I'd like to refurbish the space underneath my stairs, unfortunately I neither recognise the materials that are currently there, nor know if I should replace them with something similar.

So, as shown in the photos:

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Should i look to take all of the wood and the plaster board (?) down, and replace it or can i just strip the boarding and replace that, leaving the wood in place?

Secondly, what is the best material for using in this type of space?

  • It's not worth repairing the plaster there. If it were me, I'd remove it all to make it easier. Trying to knock the remaining plaster free of the lath will likely break several lath boards anyway. Then replace it with drywall. I removed nearly all the plaster and lath from my house when I gutted it to the studs. Oddly, the only place I didn't were a couple ceilings I covered in drywall and a closet under the stairs like your's but the plaster was in pretty good shape.
    – topshot
    Sep 18 '16 at 23:19

This is just standard lath & plaster, which was the classy, professional way to finish walls until after WWII. Prior to that, gypsum board (sheetrock) was considered to be substandard and "cheap." I wouldn't necessarily bother taking this all down, although you certainly can gut it down to the studs.

If you can identify where the studs are, and use screws, not nails, you could fasten sheetrock straight down on top of this and you'd be fine.

On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with a lath and plaster wall. In fact it's thicker and stronger than a sheetrock-finished wall. So if you could just repair the plaster, that might be another good way to go.

  • The studs are the wooden slats?
    – Benjamin
    Sep 18 '16 at 19:05
  • @Benjamin No, the slats (lath) are fastened across the studs to provide a strong substrate for the plaster. The studs are the vertical boards, probably 2x4's or 2x6's, that form the basic structure of the wall and the vertical load-bearing ability for outside walls or internal load-bearing walls. The plaster itself, incidentally, was often a concrete mixture and in a lot of cases you would also see a wire mesh attached to the lath for additional adhesion and strength. Either way, rough on saw blades if you go around cutting holes in it. Sep 18 '16 at 19:06
  • If you're going to fasten sheetrock over the top of this, I'd be sure to drive the screws into studs, not into the lath. Sep 18 '16 at 19:09

Please read: Mesothelioma Cancer

While I usually recommend repairing, over removal, in your case, it does not appear to be worth saving. Also, there are possible precautions/risks involved, that warrant proper diligence, to ensure that you're health, and that of your family is secured.

Don't just start ripping it out, without taking the proper steps, to identify and contain any hazards. Your plaster may not contain asbestos, but unless you know for sure, you should treat it as though it does.

Outside of that - drywall it - it's under the stairs, and out of sight.

  • That's a good point about the possibility of asbestos. Sep 20 '16 at 14:52

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