This is regarding a possible rehab of another property that I own. It's an
older home with wood lath and plaster wall. I am considering tearing out
the lath and plaster down to the studs, then having it rewired throughout,
then having the ceilings and walls sheetrocked. I would rather not
sheetrock over the existing lath and plaster.
My question is about how contractors typically go about doing the sheetrock
over the old ceiling joists and wall studs. How do they deal with the fact
that after the demo of the original lath and plaster, the ceiling joists and
studs are often uneven -- that is, not "planed".
Do they usually just do the new sheetrock by going with what they have and
just shimming the areas that need to be shimmed to end up with a flat,
"planed", and even new sheetrock wall? Is there some other way that this is
I would use a line level and snap chock lines getting the room square
and level. Depending on how far out it is you can cut long wedges and
tack them to the joists and studs. The new laser levels are cheap too if
you can figure out how to use them.
I have seen this done by cutting a 1 1/2" deep cut at the middle of the
stud, the thickness of a 2X4. There would be mutable cuts 3 1/2' apart the
width of a 2X4; chisel out the opening. Each stud would have the same cuts
at the same location by using a chalk line. You would then install a
continuous 2X4 into the slots that were cut out in each stud. The 2X4 would
then be screwed to each stud pulling all the studs out or in making them
square with each other. This also makes the wall stronger. Hope this makes
That makes sense--sort of. I can see what you're after here, but it
seems as if this would only correct problems in the middle of the wall.
If there were any seriously misaligned studs (or joists), they would
still be out of line at the top and bottom. Also seems like an awful
amount of work, especially on a ceiling. Plus I'd think you'd have much
less luck trying to even out a ceiling, since you're trying to push the
floor above (if there is one) out of line, plus you have much stouter
framing members to try to persuade.
Shimming would seem to be the better way to go here. I agree with the
other respondent here who pointed out that the framing in old houses is
likely to be pretty well lined up and probably only needing minor
adjustments for the odd high or low stud/joist.
Comment on quaint Usenet customs, from Usenet:
To me, the *plonk...* reminds me of the old man at the public hearing
I think he's talking about a modified sistering.
Your project would seem pretty straightforward if you gathered up a passel
of very straight 2x4s and somethow (long straight-edge?) managed to get them
Thanks. It took me a while to visualize and figure out what you were
describing, but I think I have it now. I guess maybe that could work for
interior walls. But, for exterior walls and ceiling joists, I'm not sure
how that would work. Pulling exterior wall studs or ceiling joists to make
them even would pull the exterior wall in or pull the floor above down.
The wood used in framing old houses is better than almost all of the
stuff used today, and plaster and lath also do a bang up job of
keeping things aligned, so the old framing is probably as true as the
day it went up. Unless you're looking for super straight walls, most
of the time only the odd stud or three on a wall would need any
shimming at all to provide a suitably straight wall acceptable to most
people. A bigger concern is the ~1/4" difference in the thickness
between the demo'd plaster and the new drywall. This presents
problems at doors and windows where the jambs extend beyond the face
of the new drywall and casings won't lay flat against the wall.
Depending on the location of the wall, and how many openings are in
it, I sometimes shim only studs that are out more than 1/8", but most
of the time I'd rather shim out the studs on walls with openings and
not have to mess with cutting back jambs in place. If there's a lot
of trim on the wall, and/or it's stained, I'll shim the wall flat.
Not in my house. Its balloon framed and was built around 1896.
The ceiling joists are all different widths, off by an inch or so. They
just notched them to make the next floor level and then had the plasterer
try to even it out.
What I did for the some ceilings was to add furring strips across the joists
and tried my best to shim them. In one room it was so bad I had to build a
drop ceiling with 2x4's wasn't a problem because I had 8 foot 6 inch
The studs are the same. There is one stud that it looks like the plasterer
chopped at it with a hatchet to try to take out a bulge. There was still
one there but he just put the plaster down thinner.
