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When Damaged Plaster Cannot be Repaired
Partial or complete removal may be necessary if plaster is badly damaged, particularly if the damage was caused by long-term moisture problems. Workers undertaking demolition should wear approved masks because the plaster dust that flies into the air may contain decades of coal soot. Lead, from lead based paint, is another danger. Long-sleeved clothing and head-and-eye protection should be worn. Asbestos, used in the mid-twentieth century as an insulating and fireproofing additive, may also be present and recommended precautions should be taken. If plaster in adjacent rooms is still in good condition, walls should not be pounded--a small trowel or pry bar is worked behind the plaster carefully in order to pry loose pieces off the wall.
When the damaged plaster has been removed, the owner must decide whether to replaster over the existing lath or use a different system. This decision should be based in part on the thickness of the original plaster and the condition of the original lath. Economy and time are also valid considerations. It is important to ensure that the wood trim around the windows and doors will have the same "reveal" as before. (The "reveal" is the projection of the wood trim from the surface of the plastered wall). A lath and plaster system that will give this required depth should be selected.
Replastering - Alternative Lath Systems for New Plaster
Replastering old wood lath. When plasterers work with old lath, each lath strip is re-nailed and the chunks of old plaster are cleaned out. Because the old lath is dry, it must be thoroughly soaked before applying the base coats of plaster, or it will warp and buckle; furthermore, because the water is drawn out, the plaster will fail to set properly. As noted earlier, if new metal lath is installed over old wood lath as the base for new plaster, many of these problems can be avoided and the historic lath can be retained. The ceiling should still be sprayed unless a vapor barrier is placed behind the metal lath.
Replastering over new metal lath. An alternative to reusing the old wood lath is to install a different lathing system. Galvanized metal lath is the most expensive, but also the most reliable in terms of longevity, stability, and proper keying. When lathing over open joists, the plasterer should cover the joists with kraft paper or a polyethylene vapor barrier. Three coats of wet plaster are applied consecutively to form a solid, monolithic unit with the lath. The scratch coat keys into the metal lath; the second, or brown, coat bonds to the scratch coat and builds the thickness; the third, or finish coat, consists of lime putty and gauging plaster.
Replastering over new rock lath. It is also possible to use rock lath as a plaster base. Plasterers may need to remove the existing wood lath to maintain the woodwork's reveal. Rock lath is a 16x36-inch, 1/2-inch thick, gypsum-core panel covered with absorbent paper with gypsum crystals in the paper. The crystals in the paper bond the wet plaster and anchor it securely. This type of lath requires two coats of new plaster--the brown coat and the finish coat. The gypsum lath itself takes the place of the first, or scratch, coat of plaster.