I want to repaint my ceiling, but I can’t quite tell what’s going on. Is there a layer of drywall? Plaster?

What should I do if I just want to repaint?



  • Looks old enough to be plaster, but how would we know? You haven't told us anything about the age of the house or its location. – isherwood May 19 at 19:32
  • @isherwood the house was built in 1914. Would the location the house help you? – Jonah Hassenfeld May 19 at 20:02
  • @Jonah Hassenfeld that's a pretty large piece missing from the ceiling. What's behind it? I patched a similar hole in my plaster wall by cleaning out any dust, driving a screw every couple inches, leaving the heads slightly raised so the plaster had something to grip, then filling it with patching plaster/plaster of Paris. Note, drywall compound is not recommended because it shrinks at a different rate than plaster and you'll end up with lots of other cracks around and through it. Btw, nice picture rail; it definitely helps hanging pictures. – Eric Simpson May 20 at 11:01

From the big chunk that is missing I would say plaster, but not the first time as it looks like there is another level under that one. In the 70’s my dad remodeled many Victorians in the SF north Bay Area of CA. Even featured in sunset magazine not sure of the year, we would strip the old woodlath and plaster to the studs and Sheetrock then heavy mud to look like old plaster. The tough ones were from the 30-40’s with expanded metal and mortar but these crack but never drop a section as your photo shows. Filling cracks will give some time but it will crack again unless not reenforced with mesh paper tape won’t last as well in my experience. Depending on the area I have found 3 types of studs from your era, Redwood , no rot and easy to rip and strip old plaster, Fir mid level nails pull out most of the time but break off close to the coast, not two bad, Oak framing , this is just about impossible to pull a old nail or drive a new one or screw without a pilot hole being drilled first. They each have pros and cons and depending on the zone the home was built can be great advantages at this age, if 2 layers there ways to fill the hole but cracks will come back from what I have seen unless structural and multi layer problems are repaired.

  • Would you give more detail on the mesh reinforcement you mentioned and specific repair steps? My 1929 house in the central US has oak, and possibly pine, framing with plaster throughout. I don't know if it's the 2 layers your describe but the plaster is about 3/4" thick, mostly a scratch coat and a thin finish coat. I have the same ceiling cracks, mostly caused by walking around the attic during a rewire, air seal, and insulate job. – Eric Simpson May 20 at 10:52
  • The mesh that I am referring to is what is used by some for drywall it holds the mud better than paper tape for this kind of repair, I would put some screws in the void to give your fresh plaster or mud something to hold onto if using Sheetrock mud use the fast setting type it doesn’t shrink as much as normal mud and you can put several layers up in a couple of hours. For cracks I have found if you don’t put mesh or tape over the crack and feather it out the crack keeps coming back, but once covered I have had it last without recracking over 20 years. (Never lived any place longer than that). – Ed Beal May 20 at 13:38

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