Lath and plaster ceiling collapse

by | Dec 11, 2023

What is a lath and plaster ceiling?

Modern internal walls and ceilings are finished with lightweight plaster board (also called ‘drywall’), which is skimmed with plaster – most commonly gypsum. Plasterboard was invented in 1912, but the previous method of ‘lath and plaster’ was used through the early 1900’s and is commonly found in houses built up until the 40’s and 50’s. As a traditional & sustainable building method, it can occasionally be found in younger homes.

The construction involves the nailing of thin, narrow strips of wood (laths) across the wooden studs or joists. A lime based plaster is then applied to the wooden base, which squishes through the gaps, moulding around the edges and clinging to it as it dries and sets.

How do I know if my ceiling is lath or plaster?

If you are concerned about a prospective purchase, your surveyor will check during your survey. If you are wondering about a property you already own, you can carry out a DIY test by giving the ceiling a gentle tap with a broom handle. If it makes a hollow sound it is likely to be a lath and plaster construction, rather than modern plasterboard.

What causes lath and plaster ceilings collapse?

Any plaster ceiling can collapse, but due to their construction method, there are two main causes of lath and plaster ceiling collapse:

1)Water

2)Vibration

Water damage

Over time, vibrations or water ingress can cause the moulded nibs of the aging plaster, which cling around the laths, to break away from the inch-thick surface layer. When a large enough area has broken loose, there is nothing fixing the plaster to the laths and the plaster layer of the ceiling can collapse.

Should I replace lath and plaster ceiling?

Lath and plaster ceilings are more prone to collapse than modern ceilings, but are more sustainable, breathable and form a part of the buildings history and character.

If the building is listed, you will not be able to replace a lath and plaster ceiling without listed building consent, which is unlikely to be granted, unless there is a problem with the existing ceiling. In any case, you are more likely to be asked to re-plaster the old lath.

If the building is not listed and is being gutted and remodelled, replacing the lath with a modern plasterboard ceiling is usually more cost effective (unless the laths are in good condition and you can get away with simply replastering them).

As the old saying goes ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’

Can lath plaster ceiling be repaired

A lath plaster ceiling can be repaired. If the laths are in good condition, a lath and plaster specialist can re-plaster the existing laths. If there are underlying issues of damp, rot or woodworm in the timber then some or all of the joists and laths will need to be replaced. Suspected damp should be investigated with a damp and timber survey. In severe cases, you may have to replace beams, in which case a structural engineer should be consulted.

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