I’ve heard it said that removing lath and plaster from an old house is a sin. That may be true. There is a element of permanence and the skilled labor in plastered walls which drywall does not convey. So why is this post about knocking down plaster walls? Because the plaster walls in our house are only partially present and covered in glue from horrible veneer paneling.
When we bought the house we did not think there was any lath and plaster. The main floor living room is knotty pine paneling, the bedrooms are plastered plywood (a trick used in the 1930s to avoid the cost of lath and plaster). Upstairs the ugly veneer paneling abounded. As it turns out, the whole second floor was lath and plaster at one time. During a renovation sometime in the 80s the lath and plaster was ripped off the outside walls, the wiring was updated, and R11 fiberglass bats were added to the second floor walls and ceiling. The veneer paneling was nailed onto the outside walls and glued over the lath and plaster interior walls. The staircase was also revamped using drywall.
This image gives a good overview. The strips of lath wood are visible behind Robin. The plaster is all over the floor. The knee wall on the left is undamaged plaster, as the 80s era insulators could get behind it through an access door and thus left it alone. For anyone with the misfortune of a lath & plaster removal job, I recommend respirators, goggles, and overalls. Even if your plaster doesn’t contain asbestos, there are decades of dirt, mold, and animal droppings that will cloud into the air and burst out at your eyes.
Another shot of the same wall. Note the stud framed wall on the far right. This was part of a closet addition, likely also from the 80s, which covered up sections of plaster and the original chimney. Yes, that massive floor-to-ceiling structure is the chimney. It ends a few inches from the roof sheathing. Guess what? The chimney was also broke off in the 80s during a re-roofing job when the woodstove was also removed. The book “Renovating Old Houses” would call that ‘remuddling’.
The grey concrete circle in the chimney makes us wonder if there was original a wood stove on the second floor as well. The chimney needs to come out too. It’s out of plumb and probably too small to run a stovepipe through. When we knock out the first section we’ll know if it had 1, 2, or 3 flues. I’m voting for 3: a cookstove on the first floor, a woodstove on the first floor, and a woodstove on the second floor. Then again, the two on the first floor could share a flue. Now there’s a fire hazard.