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How to Remove Plaster and Lathe

August 16, 2011


Believe it or not, there’s a system to removing plaster and lathe from old walls and ceilings. Oh, sure, you could simply get your hammer or crowbar and start blasting away. But plaster and lathe demolition is horribly, horribly dirty. Horribly. You think you have the furniture in the next room protected with plastic sheeting? Ha ha ha! Get your duster ready. We live in our house as we wreck it room by room, and try to be very careful with our demolition. And even after all our sealing the heat vents, duct-taping doors and boxes with plastic sheeting, and gearing up in heavy clothing and bandannas, we still walk out of the room at the end of that day caked in dust.  The stuff is just so pervasive.

Plaster Removal UGH

Even so, there IS a way to reduce the mess. My methods are tried and true. 😀 Someone may have a better method (I’ve yet to see it) but this works, so far, for us.

1. Remove all the plaster FIRST. Then remove the lathe.

If you remove the plaster and lathe on one wall all at once, you’ll wind up with a big, dangerous mess. Lathe will be everywhere with plaster sections collapsed all around it. And since lathe contains nails — if your home is old, the nails will be old and rusty — the material is serious safety hazard. It’s best to first remove the plaster and shovel up the debris, THEN remove the lathe and pick up the wood.

Its Pink

By the way, YES, that IS a salmon pink ceiling. It was underneath a drop ceiling we removed. The trim in this room had once been mustard yellow....


2. Start small. then work in “sheets.”

You only need to create a small hole at first, and then a narrow strip. I always begin in the center of a wall, so I can have two people removing plaster from each side.

I start by pounding a hole in the center of the wall with a hammer. Then, I chip a long, narrow strip from the ceiling to the floor.

Wiring 2

3. Use a spade to cut off large sheets of plaster from the lathe.

Don’t use a crowbar or hammer to remove the plaster from the lathe. You’ll wind up with a mushroom cloud of plaster dust over your home! A spade is a small shovel with a flat blade. By the way, DON’T use a typical shovel for removing plaster, either. The rounded end, so perfect for digging holes, will only shear off a tiny portion of the plaster. It’s not worth all that effort.

My spade is very short, about 3 feet high. It has a grippy-type handle, and it’s perfect for removing large sections of plaster quickly and easily. Insert the end of the spade into the narrow strip of plaster you’d made with the crowbar. If the plaster is really sticking to the lathe behind it, you’ll need to ram the spade in. Now chisel the spade in between the plaster and lathe, to separate the plaster from the lathe. You may need to gently push up on the plaster with the spade, to force the plaster to break away from the lathe but not break off. The plaster will fall off in large sheets and the work will go much more quickly.

4. Keep the room tidy.

That sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? But the goal here is safety. And morale. NOBODY like slogging into a filthy workplace. Chop off large sections of plaster, and have a few folks pick up the plaster sections as you go along. We used a gravel shovel (another flat-ended shovel, but much more weighty) to shovel plaster into large garbage cans.

If you pick up the plaster as you go along, it will help reduce dust. You will not need to crunch over mountains of plaster to get to the next section. And believe me– shoveling up crunched and compacted plaster is a LOT more difficult than shoveling up freshly-removed sections of it.

DR Ceiling Down

Cleaning the room at the end of the work day did wonders for the morale, too. I found that we were much more likely to start the day with a little more vim and vigor when we entered a clean room to start our work than to begin in a room that was trashed. We lived in the house as we worked, so it was important to keep things clean.

Kitchen Gutted

5. Use a spray bottle with water.

It may sound corny, but it helped reduce the dust for us. When the dust in the air got too messy, we used a spray bottle filled with clean water to mist the air. The droplets of water grabbed the dusty particles and the weight of gravity forced it to the floor. Now, it’s important to go easy on the water, or you’ll end up with a muddy pool of plaster in your home.

