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Jan 05

Plasterboard Ceiling Repairs

Posted by C. Mason Hearn in repairs, cracks


My husband and I have been fixing up a 1950's ranch home for several years.  We patched a long crack in the ceiling (did it ourselves; we're pretty handy).  It looked great for maybe six months, but it has reappeared recently.  Is there anything we should consider before patching again, to make it go away forever?

Wendy S.  Midlothian Va



Consider a government bailout!

Really, the influence of the U.S. Government during times of special need, likely had a great deal to do with your ceiling crack.  You are likely aware that many older homes have thick plaster-on-lathe walls and ceilings.  This extremely labor-intensive process was eschewed during WWII by the government, in its need for cheap, quick construction of military barracks and other hastily-constructed buildings.  Drywall, invented by United States Gypsum (USG) in 1916, would fill that gap.  After the war, private developers picked up on the drywall rage to accommodate returning soldiers and the housing boom.  Walls and ceilings have not been the same since.

Judging solely by the era of your home, you may have either early-vintage gypsum drywall, or perhaps rock lath - a smaller-module, more brittle version of plaster wall panel.  Either would be prone to breakage - especially over longer spans (is there an attic over this ceiling, which you have loaded with heavy storage?) which are more prone to deflection, or bending of the structure.  Once these cracks occur all the way through a board or joints between boards, they are quite difficult to make them go away permanently, without changing the dynamics that caused them in the first place.

The change in dynamics may include unloading your attic, or ceasing traffic above the ceiling.  Alternately (nobody's going to give-up their storage space, right?), you might shore-up the attic joists by adding additional structure.

Ultimately, to patch the crack, attach both sides of that crack firmly to the structure by use of screws and plaster washers , rout out the old joint, and patch using paper or fiberglass mesh tape and compound.  It would be a good idea to apply plaster bonding compound to the open joint before "mudding".  A great source for plaster patching is found in the NPS "Preservation Briefs" - see

An alternative to all of this would be to veneer over the existing ceiling with a new layer of ¼" or 3/8" drywall.  Make sure that the sheets bridge the current crack.  Newer drywall will prove to be more flexible and forgiving than the old plasterboard.

I wish I had an easier repair to recommend; however, assuming that you are looking for a long-term fix...  "The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result."


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written by Shelley, December 21, 2010
I would probably pull all the plaster out and put up dry wall instead. I know it's expensive, but it's the ultimate repair! Plus their will be no new cracks! Perfect solution.

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