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Old 08-10-2009, 12:14 AM   #1
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Best Way to Smooth Out Ceiling Damage


Hi Everyone:

Recently, my wife and I purchased a relatively old (build in 1915-1920) two family house. As you can imagine, it needs quite a bit of work inside and out, but one of the first things we want to tackle are ceilings, walls and floors for the rooms that we don't want to change the layout of. In looking at the ceiling in the living room, we can notice some (somewhat) minor damage to the ceiling. From what the seller's agent told us (the original owner was deceased and as a result, couldn't provide too much information), it was likely caused when a neighboring home caught fire some time back and the fire department caused some water damage extinguishing the flames next door. Older homes here have a flat roofs, so this could be a possibility.

In any event, the roof itself is just smooth, and there are some stress marks (not quite cracks) that make the ceiling appear uneven. I have a picture attached below:



So, with these sort if marks, what's the best way to repair it? I'm a total newbie to home repair, so sorry if these questions are not correctly phrased, but is there some sort of compound that I could use to fill or sand the ceiling smooth? Should I screw in new drywall on top of it (that seems like overkill)?

Any ideas?

Many thanks,
Captain Chaos

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Old 08-10-2009, 05:01 AM   #2
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Best Way to Smooth Out Ceiling Damage


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Originally Posted by CaptChaos View Post
..........but is there some sort of compound that I could use to fill or sand the ceiling smooth? Should I screw in new drywall on top of it ?
Captain, Welcome to the forum. Thanks for posting the pic

As I see it there are only two options:
  1. Pull down the ceiling & sheet rock
  2. Sheet rock over existing plaster

My concern would be the structural integrity of the existing lath. One thing you can do now is with a drywall saw (e.g. see Link below) make a small ~ 6' square hole in the ceiling plaster and through the lath, then get a local Plasterer to come in for an opinion. A thin top coat of new plaster is not an option I would take.

http://www.lowes.com/lowes/lkn?actio...294-51834-8052
.

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Last edited by PaliBob; 08-10-2009 at 05:04 AM. Reason: sp
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Old 08-10-2009, 05:23 AM   #3
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Best Way to Smooth Out Ceiling Damage


PaliBob:

Thanks for the welcome and the response.

  1. I'm willing to be patient and take my time, but I'm not experienced in this sort of thing -- how complicated of a job do you think this is?
  2. If too complicated for a DIYer, any idea what it would cost? The room in question is just under 160 sq ft.

Thanks,
Capt. Chaos
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Old 08-10-2009, 05:28 AM   #4
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Best Way to Smooth Out Ceiling Damage


Doing a bit more research with the options that PaliBob found above, I also found this link:

This Old House: How to Repair a Plaster Ceiling

Could repairing it like this be a valid option?

Thanks,
Capt. Chaos
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Old 08-10-2009, 06:59 AM   #5
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Best Way to Smooth Out Ceiling Damage


I would guess that from the age of the ceiling, that it is wood lath covered with plaster. Often this would be horsehair plaster that wasn't exceptionally strong to begin with. Many times these ceilings were wall papered and latter painted over. As the building flexes and vibrates the old plaster crumbles under the now very brittle layer of paper. After a while, cracks start to show up like your pictures show. I've seen guys try to smooth these out and end up with have large sections just falling off of the wood lath. Bob has the best ideas. Go over the whole thing with 1/4 drywall or tear it out and replace it. If you do get it smoothed out, it will crack again. Tearing it out will give you the opportunity to rewire and insulate, which is probably something you should consider anyway. welcome to the world of old houses.
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Old 08-10-2009, 08:39 AM   #6
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Best Way to Smooth Out Ceiling Damage


Chaos, do you have access to the attic? My first recomendation would be to go in the attic and look at what you have above. Since you said there was a fire a while back, look for water damage. Maybe when they had the fire all they did was repaint to get rid of any water stains. If no attic, go with the whole idea above so you can see whats up there. However, try to do it in an area that is not too bad. That way you can see what you are dealing with before you making hole in a bad area, and getting in over your head before you even start.
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Old 08-10-2009, 03:06 PM   #7
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Best Way to Smooth Out Ceiling Damage


Pulling down a lathe and plaster ceiling is a really dirty and dusty job, but I would usually do it in preference to overboarding.
Lathe and plaster can fail for a number of reasons. Damp can rot the nails fixing the lathes to the joists or even rot the lathes themselves. If the lathes were spaced too close or too far apart the plaster can easily lose its key. Too much weight in the loft can also do it.
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Old 08-10-2009, 04:24 PM   #8
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Best Way to Smooth Out Ceiling Damage


Capt, I'd have to agree with Bob & stuart that it's either the lathe slowing failing, or more likely the keys of the plaster breaking off & loosing a good connection with the lathe. I'd personally tear it out & re-insulate/replace the wiring. Although, if you decide to use 1/4" sheet rock over it, MAKE SURE you find the ceiling joists & scure directly to them, as the lathe alone probably cant take any more weight.

