Lath and Plaster repair costs

25 Replies

Hi everyone,

I am in the middle of renovating a 1600 square foot rowhome so that I can start renting it out. Having been built in 1890, the walls are all lath and plaster. The house has been vacant for a few years and in that time has suffered some water damage from a leaky roof (we have a brand new roof on it now). The end result is that the vast majority of the walls/ceilings are falling apart and some even have mold underneath. 

Recently, I got a quote from a contractor who is willing to take care of all of the walls and ceilings for approximately $7000. This will include removing the mold, fixing the lath and plaster, and repainting all of the surfaces. He would be fixing up the entire home minus the basement. To those who have experience with older homes like this, does that sound like a fair price? I am new to renovations and do not know what price would make sense for a job of this size. 

Sounds like what you need is to demo the plaster and lathe and then install, finish and paint sheetrock. With the wrecking and new work, not sure if that price is good or not. It's based on how many square feet of area they're going to refurb. I could see it costing that much though.

Definitely get a detailed estimate so you know exactly what they're going to do. Also, there's most likely lead paint on the plaster. Not sure what that means to you, just putting it out there.

I would suggest asking him to itemize the scope of his work.  How much for demolition, how much for the lath repair, and how much for the brown coat, and how much for the finish coat, and how much for painting.  That's assuming he will be doing real plaster repairs, which is not the same as throwing on some sheet rock mud...if he did that it will crack. Also what kind of lath?  Metal lath or rock lath?

Real plaster work is a dying art.  It's really difficult to find someone who can do it well.

You should also get an estimate to take down the lath and plaster and redo it with modern sheetrock.  Which might also give you a window to inspect/improve the electrical and framing of the property.

If this is going to be a rental rather than a flip, I would at least consider lead remediation (depending on the rules in your location) since at that price you are doing such extensive work you might could be lead free. If it's a historic restoration you're planning to sell you might be fine or even better off with "lead safe." In our rentals, we have (recently) started removing and replacing old interior trim if has been painted whenever we have to "touch" it for a remodel. In old buildings, we see trim that was actually not painted until relatively recently but with a multitude of poorly done layers so that it's still more cost effective to remove and replace rather than to adequately prep for new paint. We do leave original varnished trim in place if it has never been painted (even though it could potentially have some lead) because it's just too nice to remove. Mostly in old buildings around here the kitchens and bath trim is where most of the poor condition old paint (likely lead) is found and we usually end up gutting those to modernize anyway. It still hurts a little bit to remove nice old wood and replace it with new wood that is not nearly as nice (but as least it's now harvested sustainably)

@Wesley Edwards

I'm going to second what @Sam Leon  said here. In my area on the other side of the state, you're not going to find competent plaster guys to do work on a non-historical renovation budget. Demoing all the plaster and redoing it in sheetrock, depending on the age of the building and the methods of construction used, tends to have its own special problems, The older the building and the methods used to plaster it, the more difficult it is to do a good job. The usual way that problems like the ones you're describing are fixed is to preserve the plaster where you can and repair the problem areas with 3/8 in. or 1/2 in. sheetrock, plaster washers, wall repair fabric, and joint compound. This is significantly more difficult and expensive to do on ceilings than it is on walls, perversely, plaster ceilings tend to fail more often than plaster walls.

As Sam also pointed out, very often in this business you will meet shady types who will assure you that plaster repair can be accomplished by filling holes in plaster and skim coating large cracked areas with joint compound or straight gypsum plaster, typically sold as "plaster of Paris." That doesn't work over the long haul.

@Wesley Edwards

Devils in the details there.  The $7k actually sounds pretty nice, honestly for all the demo, haul off, prep, and hanging, finishing, and painting work.  However, as others have alluded to - understanding how that breaks down gives you a better chance to manage the work.

Further, at least in our jurisdiction, once you open up walls you open up a whole new can of worms with regards to having to fix any observable issues with your electrical, plumbing systems, etc.  

I’ve unfortunately had a lot of experience patching and doing a hybrid plaster drywall work . Plaster walls are tricky and the stuff cracks if your not careful . Having an old rental with a lot of kids will crack walls so will extreme temperature changes .it can look good and blend out well if you have the skill and patience . That price doesn’t surprise me especially if it’s a lot of square feet

Thank you for all of the quick replies everyone!

It hadn't occurred to me to get an itemized list of the work that he plans on doing. I will ask him about that first thing tomorrow morning. I have read about the trickiness of replacing plaster with sheetrock and it was my understanding that he will not be doing that. I will make sure to confirm this with him. The hope is that he just repairs the existing plaster where possible and re-plasters any areas that require it. I imagine that he will be completely re-plastering the areas that have mold, but again I am no expert here.

I'll add some more details. This is a fully paid-off property that my family owns in Reading, PA. I'd like to hope we could expect some appreciation at some point but I honestly don't think that I can count on that until the city makes some big moves. My main goal is to turn this into a long-term cashflowing rental.

With that in mind, I am trying to keep costs down while still doing the necessary renovations to make the place 100% safe and up-to-code to be used as a rental. After we get the walls and ceilings taken care of I will still need to renovate the bathroom (tub is solid but needs cleaning, needs new sink, vanity, and toilet) and renovate the kitchen (needs all new cabinets, sink, and appliances). Luckily the floors are in good shape so I plan to just thoroughly clean those and call it a day. My hope is to keep the entire project under 15k if I can.