6. Set a goal, every day.

My modus operandus for a day was to set a goal first thing in the morning, and that included cleanup. When we gutted our kitchen and dining room, I gave us one day to do half the kitchen (three walls) and a second day to do the other half (the fourth wall and the ceiling). It helps keep you focused, so the demolition doesn’t drag on forever. It’s very physical, laborious work. At the end of the day, we were EXHAUSTED. But settings goals helped, because we knew we HAD to have our house back again, and fast.


7. Be prepared for surprises.

I suppose every old-house home owner has stories to tell about what they find in their walls– old bones, newspapers, wayward toys, etc. We’ve seen all that. I was surprised to discover very old Art Deco wallpaper (hand painted!!) behind the chimney, though.

Wallpaper ddown

Wallpaper Display

We also discovered some less encouraging things. Someone years before had “capped” the exhaust to an old stove pipe with plaster, inserted a few old broken brick bits, and plastered over that. Over time, the plaster capping the exhaust vent cracked, allowing carbon monoxide from the furnace and water tank to seep into the room. *sigh*

Stove Pipe Hole

We’ve also found a rainbow of weirdo colors, a kind of historic home diary left behind by previous homeowners.

Be prepared for other strange things, too. I found studs filled with soft bricks on all exterior walls. No contractor or carpenter I spoke with knew what it was. They attributed it to “old timers” and their odd building practices… but I later found out that this brick is called “noggin.” It may have been used as a insulator (unlikely, in my opinion), but most probably as a fire stop, since my home is a balloon frame home.

I hope these tips have helped you some. Good luck on your project!

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10 Things About My New Kitchen I Am Thankful For

June 14, 2011


I’m taking my dear friend Carole’s suggestion. After a particularly harried day fussing over a plumbing cob job problem, Carole said, “Go get a cup of coffee and look at before and after pics of your kitchen and cheer yourself up…” Hey, who am I to pass up a cup of coffee??

So I did. And I figured I’d write about the amazing things about my new kitchen that I am SO thankful for. Our kitchen renovation was a BIG job. I don’t think I’d ever tackled anything so intense, except maybe childbirth, lol. Even the 2007 living room renovation paled in comparison to last summer’s big kitchen blitz. We and some folks from our church rebuilt everything on our own– electrical, plumbing, heating system, insulation, drywall, flooring, cabinets and counters, and appliances. Whew, it was a very intense year. In case you missed all the tremendous fun from last year, you can check out some of my blog posts here.

Here are 10 things for which I am very thankful.

1. We’d gutted the kitchen and dining room to the bare bones. I am thankful for that because I’m a rather fussy person. I don’t like to inherit another person’s “disaster.” Old houses are almost never disasters– old houses are exceptional in that they are solidly built with superior craftsmanship and quality materials. In this, they have new construction beat. However, the common “disasters” that strike an old home is usually sub-par remodeling or neglect. My house has suffered from both, but especially from terrible “remodels” in some of the rooms. Much of my turmoil comes from fixing previous remodels. So I like to gut the walls and start from scratch. I don’t like patching up previous owners’ disasters. And I also like to see exactly what’s behind the walls. I’m still looking for those gold dubloons somewhere.

Kitchen Gutted

2. I am thankful for my dishwasher. My daughter and I STILL give thanks regularly for it. We used to wash loads and loads of dishes by hand. When I used to babysit kids, I was washing dishes for ten people three times a day.


I got a cheap dishwasher, too– the kind without the electronic panel and no fancy features. I’d heard that fancy dishwashers break easily. I got this cheapo model in case it died early– then I wouldn’t feel so bad if it broke on me. But it’s been going like a champ. And we LOVE it.

3. I am thankful for my vinyl plank flooring. My first choice was hardwoods (whose isn’t?!) but it was too expensive and I didn’t think I could install something like that myself. So I opted for easy care vinyl plank flooring. It really is very easy to take care of, and doesn’t look too bad!

DR flooring2

4. I am thankful for my kitchen window. I love this window. It’s so big, more than twice the size of the previous window. I can see the entire backyard through this thing. And when I open it, all the breezes come in. I love the woodwork and the pendant light!


