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I have an old 1920's house in the Chicago area with many lath-and-plaster walls and ceilings. We are going to be removing a whole-house fan, which will leave a 3' square opening that will need to be patched. There are also a few other spots, such as the area around the thermostat and some electrical boxes that need to be filled.

How important is it that I find someone who is skilled at plaster repair? Is it something a typical handyman or painter can handle, or do I need to find a specialist?

Also, I've seen several contractors who specialize in plaster and stucco; are they similar skill sets? Should I assume that someone skilled at stucco work is also skilled at plaster work?

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Should I assume that someone skilled at stucco work is also skilled at plaster work?

No you should not!

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While this doesn't answer all of the questions, this answer from shirlock homes to a related question says:

If you have failing plaster and lathe interior walls, the process is a bit more complicated than just troweling on some new top coat plaster. The scratch coat, or first coat that bonds with "keys" through the lathe. When these keys fail or break off behind the lathe, portions of the plaster will become loose and often fall off the wall. The correct fix is to remove all the compromised material exposing the lathe and apply a new scratch coat creating new keys between and behind the lathes. After that coat cures, then the finish coat is applied. The materials used are completely different for each step. Although it is not a very difficult job, like anything else that is very visible, the quality of the bond and finish are important to the structural soundness and visual appeal.

True plastering is becoming a lost art in a world dominated by sheetrock. Plastering is one of those jobs that takes a long time and lots of practice to become proficient at. I certainly wouldn't discourage you from trying, but don't expect perfection on your first attempt. Even though the finish coat is what you see, pay special attention to the scratch coat as that is what holds the surface to the lathe. If the scratch coat fails, a perfect finish coat is worthless. If your project is fairly small, go for it, but if you are looking at a whole room or rooms, it might be worth your time to get an estimate from a pro. With all the time and money you will spend doing a large project yourself and suffering through the learning curve, you may decide your time is better spent on doing something else.

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The small holes you speak of only need a small piece sheetrock installed in it, then taped and spackled. Any other small hole can be treated pretty much the same way. The plaster coat is typically 3/8" thick over the wood lath and 3/8" thick sheetrock is available at any building supply store, probably available in 2'X2' pieces, so you don't need to buy a whole sheet to do just a small hole. Your neiborhood drywall guy can fix this, but you can find a reputable painter that will do this type of small repair as part of their scope of work while they are painting the room. At least the painters we had, would do so.

  • But wouldn't replacing a 3ft square section of plaster with drywall leave a noticeable difference in appearance in the repaired section? – glenviewjeff Sep 8 '15 at 18:50
  • If attention is paid to detail. When the plaster is removed, the thickness of the base and white coat will be obvious. Drywall is also available in 1/4" thickness too. If needed, it is better to go thinner, then the low spots adjacent to the thicker plaster can be built up. If your plaster has a rough surface to begin with, as I have seen houses that had rough as in peeled, painted over painted surfaces, or other repairs that may not have been blended in very well, yes it will be noticeable. If the surface is smooth, the repair will be invisible if the guy who does it, knows what he is doing. – Jack Sep 9 '15 at 0:58

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