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Nikolai Lobanov
Nikolai Lobanov

Papering Over Cracked Plaster Wallpaper



Hanging wallpaper can be a useful trick for covering a multitude of blemishes in damaged and problem drywall. Care must be taken, however, to deal with any larger issues before hanging wallpaper, as over time raised nail heads and holes can lead to rips, tears and punctures in your wallpaper. Making sure these issues are taken care of prior to wallpapering will help ensure the wall stays looking great for years to come.




Papering Over Cracked Plaster Wallpaper


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It may be tempting to simply wallpaper over any cracks or splits where sections of drywall are separating, but doing so will likely lead to popped wallpaper seams and visible irregularities in the wall. Cover over any cracks or splits that are less than 1/2 inch in diameter with joint compound, and any larger splits with drywall tape or patch kits. Sand the area smooth and consider applying a single coat of paint to the area. Paint will help seal the joint compound and will also help you see if there are any high spots that need to be sanded.


Wallpaper cannot be hung over large holes or significantly damaged areas of drywall. For holes a few inches in diameter, there are patch kits available in any home improvement store. These patches are used to cover the hole, and joint compound is then smoothed over the patch to blend it in with the drywall. Significantly damaged drywall, or drywall that has been water damaged, will need to be replaced prior to hanging wallpaper. Never hang wallpaper on water-damaged drywall, as dangerous mold and mildew growth can result.


Oddly enough, the Association does not mention using a rented wallpaper steamer, perhaps the primary way OHJ readers have stripped wallpaper over the years. The steam saturates the old paper quickly with the added advantage of heat to loosen the adhesive. This method is recommended for plaster walls only; steam may delaminate the surface of drywall. Prep the room carefully, taping over outlets and using waterproof dropcloths on the floor. Perforate or score the paper as described above. The steamer will make a mess, and create streams of super-hot water, so wear heavy gloves and eye protection.


After stripping two layers of existing wallpaper and an original liner paper from the walls, wallpaper pro Shannon Russell made an interesting discovery. The original plaster had been painted with a cold-water or distemper paint in an intense deep blue. (Other common colors of the time included deep red and deep green.) This original paint was made by mixing ground pigments with cold water, the usual formula for calcimine.


As everyone quickly realized, the old cold-water paint posed a problem for the new installation. Calcimine paints are notoriously unstable and tend to cause delamination of successive applications of paint or wallpaper. Once all surrounding surfaces were protected with plastic and drop cloths, Russell moistened the layers of wall covering with a diluted solution of Dif, an enzyme-based wallpaper stripper. Once the solution had soaked through the layers, Russell carefully removed the mess, using a scraper and broad knife.


Once stripped, the next task was to remove the original wallpaper paste. The moisture from the stripper had freshly dissolved the pigments underneath, and the deep matte color spread everywhere. To stabilize any remaining colorants, Russell primed the walls with Draw-Tite, a penetrating sealer designed for chalky surfaces. Once the walls were fully dry, plaster cracks were repaired using mesh tape secured with screws. All the walls were then smoothed, sanded, and primed with a Gardz, a paintable wall sealer intended for use over chalky surfaces with adhesive residues. Russell finished the preparation by adding a white, acid-free wall liner to help achieve strong cohesion and a smooth installation. Finally, the new paper was ready to hang, using a premixed clear paste, Pro-880 from Roman Adhesives.


I recently bought a very old house (1889) that has an apartment attached to it. The apartment has been long neglected and we are in the process of renovating (and trying to keep the cost down by DIY). It appears that the previous owners, at some point, tried to fix the problem of plaster cracks by using wallpaper to cover it up. It looks like maybe it's a special wallpaper for just such a thing? I say that b/c it has no pattern to speak of, just plain paper that has been painted over. To top it off, the paper is peeling, you can see unsightly seams, and you can still see all the cracks underneath! In fact, in some places, the cracks have even torn the paper. I would like to fix the plaster, but I'm unsure if I need to take all the wallpaper off first?? While I don't like the paper, I'm worried that if I start tearing it off, the plaster is going to come with it. I DO NOT want to use drywall in the house if I can manage it, but I also have no experience with fixing plaster walls. Does anyone have any experience with this type of wallpaper? Should I just risk it and tear the paper off and hope for the best?