5. I am thankful for my wood countertops. I bought them online and had them delivered, can you believe it?! 350 pounds of countertops! Laminate might have been a little cheaper, but it would have been too much work to custom make it to fit my large space. The wood is just so wonderful. I am just starting to relax a little about the countertops. Before, I was rather hyper about any scratch or swelling. But now I’m not as fussy, because if the wood gets a scratch or swells, I can simply sand it down and recoat the surface with oil.


6. I love my dining room. 🙂


7. I am SO thankful for insulation. Maybe that sounds kind of weird, but if you have ever lived in an old, uninsulated house, you know exactly what I mean. The insulated walls make the house so, so much more comfortable. I can’t wait to have the upstairs insulated.


8. I am thankful for new electric. For several years, we had no electricity in many of the rooms. After we gutted the living room in 2007 and saw the condition of the 100-year-old knob-and-tube wiring, I disconnected it for fear of fire. We were without electric in the kitchen except for a small ceiling light and one outlet. It was a pretty miserable room to be in, so dark and ugly.

When we gutted the kitchen and dining room, I wired new electricity throughout the house. I also wired Ethernet. Of course, in some of the upstairs bedrooms we only have one working outlet and a switch-operated ceiling light, but it’s one NEW outlet and a NEW light operated by a switch (before, the ceiling lights were pull-chain, ugh). I am very, very thankful for our new electric. I sleep so much better at night now.


9. I am thankful for drywall. I adore the inventor of drywall. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. There are some “hard core” old home owners who install plaster and lathe in their homes, but not me. Plaster is dusty, dirty, ugly, it cracks, it’s lumpy and bumpy and did I say it’s dusty? It also smells. :-p I like my drywall.

DR ceiling sheetrock

10. I’m thankful for my new cabinets. They cost me a verrry pretty penny, but I love them. They are solid plywood. Beautiful doors. I love the color and they are so durable.


Can you believe I’ve counted to ten already?! I could keep going on and on!

In case you’re wondering, this is what the old kitchen looked like.

Ugliest Kitchen1

Ugliest Kitchen2

Now you see why I am so thankful. 🙂

It’s rather easy to see only the things that go wrong when you have an old house (mostly because things are always going wrong in an old house!!). But there’s a lot of marvelous benefits to living in an old home. And I am grateful to have a home. I shudder when I remember apartment living!

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June 4, 2010


Marg, I know you keep telling me to take a break. I promise, I will!! Sometime soon. 😀

Actually, things are moving at a slow pace this week. Between the cooking and the laundry and the multitude of household things, and trying to “make do” without a kitchen sink and dryer… plus, working on my job… and researching how to do things (like framing a window and bringing the electric up to code, whatever that may be!)… I’m finding that I only get a few hours a day on the house right now. But things are at least progressing, and I am happy for that.

Right now, I’m working on “construction,” which is basically shoring up supports, building out walls to meet the electrical codes, etc. My attentions are divided into three portions.

First, the kitchen window. We’d removed the window on Sunday. Since then, I have been researching on how to construct a rough opening for the new one, which will be twice the size of the old. But I’ve discovered a few problem areas, and have to address them before I can begin adding new lumber for the new window.

For one, the support beam over the window (and kitchen sink) was hacked into years ago, and never supported correctly. 😐 I cannot understand the psychology of the previous owners… they didn’t remove the ugliest of partition walls in the laundry room because they feared it was a support wall (it wasn’t), but hacked into an exterior support wall and beam in the kitchen to plop in a tiny window (and plugged up the original window as well). ??? Weird.

Anyway, the support beam has dry rot and is missing THREE support studs. It is probably difficult to tell what’s what in the photo (sorry) because the wood is so dark and the light so bright. But this beam supports this side of the back of the house, all two stories!! And about 1/6 of it was missing support! As soon as I realized this, I placed in two 2x4s at the end. What I really needed was 2x6s, but I didn’t have any on hand.

