Plaster Versus Drywall: Pros & Cons to Consider When Remodeling Your Historic Home

Remodeling a kitchen or bathroom in an older home comes with many rewards and challenges. Whether it’s leaky plumbing, old wiring, water damage, or mold, almost every project contains hidden issues that aren’t discovered until demolition is underway. The original building materials can significantly impact any remodeling project and must be carefully considered before any work begins.

From the 1700s until the 1940s, lath and plaster were the material of choice used for finishing interior walls and ceilings. Homes built before the 1950s likely have some lath and plaster walls unless they were renovated sometime after the 1950s. During the 1950s, pressed gypsum or drywall became the standard for finishing interiors since it was less costly to install.

Pros and Cons of Preserving Plaster Walls During a Bathroom or Kitchen Remodel

Many homeowners are caught between the use of plaster and drywall when remodeling an older home. If you have a home built before the 1950s, some of the walls and ceilings are likely made of plaster. Plaster is traditionally a combination of cement, sand, and water. Expert installers apply the mix in layers on previously placed plasterboard or lath, then wait for it to dry and bond to the surface. Once dry, it is sanded and painted to complete the desired look. 

Because skilled craftsmen apply plaster, it is a higher quality, more expensive material. Plaster walls are more costly than drywall when building a new home. In an older home with plaster walls, it’s often more cost-effective and attractive to keep the plaster rather than replace it.

When remodeling a home with plaster walls, a total gut job may not be required to refresh tired finishes or upgrade plumbing and electrical systems. A contractor can cut selective holes and channels in plaster walls to swap out plumbing and electrical wiring, then fill the holes with plaster or a combination of drywall and plaster.

Reasons for a full or partial gut could include water damage, extensive structural repairs, redoing tilework in kitchens or bathrooms, or moving walls to alter a floor plan.

If your plaster is in good condition, there are several advantages to preserving it:

Durability. Plaster is a strong material, and historic homes are a testament to its durability. Plaster is fire resistant and can provide increased sound insulation in older homes. 

History and Aesthetics. There is a noticeable artistry in plaster that was expertly applied by a skilled craftsman. Removing the original plaster in a historic building can decrease property value. 

Cost. Removing and replacing plaster is labor-intensive, messy, and can drive up the price of a remodeling project.

If you have plaster walls, a professional design team will take a careful look before making recommendations on how to proceed. There can be disadvantages to keeping plaster rather than replacing it with modern drywall.

Some of the disadvantages of plaster include:

Damage from Settling. Old plaster, which is hard and brittle, can start to crack as a house naturally settles. If the settling is substantial or takes place over a long time, chunks of plaster can fall off the underlying lath framework. Severely damaged plaster can be difficult to repair. Damaged areas must be cut and scraped out without damaging the rest of the wall or ceiling. The lath or wire-mesh backing may also need to be replaced.

Matching Old and New Finishes. Matching new sections of plaster with older sections during remodeling projects is costly and time-consuming. If the plaster in adjacent rooms is uneven, sagging, or needs repairs, those defects will be even more pronounced once a kitchen or bathroom remodel is completed. Homeowners are sometimes disappointed when achieving an exact match is not always possible.

Cost. Repairing or replacing damaged plaster is often more labor-intensive than installing new drywall.

The Bottom Line

As long as your plaster is in good condition, it may make sense to leave it alone. Plaster walls are a big part of many older homes’ charm and historical character. If this is true for your home, the best way to preserve them is to regularly inspect them and have any cracks repaired as soon as you notice them.

If you’re planning to gut a bathroom or kitchen for a complete remodeling project, replacing the plaster with drywall may make sense. The best solution is to consult with an experienced remodeler who has experience dealing with older homes. They can help assess your home and guide you to the best choice to meet your needs.

Work With a Family Owned St. Louis Remodeling Company

Selecting a reliable contractor can be challenging. R.A. Guinner Plumbing Company provides complete bathroom and kitchen remodeling services and specializes in guiding clients through every step of the process. When you’re ready to renovate your kitchen or bathroom, we can handle the entire project, from design to demolition to refinishing. 

Our company is family-owned and operated, and we pride ourselves on “top of the line” service. All of our plumbers are licensed, bonded, and insured for your protection. No project is too big or too small for us to handle, and we always hold ourselves to the highest standards to ensure your needs are met and you are completely satisfied with the results. Call us today at 314-752-9850 to discuss your needs.

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