Tips For Avoiding Cracked Plaster

24 February 2016
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Keeping your plaster walls looking their best requires good practices when it comes to caring for the walls. Plaster walls differ from drywall or sheetrock in that the walls are covered in a thin, cement-like substance that becomes durable and rock hard once dried. Any texturing is added at the time the walls are built, and then they are painted the desired color. The result is durable and resistant to damage, although cracks can occur. The following tips will help you keep the plaster in good condition.

Tip #1: Improper Hanging

Since plaster is harder than drywall, it's unlikely that you can insert a thumbtack or other narrow hanging device into the wall. Most homeowners use nails to hang pictures and artwork. Unfortunately, hammering a nail into the plaster often results in a spiderweb of cracks forming around the nail hole. If you must use nails, perhaps for heavy items, use nails made for hanging items on plaster walls. These are available from hardware stores and from picture framing stores. Place a piece of masking tape over the location and then drive the nail in through the tape – the tape helps prevent the plaster from flaking and you can remove it afterward. You can also drill a small starter hole first, which can minimize cracking. When possible, use adhesive backed hooks instead of nails to hang items.

Tip #2: Manage the Weight

Ceiling cracks often occur around light fixtures. This is because the fixture is too heavy for the plaster to support properly. Make sure fixtures are bolted onto a ceiling joist, which will take most of the weight and protect the plaster. If a joist isn't in the location, then span a board between two joists so it crosses over the hanging location. Bolt the board to the joists, and then attach the fixture to the board. You can use a similar method when mounting fixtures to walls by spanning a board between two wall studs.

Tip #3: Watch for Settling

Settling is a major cause of cracks, especially in new construction. Your first task is to make sure it isn't a major problem with the structure. Check the foundation for cracks, as well as verify that windows and doorways are still level and working properly. If not, you will need foundation repairs.

If the foundation checks out, your best option is to repair the cracks. Don't simply try to spackle over them with plaster or drywall mud – the cracks will simply reappear. A professional repair will use fine mesh or a mesh tape to patch over the cracks first. Then, fresh plaster will be applied in thin layers, with matching texturing added to the final layers. Wider cracks may first require a filler material. If you are concerned that the cracks will reappear, bring in a plaster specialist to assess the situation and make the repairs.

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