Repairing Kitchen Beam

Last night, I bought some 2x6s and will be replacing the 2x4s with those. Once I am sure that the beam is stable, I will start the rough opening for the window. And believe you-me, it will be one heck of a honking, supported rough opening.

Right below this section of the wall was the kitchen sink. We removed it, to access the beam and to be able to build the rough opening for the window. As soon as we moved the sink back, this is what we saw:

Kitchen Sink Area 1

Yeah, that’s it. No plaster, no drywall, no insulation… nothing. They had installed the cabinet directly onto the lathe. No wonder I got frostbite when I had to wash dishes during the winter! :-p

This is the area after we removed the lathe and brick.

Kitchen Sink Area2

It will be terrific to insulate this and make it weather-tight. I don’t like working with fiberglass batts (the fibers irritate my throat terribly!), but it’s worth it to have a warm, weather-tight home! I look forward to insulating the walls.

I’m also working on building out some of the walls. According to the National Electric Code, electrical wiring must be at least 1.25 inches from the surface of the finished wall. Because some of the studs here are only 2 inches deep (the builder turned the studs around, very odd), I have to add a layer of studs to accommodate for the wiring. This will also help with inserting the insulation, which requires 3.5 inches of stud depth. It does add to the expense, though. LOL, my arms are bulging.

Finally, I’m learning more about the electrical codes (there have been changes since I did the electric in 2007). *sigh* It’s difficult to find exactly WHAT is code. There’s no manual online… you’re at the mercy of the electrical inspector, who (most times) is harsh and too impatient. Plus, talking on the phone doesn’t help you understand much– in some cases, you need a visual representation. Like a manual. WHY isn’t the code online for viewing?! It’s a little frustrating. It’s like the code is thr Holy Grail that we all must abide by or pay through the nose for transgressing, but the code is shrouded in mystery, inaccessible to the average layperson. It’s insane.

Anyway, I’m making due. I did pass inspection in 2007 (I was very, very nitpicky). This year, I’m not as nitpicky, and there are new codes that have passed that I am unsure of. We’ll see how this develops.

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To Plumb or Not to Plumb?

April 5, 2010


Hey, did you know that the word “plumb” in plumbing comes from the ancient Romans, meaning “lead”? The Romans innovated plumbing. They realized that cities were cleaner and had less disease when fresh water was piped in and sewage waste was piped out. However, the Romans lined their pipes and water cisterns with lead. Unfortunately, they didn’t realize the toxic effects of lead to the brain. Some of those crazy emperors we read about may have had lead poisoning. :S

Well, anyway, that’s the long way of saying that I have been consumed with learning about the plumbing system of a home. I met with my plumber over the weekend, and he gave me a general estimate for the work to be done here.



I’m seriously reconsidering my pledge to “never do plumbing.” Yikes $2400 (without New York State tax included) is what I wanted to spend on the ENTIRE KITCHEN.


Plumbing is pretty cut and dry. The problem is that the system here in this house is unvented. Can you believe that?! A “professional” plumber (he is a plumber, but he did this work on this house as a favor for his sister who was the trustee of the church that owned the house before we bought it… if that is comprehensible at ALL) did the work. He slapped things together. Not only is the system lacking vents, the pipes for several fixtures are not attached/secured. Nope! Dear Remuddlers: simply owning and wearing plumbers’ uniforms does NOT make a plumber. You must KNOW the concept behind good plumbing and DO it CORRECTLY. See?

For example, the drain pipe under the bathroom sink is a little smaller in diameter than the drainage plumbing behind the sink in the wall. All the guy did was poke the sink drain pipe into the wall drainage pipe. If the sink is ever clogged or a large rush of water is draining in the sink, the drain water backs up and comes gushing out through the opening inside the vanity cabinet.


And there’s a lot more.