For the walls a made up shims from all the old paneling. It was just shy of
an 1/8 so I just added as needed. To keep everything mostly strait I got a
8 foot straight edge and just worked my self around the room.
When they say they don't build them like they used too, thats a good thing.
You started off with the specific, Cliff - your house, and then
extrapolated that to a generality. There's little doubt that older
houses had many features and methods of construction that have
withstood the test of time. The fact that your house is enjoying its
115th birthday is a testament to that.
From the sound of it it's possible that you have an owner and/or
carpenter(wannabe?) built house. But the hatchet thing was pretty
standard. Google framing hatchet. Few things are as quick for
trimming framing. And you are 100% right that the plasterer was
expected to correct for the deficiencies of the framers. You probably
didn't notice any wavy walls - maybe cracked plaster and such - before
opening up the walls to find the 'horrible' framing. It's only
horrible in light of today's methods and what people are used to
dealing with. The differing framing lumber widths also points to the
stuff being cut by eye at the mill. There was no screaming need to
have perfectly dimensioned lumber in widths - depths were the more
important dimension. Back then 16" on center wasn't a factor as
plywood wasn't available. That's really what drove the standardized
layout. Before that the shiplap sheathing and plaster lath could
accommodate the different stud widths without adding much more work.
The bottom line, which is the same as it is today, if you want tighter
tolerances, you're going to pay for it, one way or another.
Shrug. I've seen crap and hillbilly old houses, and crap and hillbilly
newer houses. All depends on the quality of design, skill and caring
level of the folks who put it together, and the quality of the
materials. Yes, in general, old lumber was better- they still had real
trees to cut down back then, not the bred-to-be-fast-growing babies we
use now. (I drool at the quality of the interior trim on even
entry-level 1950s houses. Tight joints were expected back then, I guess.)
Get a Bosch or similar power planer and an extra set of blades ($125
or so). Careful of old nails, try to get them all. That will do it for
the high spots.
As cheap as work site table saws are, shims are easy to do as the
second operation. Your wall board crew (or you) will love it working
on flat walls. LSMFT above is absolutely right on getting as much
square, plumb, and level as possible. Check out all the Bosch
(especially) new laser nifties for getting things right. Their laser
measure tool (165 DLR) is indispensable and for the distance it
reports better allow a little slack or you will wind up hammering the
piece into place (too tight.). Don't forget the old fashioned chalk
line corner to corner two ways for square and dead flat. Useful around
door and window openings, too.
Sounds like you're heading down the right track,
Unless all the electrical boxes, doors and windows are being replaced, the
studs will need to be built out to at least 3/8" to allow for the removed
lath. A finished wall using plaster and lath was about 7/8". Drywall is
This is no big deal but it is an added expense. Ripping up a 4x8 sheet of
3/8 CDX will give you a net material cost of about 44 cents per 8' stud
(based on 12-31-10 prices). With labor a dollar per would be a fair price
As someone else said, chances are what you have is more true than many new
homes being built.
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*I haven't seen this done, but you got me thinking about that extra depth.
A layer of 1/2" and a layer of 3/8" drywall would give the needed 7/8".
However I am wondering if all of that extra drywall would cover-up slight
differences in stud and joist protrusions enough that it would not be
noticeable on the finished surface?
Most homes old enough to have plaster and lath also have 3/4" sheathing on
the outside securely nailed to those studs when they were straight and
fresh. I don't think I have seen more than 1 or studs in 40 years that are
out of alignment by more than 1/8".
I do walk around the room with a 4 or 8 foot level and throw it across the
studs at eye level to verify no major problems. Bowed in I hit it with a
couple of passes with the planner. Any low spots are filled with short
scabs of the proper thickness. IMO, amounts that vary less than 1/8" do
not reflect in the finished wall.
You can use a second layer or drywall strips in lieu of the plywood but I
find that to be more work that wood. It also requires longer screws when
installing. Wood panels are available from 1/8" to 3/4" to provide just
about any stud build out needed to meet the jambs.
I am actually working on one right now. If I remember I will post a link to
some pictures after I install the strips.
