Advice on Keeping a Lath and Plaster Ceiling

lath and plaster ceiling

Here at Artisan Plastercraft, we expect the property owners and managers we serve to come to us with a variety of needs. This may include requests for advice on plaster construction work and keeping a lath and plaster ceiling. In return, they can expect specialist knowledge and information that provides them with everything they need to know, and a professional plaster repair and restoration service if this is required for their property.

Read on to find out more about keeping a lath and plaster ceiling, or contact us if you have a project in mind that you would like us to make a reality.

What is Lath and Plaster?

Lath and plaster is a traditional building technique and finishing process for interior dividing walls and ceilings. It was most often used from the 1700s to the early 1900s, before being supplanted in building projects by more modern gypsum plaster and plasterboard. The lath and plaster process itself was derived from the earlier use of wattle and daub, a technique that dates back some 6,000 years.

To apply a lath and plaster finish, a coat of plaster (typically lime) is put onto laths. These are narrow strips of wood that have been nailed horizontally onto a timber stud frame, also known as “studwork”. Such walls are non-loadbearing, as even though they are rigid once set they would not take the weight of an entire property by themselves.

In older properties, you will often find that coarse animal hair, such as horse or goat, has been used in the mortar to act as a reinforcing agent. It also allows for greater flexibility, and helps to prevent the plaster from becoming cracked.

Lifespan of Lath and Plaster Ceilings

The lifespan of lath and plaster can extend across several centuries, if the property it is applied to is well-kept and maintained. However, the finish may require some repair work in this time to keep it in its ideal condition.

Fixing to Lath and Plaster Ceilings

Fixing to lath and plaster ceilings is not often recommended, as even though the work itself is strong it is not designed to bear a greater load than necessary.

If you are intent on fixing to a lath and plaster ceiling, you should screw directly into the studs. Finding the studs may require the use of a strong magnet, as it will be attracted to the metal of the nail heads that fix the laths in place.

Advantages and Disadvantages to Lath and Plaster

It is always vital to remember both the advantages and disadvantages to any material you work with, or choose to have applied to your property. While rigid and strong for internal walls, plaster can also be brittle and may crack at its weakest points if exposed to vibration or water ingress. If this is allowed to spread across a ceiling in large enough sections, it may sag under the weight and even collapse if the damage is great.

To account for its benefits, lath and plaster is also one of the better material finishes to use on a historic property. Not only does the lime plaster offer the flexibility needed to craft more intricate designs and decorative pieces, it also offers better soundproofing and insulation than modern plasterboard. It has also been suggested that fire will spread more slowly when confronted with a lath and plaster wall.

Should You Repair or Remove a Damaged Lath Plaster Ceiling?

For properties that feature lath and plaster walls and ceilings, it is important to check their condition for cracks and other damage, and then make an evaluation before deciding if the work should be repaired or even removed entirely. This may take careful observation with a lath and plaster ceiling.

When considering repair or restoration work on a lath and plaster ceiling, we must also note that special consideration should be taken for listed buildings. In most cases, the local conservation officer will also need to be involved, both before the work begins and during the process.

Evaluating a Lath and Plaster Ceiling

To evaluate the current condition of your lath and plaster ceiling, you must begin by standing underneath one corner on a suitable, safe ladder. This ladder should be tall enough that your head almost touches the ceiling, so that you are able to look across the entire surface. This will give you the best vantage point, so that completing a slow sweep of the ceiling should alert you to the presence of any uneven points, cracks, or sagged plaster.

The process should then be repeated in the other corners of the room, as you may find cracked or uneven sections are more visible from one point than others.

If you notice sagging, this does not necessarily mean the plasterwork has broken away from the lath, or that the section will collapse further. Older properties often settle and the ceilings will settle as well when this occurs. It is possible to conduct pressure tests on ceilings in order to test this sagging, but we would not recommend doing this yourself. Instead, it will be more beneficial to you and to your property to have an expert carry out the work.

At Artisan Plastercraft, we are more than capable of providing this service for you and will be glad to carry out site surveys if this is necessary for your property.

If a Lath and Plaster Ceiling Fails

You will notice if a ceiling fails entirely, because the plaster will separate from the lath and drop down. This leaves it hanging underneath the laths, with the weight of the plaster unsupported. In older plasterwork and traditional lath and plaster, it may only be the horse or goat hair in the mortar that is holding it back from collapse.

If the ceiling is left in this state, sections of the plasterwork may develop more cracks and may even fall away. This may be in small or large pieces, though the latter is more likely if there has been a water leak, or vigorous amounts of physical activity, such as someone jumping up and down, on the floor above.

It must be noted that it is rare for this to happen across an entire ceiling. Some areas may be completely unaffected by this issue.

Deciding to Keep or Remove a Lath and Plaster Ceiling

In any of these cases, repairs will be necessary to return your ceiling to its full working order and best presentation. However, if your evaluation should reveal that over a third of your ceiling has cracked and failed, it may be more beneficial to have the entire ceiling replaced.

Repairs and restoration work on a lath and plaster ceiling should only be undertaken by a contractor or plaster craftsman with specialist knowledge of the subject. This ensures that the work is completed to the highest of standards, and prevents possible damage or injury to you or to others attempting the work.

Ensuring the work is carried out by an expert will also save you time and money in the long term, as you will not require your own tools or plaster, and there is a minimised risk of having to take the ceiling down and start over from the beginning.

For a Quote on Specialist Lath and Plaster Ceiling Repair and Restoration

If you are in need of a reliable firm with many years of experience in the professional repair and restoration of lath and plaster ceilings, please contact Artisan Plastercraft today. We are fully prepared to undertake the work required, and can provide our services for a variety of building types and structures. Each property we are called to return to its golden age is treated with individual consideration and care, so you may rest assured that your own specifications will be made a priority throughout our work.

We are more than confident that we will be able to supply the services you need at a cost that suits the budget you have in mind. To guarantee this, we will always offer you an estimated price for the work that will be done before it is carried out. Our team will not continue until the price is agreed, and once it has been, they will set to work on helping your property achieve the zenith of its potential.


Sign up for our newsletter

And don’t worry, we hate spam too! You can unsubscribe at anytime.

We understand that choosing the right company for your project is important for project success, budget efficiency and your reputation.  We manufacture and install superior custom plaster mouldings, we re-create period plaster features as well as offering traditional lime plastering & lath and plaster.