Problem is, connecting everything to the vent stack. I would have to slice open the existing vent stack (there is one vent stack, it’s for the tub and toilet upstairs) and connect the downstairs toilet, downstairs, sink, kitchen sink, washing machine drain, and upstairs sink into it. That’s a lot of cutting.


I don’t know, folks. I could save a lot of money by doing this myself… but I think I’d probably have to ditch the entire old system and start from scratch (as I decided to do with the electric here). That would take a lot of time. I could buy them at eBay cheap, and resell them when I’m done, that wouldn’t be a problem…

*sigh* I’m a little discouraged, I guess. I haven’t even begun, and already the costs are piling up!

Oh well… I’ve been through tough times before, and the good Lord has helped me through. Keep me in your prayers. I don’t know what to decide, which way to go. I’m thinking I may have to bite the bullet and hire a guy, but this will double the cost of my kitchen re-do. Not sure what to do yet.

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Remuddler Reminders

February 17, 2010


I love to look at remuddling projects. I like to see how insane ingenious and inventive people can be. Plus, it gives me great satisfaction that my rickety old 1855 house isn’t half as bad. Even though we have no electricity for half the house and leaky plumbing and pockmarks and holes in the plaster deserving of some serious best acne treatment or something….

This is strangely like my wiring…

Epic Kludge Photo - And That Ferrari
see more There I Fixed It

I’m speechless.

Medical Or Mechanical Student?
see more There I Fixed It

Again. WOW, lol.

see more There I Fixed It


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I Am Becoming Desperate

November 29, 2009


There are days when I feel a very strong urge to just start pulling down walls here. We’ve managed to live with the lack of electricity upstairs, and the endless strings of extension cords throughout the house. But when it comes to this kitchen, I sometimes go tilt. Last week was like that.

Our kitchen was not the original room for the existing kitchen. I think this area may have been the housekeeper’s quarters. This area became the kitchen probably sometime in the 1940s or so, and then a very shabby remodel was done in the late 60s. It’s a dark corner of the house, and the kitchen is shoehorned between the dining room and the living room; so half of the small kitchen is a hallway and a stairwell and there’s a big (unused) chimney taking up space. And did I mention that it’s ugly as all get-out? Dark brown cabinets, bright orange laminate countertops, ugly yellow-brown busted tiles, a drop ceiling… and multiple paint jobs of bright pink, powder blue, dark brown wall paneling, and green paint? I detest this room. We’ve thought about getting new countertops, but I stubbornly resist. The kitchen is falling apart; to place new countertops in this crumbling kitchen is like putting a new paint job on a rusting Model T.


I am making serious plans to totally gut this room next summer. I just can’t stand it anymore. LOL!

Well, what started my desperation all over again was when we had to fix a plumbing leak under the sink. […]

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Oh Hey, I Fixed It!

October 1, 2009

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Ooooooo my word. To anyone who owns an old house, THESE ARE FOR YOU. These photos are from the website There I Fixed It, and OMG!!! I can honestly say that I have found something similar in my house from those first two photos…

Just a little duct tape here and there… what else is duct tape for, right? (P.S. Tape is also handy for fixing plumbing leaks. Temporarily. That is, until some time after the unsuspecting homeowners buy the house! hahaha…h…a…. 🙁 )


Wall? What wall?

An adjustable furnace vent! Now who’da thought?

Stairs is stairs! […]

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Remuddling, In Which I Feel Better…

September 15, 2009


….about my own home’s plight.

“Remuddling” is a term that I think was first coined by the magazine editors of Old House Journal. It was a section at the very back of the magazine, a one-page photo and description of a house, submitted by a reader. It was my favorite part of the magazine, because it always makes me feel SO MUCH BETTER about my home. Mu home has absolutely been remuddled– from the asbestos-cement siding slapped on top of the original Greek Revival wood siding, to the plumbing pipes held up by garbage bag twisty-ties… but there are definitely worse out there! And it’s a little comforting to be aware of that fact!

Here are some photos I found off the web, in case you are feeling a little “down” about your home, too.

