazards associated with lead and asbestos exposure, you must make sure that all the dust is removed.

If you choose to hire a professional cleanup service, you will typically spend $50 to $85.

Mistakes to Avoid for Owners of Historic Homes

Anyone who owns a historic home knows that preserving its original look and feel can be daunting. Some construction methods and materials may have become hard to come by. You know it can get expensive when you find them.

Making decisions about the lath and plaster of a historic home is one that homeowners find challenging. It’s especially if they see signs of damage or plan to rewire their home and conceal them.

Unfortunately, it is quite common for homeowners to make mistakes when it comes to their historic home, such as:

  • Not considering doing repairs when they see signs of damage. They will immediately think that it is not repairable and look to replace the entire portion.
  • Avoid ignoring the benefits of lath and plaster, such as soundproofing and fire resistance. Maybe they consider the appearance of plaster out of fashion.
  • If planning to eventually put it up for sale, avoid getting rid of the lath and plaster in favor of cheaper materials to renovate the home. You may not realize that the original wall will drive up the selling price.
  • Removing the lath and plaster without checking if it is a load-bearing wall or not, which can put your safety at risk.
  • Hiring the cheapest contractor who claims to know how to plaster. It is considered as an art form and not all contractors can correctly do this task, that is why those who can do so do not come cheap.

Before you start removing it from your historic home in favor of drywall, keep all these in mind. You don’t want to regret your decision, as many other homeowners have experienced.

Should I replace plaster walls with drywall? Is it worth it?

It depends. There are various factors to consider that will determine whether it’s a good idea. We outline those in our article.

Can you drywall over old plaster?

It depends. You may be able to drywall on top of the existing layer. There are many reasons you may not be able to. One of them is mold.

Is it hard to knock down a plaster wall?

Removing it or knocking it down is not hard, but it sure is messy. You’ll want to take a range of precautions to ensure it’s done safely.

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