Published on November 20th, 2012 | by Henri


Smoothing an old plaster ceiling

Q.      I recently read your reply to a reader who asked about having Sheetrock screwed into his old house ceilings to cover cracks and other blemishes. I have an old house (over 200 years old) and have the same problem. Would it not be preferable to apply a thin coat of plaster over the existing surface, thus giving a smooth finish without losing much ceiling height? This is important to me as my downstairs ceilings are 84” and upstairs are 78”. I think this process is called skim-coating. Would it be practical for a reasonably handy novice to undertake such a project?

A.      It is possible to skim-coat over old plaster but only if the substrate is sound. This is often not the case. In old houses, plaster is usually found on cedar lath that is split and spread to receive the keys of the plaster. The keys are often what fails, causing the plaster to crack and become loose. Adding the weight of a skim-coat is likely to bring the whole thing down.

As to whether or not a reasonably handy novice can do skim-coating, be aware that it is very difficult to work overhead and get the smooth finish that is desired. There are times in life when it is best to hire an experienced drywall or plaster contractor to do a professional job.

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