Yes, this A-frame addition is attached to the house. Wow.

From That Home Site.

Whoa. This one sure needs to trim down a bit!


From Ugly House Photos.

From Country Joy Crafts.


From Old House Journal.

There’s something called the “ignorance is bliss” when it comes to homebuying– unless the home has been completely updated and modernized CORRECTLY, you can thank God for the “ignorance is bliss”– that is, that no one remodeled (remuddled) the home up until you bought it. My house is something like that. The siding is bad, and the plumbing and wiring and flooring and kitchen are all atrocious… but the rest of the house has been left alone. All in 1855 condition! :S A mixed blessing to be sure. But at least I won’t have to undo someone else’s messes… not entirely, anyway.

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Please: Get Your Work Inspected

March 31, 2009


One of my favorite blogs is Electrician’s Notes, and blogger Sparky has had some really good posts lately. He’s been showcasing some of the nightmares discovered in homes concerning their electrical wiring. I am closely associating with the posts (and photos), because my home is a nightmare, too!

My house was built in 1855, and has remained largely unrenovated since then. But there have been a few additions throughout the decades, one being electrical wiring installed in the 1930s. Believe it or not, until two years ago, 98% of my electrical system was running through those 80-year old, knob-and-tube wires. I had no idea how horrible the system was until 2006, when I completely gutted the living room. This is an example of one of the ugly blackheads I discovered when I pulled down the ceiling.

Bad Knob Wiring 3

Bad Knob Wiring 1

Close Up

Apparently, the previous owners had ripped up the floorboards on the second floor above, installed the wiring for most of the house in between those floor joists, and closed up the floor again with the old floor boards. (See how close some of the nails are to the wiring between the joists). The owners in the 1960s slathered the second floor flooring with glue and installed this disgusting-looking yellow lineoleum in the bedrooms, making it impossible to see the damage done.

So last year, when I pulled down the ceiling in the living room below, I found this massive wiring disaster: open wires, spliced wires connected ONLY with black electrical tape. A disaster. A lot of the “improvements” are disasters. The previous owners had insulated the attic floor in the 1980s, where more of this black-cloth knob-and-tube wiring was located (it’s against codes to insulate on top of this kind of wiring).

Actually, most of this house is completely against codes– not just the electric. The plumbing had no vent system, no u-traps or vent for the washing machine… no cold air return vents for the furnace…. fiberglass batting is stuffed in the kitchen cabinets to plug the gaping holes in the walls…. a true DISASTER. You can read some of my past posts about my venture into DIY electrical– what a harrowing ordeal! I have details here and here and here and here is my successful Inspection Day! I passed!

What blows my mind is that all this work was done without any inspection at all, obviously. I know the house is old, but… I’m stunned that all of this stuff was done without the homeowners consulting the codes and building inspectors.

I have had to disconnect a good deal of my electrical system– half the house– because after I saw the condition of the wiring and the way it was installed, I was absolutely terrified. So we are without electricity until I can gut the remainder of the rooms to wire them.

My plea to you homeowners is this: PLEASE get your work inspected. PLEASE resist the urge to slop something together just to “get it done,” and then seal up the walls. Do it the CORRECT way and the SAFE way– for your own sake, but also for the lives of the people who will live in the house after you.

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Nightmare on Elm Streets

December 9, 2008

Comments Off on Nightmare on Elm Streets

I just love the Home Inspection Nightmares section at This Old House. Wow. For some reason, looking at these photos makes me feel a whole lot better about my house. I am a little paranoid– I’m afraid the government gestpo will come strorming into my house, throwing me in prison for not having my light switch EXACTLY four feet up from the floor. Then I look at these photos, and waves of euphoric relief wash over me.

Check this out.



Just wow.

And this one. Um, what’s the use of having and maintaining gutters of you’re going to do this?!


Oh there are many more goodies at the website. Browsing them is almost as good as browsing I Can Has Cheezburgers!

This photo and this photo courtesy of This Old House.

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