Help! The walls are falling down!

OK, not really falling down, but the plaster is pulling away from the lath. Here's the story. The house is almost 100 years old. It's located in Seattle Wa. We have been in the place for 6 years with very few problems, but in the last few months the walls have developed large cracks in the lath, all at once. And all over the house. The thing that has changed recently is that we had the house painted last fall. I installed vents in the walls so they could breath, but could expansion in the walls be pushing the lath off the interior walls? My wife fears that the foundation is settleing and thats causing the problem. If I call a drywall guy, he will tell me the walls are the problem, if I call a foundation guy he will tell me the foundation is the problem. Advice please?
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why did you think the walls wanted to breathe?

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They must have been giving the universal choking sign ; )

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Been there for 100 years and all the sudden problems. First thing I would be looking at is how good the drainage is around the foundation. If it hasn't been maintained to a good drainage grade, water may be pouring down around the footings. Actually not the footings because it probably doesn't have any. Back then, 18" stone walls were built directly on the (usually) clay dirt. And yes, I have personally seen that happen.

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In a previous post snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote...

My guess is that when you installed the vents the moisture content in the wood changed (for the worse) due to the high humidity of the air -- recently the relative humidity in Seattle was 100%.
This has caused the wood to swell slightly and that has exacerbated plaster cracking. This can especially true if there is no or very little insulation. Also, the plaster keys that hold the plaster to the lath were mostly likely weakly attached (if at all) and the change in moisture content of the wood was enough to accelerate the cracking.
Finally, the cracks may be due to the Nisqually seismic event of 2001 and just now showing themselves due to the slight movement of the wood framing and lath.
A quick test for settling is to put a ball bearing on a non-carpeted portion of the floor and see if it rolls toward a low spot.
--
Bob Morrison, PE, SE
R L Morrison Engineering Co
  Click to see the full signature.
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wrote...

Also Bob, I think that it could also be the storms that Seattle has had lately. If any damage was done to the walls, roof with leaks and humidity was able to get to the interior of the attic/building would cause what you have mentioned above. Most of those older houses did not have roof insulation (mine didn't). Also, we don't know if their walls had insulation either. Mine also didn't. My house was originally built in the 40's only 67 years ago not 100 :-)) The walls with vents and no insulation is a good estimation for the cracks. The lath was probably wood lath not wire. ( just the way mine is ).
Chuck...
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Where are the cracks ? Toward the bottom, top, edges, around doorways. A picture would be some help I think. Did you do anything to the walls before painting besides the vents?
I would bet the vents that were installed are the problem. Exterior plaster walls (stucco, right) breath just fine and do not need additional ventilation. Moisture behind the walls is a common cause of the problems you are having.

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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

brick with some 70's pier blocks? Gutters draining on corners and not piped away? Do you listen to lots of hiphop with the bass turned up? Ya know, these old houses were not designed for hiphop. tonyg
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