Please come visit http://www.househomerepair.com
You've been a bit luckier than I have with the straightness, but I
agree that if the alignment is out, it ain't by much. I always enjoy
cutting into an old stud and seeing fifteen or twenty growth rings per
inch. The stuff you get now might have seven or eight if you're
lucky. Makes a big difference in stability of the wood.
Right. And if you're going for that perfectly flat wall you're
probably going to be skim-coating the entire wall anyway.
In New England strapping ceilings is common - like Cliff did. Other
people might call it furring - attaching 1x3s perpendicular to the
joists and making them form a level flat plane by shimming where they
cross the joists. One thing I never understood about people still
doing that - I've never seen any pictures where you could see that
they blocked off between 1x3s along a joist for fireblocking. From
what I've seen it seems that people just ignore that 3/4" gap - I mean
fire couldn't get through such a small gap, could it? ;)
Within the field of a ceiling, it is not a big issue, unless that joist
bay is being used as a cold-air return or other plenum. (Consider a
dropped ceiling with fire-rated tiles, and no rock above.) Fireblocking
is mainly needed along walls, especially in balloon-framed older houses.
Even in a modern house, you don't want a good air path between a stud
bay and a joist bay, but the top plates usually cover that, again with
the exception of plenums, or an unusually framed room.
Standard disclaimer- I'm no fire code expert, but that is how it was
explained to me back in the day. In commercial work, they even make you
fire-caulk the gaps around pipes and cables, if it goes through a
fire-rocked or masonry wall.
My question was really more about how come fireblocking/draftstopping
doesn't seem to be an issue when ceilings are strapped. Code is quite
clear on the requirement, so I'm not sure why it seems to be
overlooked on the New England home improvement shows where strapping
I've never heard of it being an issue other than at the wall-ceiling
junction. If each joist bay is blocked at the ends, it really isn't a
conduit to anywhere. And I have seen the TOH guys and Holmes both remark
that fire blocking needed to be added in wall on a gut job, or fire rock
extended to top-plate level, when a drop ceiling was being retrofitted.
And drop ceilings of course are dirt-common in commercial remodels, even
those of frame construction, as well as residential basements, and the
joist bays are all open there.
You wanna see scary, poke around in the ceilings of the 80-110 year old
(depending on wing) building where I work. Multiple generations of
remodels, most done by low bidder. There are several originally-public
spaces and corridors with multiple layers of ceiling, and visible
hatchet marks on the old ceilings where they ran pipes, attached hanger
wires, etc. Lotsa dead spaces and fire propagation paths. And the older
ceilings are plaster over heavy-gauge mesh. Firemen won't be pulling
those down with a hooked stick. Most of the building itself is probably
damn near burn-proof (other than the wood framed/decked roofs, and some
floored-over atriums, on the older parts), but the modern office
furnishings (cubicle walls, carpet squares, chipboard desks, foam
chairs, full file cabinets, etc) present plenty of burnable material.
They did retrofit sprinklers to most of it, but if any space in that
building gets heavily involved, the knockdown, cleanup, and rebuild will
not be pretty or painless.
Sheetrock/Drywall comes in many thicknesses...
It would be a fool's errand to use standard 1/2" thick drywall in
a situation where plaster and lath was removed... You would
want thicker drywall: 3/4" if the wall studs are square and true,
you would only use 1/2" if you had to correct a wavy wall with
strips of wood nailed to the face of the studs...
Thanks everyone for all of the thoughts and suggestions.
I was hoping there was some magic solution out there that would make the new
sheetrocking fairly easy and would make it go quickly. It looks like I'll
probably have to go the route of shimming etc.
In the past when I have encountered this, it was only for a ceiling in one
room at a time. In those cases, we decided to just go with sistering the
existing joists to create a new flat and planed surface to attach the new
sheetrock. In one case, we used wood 2x4's for the sistering and in another
case we used steel framing for the sister joists.
But, with this project, it would involve a lot of ceilings and walls, so
sistering all of those seems like it would be too much to get into doing.
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