You also make a good point about the potential for lead; I hadn't even considered that. I will have to ask the contractor about that as well. 

@Ricardo L Knight Yes the painting is included in that price. He will be doing all of the mold removal, then fixing the old crumbling plaster jobs (how exactly I'm not sure yet), then painting all of the walls and ceilings. He wants $7000 to do all of those steps.

@Pat L. Haha the tax assessed value of the house is only about 20k; hopefully the renovation doesn't end up costing more than that. I have done the math on renting it out and because the house is paid off I should be able to cash flow about $300-400 a month, and that's after accounting for maintenance, capex, property taxes, utilities, insurance, vacancy, and prop management. The question is how much will this renovation eat into that cashflow. I will most likely be getting a personal loan to cover these 10-15k in repairs; that monthly payment will be coming out of that cashflow.

Our Bldg Inspector here wants all outside walls insulated to 'code' IF you open them up, plus wiring/plumbing etc upgrades. Then he wants the windows updated to full egress esp., the upper bedrooms. So it adds up fast unless you can pull it off quietly.

Good luck ... nice $/door.

Thats nasty stuff to work with. The dust is highly abrasive and toxic to breath, especially if it has horsehair in it and mold. As you get it off the walls and ceilings, you need to get it out of there right away. I wound up having to redo the hardwood floors too after doing this. Then vowed, "NEVER AGAIN".

@Wesley Edwards I'm a lath and plaster contractor here in the Bay Area. Although my market is much different, 7k sounds really cheap to redo an entire home. Sounds fair to me as our prices here in the bay area can range over 13k for that square footage.

@Wesley Edwards

You might look at the option of laying sheetrock (drywall) over existing walls.  I haven't done this and you have to do it carefully, as for instance it requires offsetting your electrical boxes out a bit.  Also, if your plaster is loose your new drywall attachment means may be compromised unless you come up with another solution.  However, based on what you communicated of your budget I'd at least look at the feasibility of this.

Thanks again for all of the great suggestions. @Pat L. Your last post really has me thinking about the state of the house underneath the plaster. I definitely can imagine the contractor finding some kind of issues once he starts tearing into the walls. It is an 1890s house after all. Today I will be calling the contractor to ask him about his method for repairing the walls. What @Jim K. described above sounds like a solid approach; hopefully I can guide him towards that.

I am still leaning towards redoing the plaster as opposed to covering it with drywall. If the job is done right my hope is it will be a better long-term solution. I am not betting on seeing any noticeable appreciation any time soon. That said I am perfectly fine renting it out for years and (hopefully) collecting a little cash flow.

@Wesley Edwards we have always gone over old plaster with 1/4inch drywall. But we nail up 1x3 or 1x4 strapping & we do the mudding ourselves. We have found plaster repairs will reappear like 'wrinkles after the botox wears off' unless you can find a great guy who has the expertise to skim coat.

Good luck....

Actually for what you describe that sounds like a good price.  I paid $1500 a few months ago to do a skim coat on a large room.  And I think it was about 5k for a 700 square foot one bedroom unit with skim coat and repairs needing wire mesh repair as well. Do any electric work before plaster. Do you have grounded outlets? I am not saying rewire but if you need to add them in key areas do so before the wall work.

@Colleen F. Thanks for the insight; I hadn't even considered the outlets. @Pat L. You are right about this budget inflation. I am not at the house right now but from what I remember there are a lot of two prong outlets. I guess I will get a quote from an electrician before I continue dealing with the wall guy.

Pat can you tell me more about your plaster repairs? I have installed drywall in a newer house before but I am not familiar with the strapping concept. 

Good point @Colleen F. makes about the ungrounded outlets. We had to rewire & replace ALL of ours to meet code & get the permits signed off. So we knocked out quite a few holes on the old plaster.

Here's a pic of the strapping applied (its on the ceiling as well) & a couple of the new outlets. Plus finished look

@Pat L. Ah so it is almost like you create a new 'stud' frame on top of the existing plaster and then you attach the drywall to that? Do you nail the strapping all the way through the plaster and lath to the original studs?

@Mike S. Hey sorry for the delay on this. The house is almost done! I ended up giving it a go at doing the plastering myself. I liked the framing idea but in some places like the kitchen it would have required moving the plumbing because it is already very close to the existing wall. 

I watched probably almost a hundred plastering videos and practiced the technique on some extra drywall boards that I had laying around. I got a lot of value from watching the Kirk Giordano plastering channel on youtube. I'd recommend him to anyone who is looking to learn.

You can go room to room and see how my technique improved as I went along lol. It's not perfect but the walls are strong now. I also paid a company to do a mold remediation on the water damaged areas. I still have two more small ceiling patches to do and that part of the job will be finished. 

Once everything is done I'll probably make a new thread and post some pics! After the patching I just have to finish painting and putting on some new doors/hardware and it should be ready to rent. This whole process took a little longer than I had hoped but I definitely learned a lot by doing most of the work myself. Prior to this I honestly knew next to nothing about house upkeep but now I have a pretty good idea of how everything fits together.