Are you renovating or just curious about what kind of walls you have in your home? Knowing whether you have lath and plaster walls can help you determine the best way to proceed with your project—and potentially save you from costly missteps.
Not sure how to tell if your walls are lath and plaster? It’s actually not as difficult as it seems!
You just need to do a bit of investigating to identify the features that will help you determine the type of wall.
In this article, we’ll provide tips on how to tell if you have lath and plaster walls, so you can make educated decisions about your renovations.
What Are Lath and Plaster Walls?
When it comes to walls, it’s important to know what you’re dealing with.
If you want to learn how to tell if you have lath and plaster walls, knowing the basics is a great place to start.
Lath and plaster walls are made of wood lath and plaster, two materials that were commonly used for building homes and other structures until the mid-20th century.
The wood lath provides a framework for the two-part plaster, which is then spread on top of the wood laths. This creates a smooth wall surface that can be easily finished.
Plaster walls are usually thicker than drywall and may have jagged hairline cracks in patterns, especially on older structures and in areas of high humidity.
They also tend to be more solid than drywall, resulting in a different sound if you knock on them.
The pushpin test is another way to quickly identify the type of wall you are dealing with. Press a pushpin into the wall; if it goes right through the drywall but not into the plaster, it’s likely a lath and plaster wall.
Identifying Lath and Plaster Walls
Are you curious to know if you have lath and plaster walls in your home?
Knowing what type of wall construction you have is important for upkeep and repairs, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these types of walls.
Here are some telltale signs that you may have lath and plaster walls:
- Raised texture: Lath and plaster walls will usually have a raised texture, as opposed to flat drywall.
- Thickness: Plaster walls are thicker than drywall, so if your walls are quite thick, this could be an indication that it’s lath and plaster construction.
- Tap Test: A tap test is a simple way to differentiate between plaster and drywall. To do this, tap the wall surface with your knuckle. If it sounds hollow, then it’s likely drywall; if it sounds solid, then chances are it’s plaster.
A quick visual inspection can also tell you whether you have lath and plaster construction or not. Plaster walls often appear very smooth, while the lath boards (thin strips of wood) underneath are visible in certain areas.
Benefits of Having Lath and Plaster Walls
Are you wondering what the benefits of having lath and plaster walls are?
Well, there are several, including how fire-resistant they are and their soundproofing qualities.
One of the main benefits of lath and plaster walls is that they offer incredible fire resistance compared to drywall.
That’s because the air pockets between the layers provide a buffer that protects against heat transfer that can cause structural damage.
Another great benefit of lath and plaster walls is that they provide amazing soundproofing capabilities.
Lath and plaster walls are much thicker than drywall, so sound waves can’t transfer through them as easily.
This makes them an excellent choice for sound-sensitive areas like recording studios or music rooms in your home.
If you take care of them, lath and plaster walls can last for decades or even centuries due to their extended lifespan.
And because they don’t require any chemical treatments like other materials do, they last longer too, with fewer environmental impacts.
Common Problems With Lath and Plaster Walls
Another way to tell if you have lath and plaster walls, is to look out for common problems associated with this kind of wall.
These problems can help you conclusively identify whether or not your walls are lath and plaster:
Cracks and Warping
One of the main issues with lath and plaster walls is that they can eventually crack over time. This is due to warping in the wood that supports the plaster.
As temperatures change, the wood will begin to warp, causing cracks in the wall.
In addition, seismic activity can cause it to warp further and cause more cracking.
Sagging or Bowing
The other common problem with lath and plaster walls is sagging or bowing.
If the weight of the plaster becomes too much, or if a wall remains exposed to moisture for an extended period, it may begin to sag.
Exposure to more water on one side of the wall can cause particular problems.
These issues go beyond mere esthetics—if your lath-and-plaster walls are damaged, they may be putting your home at risk of more damage in an earthquake or other disaster situation!
So it’s worth taking a good look at these walls when considering your next steps in terms of home renovations.
Maintenance and Repair of Lath and Plaster Walls
When it comes to keeping up with lath and plaster walls, regular maintenance is key.
If it’s been a while since the last time you checked your lath and plaster walls, here are some signs you should look out for:
If you see any hairline cracks in the plaster, that could be a sign that your lath and plaster wall needs to be attended to.
Additionally, be vigilant for soft spots, as they occur when the plaster loses its attachment to the lath.
Holes or Dents
Plaster can become brittle over time, so if it’s been more than 10 years since your lath and plaster walls were installed, chances are they need some attention.
If you find small holes or dents on your walls, then you will need to consider patching up those areas.
Lath and plaster walls are known for their strength—they have been used as the go-to material for centuries in construction—so if they’re starting to show signs of sagging or bulging, then it indicates that they need repairs urgently.
Similar to sagging, if curves start forming on your Lath and Plaster wall, that could also mean that there’s moisture trapped inside them.
To prevent larger issues from developing in this area, best practices advise seeking professional help as soon as possible.
DIY Solutions for Diagnosing Lath and Plaster Wall Issues
If you’re unsure whether or not you have lath and plaster walls, don’t worry— there are a few different DIY solutions for diagnosing the issue.
Look for Corners
One of the easiest things to look for are the corners of your walls.
If the corners are rounded and appear to be made out of several individual pieces, then chances are you have lath and plaster walls.
Measure Wall Thickness
You can also measure your walls to figure out if they’re lath and plaster. If it’s thicker than 3/4″, then it’s likely that you have lath and plaster walls.
Keep in mind that drywall will be much thinner, usually around 1/2 inch thick.
Check For Nail Pops Or Cracks In The Walls
You can also check for nail pops or cracks in the wall, which could indicate either a problem with the laths or problems with settling.
If there are significant problems with the wall structure, then it’s best to get an expert opinion as to how best to proceed with repairs.
By taking a closer look at your home’s interior walls, you may be able to tell whether they are made out of lath and plaster or drywall.
With these DIY solutions at hand, it should be easy enough for you to determine if further repair is necessary or not—good luck!
Knowing whether you have lath and plaster walls or not can be a bit tricky.
If you’re uncertain, you can contact a professional to help you determine your walls’ makeup.
Otherwise, you can inspect the walls for signs such as nail holes, screws, and other fasteners, and check for signs of plaster cracks and other clues.
Overall, there are unique advantages and disadvantages to lath and plaster walls.
If you have them in your home, understanding them can help you keep your walls in top condition and appreciate the solid structure and timeless beauty of these walls.
Whether you’re living in a home with lath and plaster walls or plan to buy one, it’s essential to take the time to understand and appreciate the characteristics of these walls.
What are lath and plaster walls made of?
They would apply laths, which are thin strips of wood, and then layer wet plaster on top of them.
How can I tell if my walls are lath and plaster?
Look for visible seams, cracks, or small holes, or tap the wall to hear a dull thudding sound.
Are all old houses built with lath and plaster walls?
Builders used other materials for some older homes, and homeowners may have updated some with modern materials.