Since the wall paper is coming off easily, it has lost adhesion and you pretty much have to remove it all. Then you'd need to wash the rough surface carefully in order to remove any traces of paper or paste. The paint color may be a prep step, but more likely something that has soaked through the old wall paper. There are several products on the market designed to provide a reinforcing layer of fiberglass mesh to be followed by joint compound. "Some" skill is a pretty serious understatement. Putting up the fiberglass fabric is a two person job and applying it smoothly without bubbles or misalignment is not easy. Then you need to apply several layers of joint compound. Plastering is one of the most highly skilled of all the building trades. It looks easy to do when you watch a professional plasterer work, but it really takes years to become adept. You will also have to use a type of joint compound that dries hard in order to produce a durable wall. This makes the task even more difficult. With lots of patience, it can be done, but won't be quick or easy. As for the ceilings, I would put up sheetrock on strapping or directly on the old ceiling. This is a difficult enough project with both feet on the ground and the work surface directly in front of your. Trying to do it overhead is close to impossible for a DIYer.


My old house circa 1917 had plaster walls that had cracks. I wallpapered one room and painted over it and it looked good until as you described the wall paper started peeling. We bought a wallpaper remover product, diluted this and sprayed sections of the wall. We then scraped the old wallpaper off and it did not further damage the walls. Some friends recommended a steamer but the sprayer worked well.Good luck with your project.


What I've read is that it was common to put plain wall paper directly on top of relatively fresh plaster, since it provide a very smooth surface that could then be used as-is or painted. I've also found that most of my house has wallpaper directly on plaster.


My wallpaper/paint guy did the following:- Used a steamer and spray bottle to strip off the old paper. I found it was also very useful to use a razor blade holder and scrape the wet paper almost parallel to the wall. It goes slow, but if you are careful you can get all the paper off without nicking the plaster.- Used plaster mix (not the same as sheetrock compound!) to patch the cracks and fill in the holes. He also used seam tape if needed to fill and cover wider cracks. Use small amounts and fill gradually. This will minimize the need to sand.- Used a relatively high nap roller to roll on primer and final paint. The longer nap gives it a little more texture, which hide imperfections better.Overall the results were great.


It was common practice in houses of this vintage to make plaster walls without a finish coat. The intent seems to have been wallpaper forever. If this is your case, removing the wallpaper will reveal a rough, sandy plaster that would have to have some sort of finish coat applied before painting. It is possible to apply a finish over the existing walls without removing the paper. Start by thoroughly cleaning what's there. Then apply self adhesive fiberglass mesh which comes in rolls up to three or four feet wide. Follow this with coats of joint compound. Lots of work and requires some skill to get a smooth surface, but it can be done.


My 1913 house had at least 3 layers of wallpaper in each room. In most of the rooms, when the wallpaper came off, big chunks of plaster came off with it. I called a contractor to give me an estimate. He told me "lady, it's gonna cost you a whole lot". We didn't have a whole lot. So I purchased buckets of spackle and spackled the smaller sized holes. For the larger sized holes I cut pieces of dry wall to fill most of the gap and screwed them in place to the wood that was behind the broken plaster. Then I spackled over the remaining gaps. I had to go over the patched places with more spackle when it dried because the spackle had a tendency to shrink. In some places I used special tape that looked like netting If the holes weren't too big, then spackled those as well. After sanding the patches, I primed and painted. It's been 10 years and the walls are still holding up. I don't want to steer any one in the wrong direction but this worked for me.


This is an old question but I just came across it, I have the same issue. akamainegrower described it exactly. 1900's house, thick painted wallpaer over all the walls and ceilings. in some rooms I can pull off the loose layers in one easy tug and the rough sandy intact plaster is what'is left, often with a watered down looking paint color, if it weren't so old I would say it's a wallpaper prep of some sort since the paper peeled off so easily. I am wondering what are the best steps to go forward, I would like to repair the cracks etc. the apply a primer, and a layer of drywall compound to do a knockdown texture, the re-paint. Any suggestions?


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