If neither is do-able at the present time, I'd leave it alone for a few years. Trying to feather over the entire ceiling will be nothing more than asthetic, & the cracks will undoubtedy return in time.
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Old 08-10-2009, 05:48 PM   #9
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Is this the ceiling that has water damage? It depends on how much work you want to do as to which way to go. With a plaster and lath, not lathe (metal or wood turning machine), ceiling as bad as yours, you need some background first. http://www.nps.gov/history/hps/tps/briefs/brief21.htm

The best site I've found on how to repair plaster cracks: http://www.plaster-wall-ceiling-solu...questions.html

Be safe, G
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Old 08-10-2009, 05:57 PM   #10
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Best Way to Smooth Out Ceiling Damage


160 sq. ft. is about 5-6 sheets of drywall.
In philly which isnt to far from you my drywall guys charge me about $20 a sheet to hang and finish. After buying all the materials / interesting cuts(like that plaster ring) it will be around $35 a sheet . Your looking at around $200-$250 to get it done.
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Old 08-10-2009, 06:28 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CaptChaos View Post
This Old House: How to Repair a Plaster Ceiling
Could repairing it like this be a valid option?.........
Tommy is my hero. I think he can do anything but like all the Flipper TV Shows most jobs are more involved than represented. In Tommy's case his repair was only along a single crack line. With all the unknowns with your ceiling I agree that the best coarse is to pull down the lid
Quote:
stuart45.....:but I would usually do it in preference to overboarding....
Quote:
jomama45.....I'd personally tear it out & re-insulate/replace the wiring.....
The Advantages of a tear out would be:

1) You can do all the demo yourself
  • Rent a dumpster
  • Protect the floor with an old carpet or cardboard
  • Tape the doorways and HVAC openings with plastic sheeting
  • You already have a helper. She can be the boss
  • Use a dust mask and eye protection
  • Pull down the Plaster and all the lath
  • Post a Pic

2) Inspection
  • Check for any visible problems e.g. decay or fire.

3) Wiring
  • At least some of the house over time has been partially rewired
  • You probably still have some original K&T wiring or rigid conduit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knob_and_tube_wiring
  • Now is the time to upgrade, put in recessed cans, add circuits
  • The DIY Electrical forum can give good advice in this area

4) Insulation
  • With a flat roof there may be NO insulation
  • Now is the time to add it

5) New Drywall
  • Don't be afraid to tackle this, At the most you may need to get an additional helper. This forum can help with details and with the Atta-Boys.
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Last edited by PaliBob; 08-10-2009 at 06:29 PM. Reason: sp
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Old 08-10-2009, 06:48 PM   #12
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You COULD go over the top with a layer of drywall. I would recommend 1/2" drywall at least, 5/8" would help span the inconsistencies better without "telegraphing" through. Be sure to use plenty of proper length screws (penetrating through plaster, lath, and into joists at least 1") and adhesive. It would save the mess of total demolition, but if YOU are at all concerned with the structural integrity if the existing ceiling (either through your own inspection or a pro's recommendation) I'd tear it out and replace it.....
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Old 08-10-2009, 11:54 PM   #13
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Best Way to Smooth Out Ceiling Damage


Hi Everyone:

Thanks very much for all of your thoughts and advice. Sounds like handling this myself is reasonable, and will have some other benefits such as being able to install recessed lights (definitely want to do) and check out wiring and insulation.

This job might even be easier because the carpet in here is pretty low, quality-wise (I think it was installed just to sell the place -- our real goal is to refinish the hardwood underneath but we want to take care of the ceiling, etc. first). Obviously we will still want to cover the floor, but it is a much smaller concern if there were to be any damange. And my "supervisor" is already demanding a detailed plan before work starts.

I am going to do some more research and post here with questions and (once work starts) pictures of the project.

Thanks again, I can already tell I'll be on this forum more and more in the future.
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Old 08-10-2009, 11:58 PM   #14
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Best Way to Smooth Out Ceiling Damage


Hi BJB:

I had two home inspections during the purchase phase, and neither one thought that this was an immediate concern (should largely be cosmetic) but I'm still curious how accurate that assessment was, given limited access to the roof. In any event, I don't believe there are huge structural concerns based on the fact that a similar portion of the roof in an adjoining room has no signs of damage. I'm going to do some more analysis to see if there appears to be evidence of replacing the ceiling in that room.

-Captain Chaos

Quote:
Originally Posted by bjbatlanta View Post
You COULD go over the top with a layer of drywall. I would recommend 1/2" drywall at least, 5/8" would help span the inconsistencies better without "telegraphing" through. Be sure to use plenty of proper length screws (penetrating through plaster, lath, and into joists at least 1") and adhesive. It would save the mess of total demolition, but if YOU are at all concerned with the structural integrity if the existing ceiling (either through your own inspection or a pro's recommendation) I'd tear it out and replace it.....
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Old 08-11-2009, 12:10 AM   #15
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Best Way to Smooth Out Ceiling Damage


I am pretty sure the wiring was redone in most of the house to rigid conduit -- I see some coils threaded outside the walls, that look similar to this picture from wikipedia (these aren't from my house):

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedi.../Coils_law.jpg




Quote:
Originally Posted by PaliBob View Post

3) Wiring
  • At least some of the house over time has been partially rewired
  • You probably still have some original K&T wiring or rigid conduit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knob_and_tube_wiring
  • Now is the time to upgrade, put in recessed cans, add circuits
  • The DIY Electrical forum can give good advice in this area

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