Common Plaster and Stucco Mistakes

Plaster and stucco

While plastering and stucco are two different processes, there are a lot of inherent similarities as well. These applications have a broad variety of uses. Outside, stucco can add a unique look to your home's exterior or cover up an exterior you're not crazy about. Indoors, plaster is a very common wall covering, and creative plaster applications can be used to create decorative, artistic touches.

Like all home improvement projects, plastering and stucco can be hampered severely by making the wrong choices. The average homeowner simply doesn't have a working knowledge of every single home improvement project. Don't feel bad...just take the time to educate yourself before you begin. A little knowledge can go a long way when it comes to home improvement, and can save you a great deal of money and hassle.

In this article, we'll take a look at some of the most common mistakes made by homeowners when dealing with plaster and stucco. We'll also let you know when it's best to call in the professionals, as well as how to avoid these common and costly mistakes.

Improper Removal

In many plastering projects, removing old plaster is the first step. This can also be a particularly tricky step, since you can literally bring down the entire wall if you're not careful. Old plaster has a tendency to bond very tightly with whatever is beneath it. If the plaster was applied over brick, you can easily rip out chunks of brick as you remove plaster. The same principle applies regardless of material.

This mistake is easily avoided by simply starting small. Using a chisel and a rubber mallet, chip away at a small area of the wall, preferably near a corner. This will allow you to see exactly what is underneath your plaster, and it will also give you an idea of how easily the plaster itself is going to come off.

Once you know exactly what you're dealing with, you'll be much better prepared to take the plaster down. If it appears that the underlying material is holding together well, go ahead and use the chisel approach on the entire wall. Yes, it's time consuming...but it's a lot faster than replacing a collapsed wall, right?

If you find that the wall is crumbling as you chip away, or if you're simply not sure how to proceed once you discover what the underlying wall is made of, don't hesitate to call a professional. A consultation is often available for a surprisingly small fee, and you'll have the benefit of an expert opinion. Of course, the professional may suggest his own contracting company to complete the job, but you don't have to hire them. Follow common sense, and be honest about what you can do on your own when making this decision. Simply by starting slowly, instead of whacking the middle of the wall with a giant mallet, you'll have avoided one of the most common plaster mistakes.

Purchasing the Wrong Type of Material

When dealing with plaster and stucco, it's important to remember that different mixtures exist for different purposes. Certain plaster mixtures have been created specifically for exterior use, and certain types of stucco are interior-only.

It's actually rather unlikely that you'll end up with the wrong type of material. The packaging alone is usually enough to clue you in that you've got the wrong product in your hand. However, homeowners still manage to make this mistake surprisingly regularly. This is almost always due to a combination of trying to rush and not paying attention.

If you're tackling a plastering or stucco project on a DIY basis, use common sense. If you don't have a good basic knowledge of which formulations are appropriate for which uses, ask a professional or a knowledgeable home center employee. This simple step can save you a return trip to the store, and also save you from the potential expense and damage of applying the wrong formulation.

There are some important criteria to keep in mind when choosing a formulation. Where will the plaster or stucco be applied? Are you trying to create a decorative finish, or is this strictly a utilitarian application? Will the stucco or plaster be applied in an area with excessive moisture, or on top of a stone wall? These considerations have a lot to do with which formulation is appropriate, and they will help you determine the right material to purchase.

Painting Over Stucco Cracks

Painting a stucco wall can seem like an extremely simple operation, but it's not without potential mistakes. These mistakes can cause significant damage, and avoiding them can save you a great deal in time and money.

Stucco cracks should never be painted over. Even if the cracks are small, sealing them up can seal moisture inside. Moisture inside a stucco finish will, over time, degrade the stucco, cause larger cracks and contribute to mold and mildew growth. If you can't see the damage, it will continue to spread, potentially leading to a mold problem which affects an entire portion of your home.

Stucco cracks should be patched up with the proper materials. For most small to medium cracks, this will be an elastomeric compound. These compounds can be found at all home improvement stores; an employee can help you choose the right brand and formulation. Never patch up stucco with whatever you have on hand, such as leftover plaster or caulk intended for sealing windows. To maintain the integrity of your home, the proper products must be used.

Painting Stucco at the Wrong Times

Painting your new stucco before it's had a chance to cure properly is one of the most common mistakes which homeowners make. Unfortunately, it's also one of the most potentially destructive and costly.

Stucco needs a chance to cure in order to fully dry and provide all the strength and protection it is designed to provide. Curing involves applying water to the stucco, in order to draw out any excess lime that was within the material. Different formulations and brands have different times and methods for curing, and it's essential to follow directions precisely for the best results. Painting before your stucco has cured will halt the curing process, leaving you with a very unstable wall.

Painting wet stucco is another big mistake, and another very common one. All the moisture needs to be drawn out, which takes time. As with curing, follow manufacturer directions. If you ignore directions and paint on top of wet stucco, you'll end up with a wall full of hairline cracks...not a pretty picture. You can also cause the stucco itself to fail to dry properly, which could necessitate starting over from the beginning.

As much as you want your stucco project to look good right away, take the time to let the stucco dry. You'll be rewarded with a much nicer-looking finished product, instead of one which needs to be immediately refinished.

Attempting Venetian Plaster without Proper Know-How

Venetian plaster is a strikingly beautiful indoor plaster application, which, if applied properly, can look like marble. It is created by applying several layers of plaster, usually three. These are typically different colors in the same family, such as three shades of brown or gray. The last two layers are not smoothed, creating a textured surface. Once the layers are dry, they are then sanded down and buffed to a luxurious sheen, creating the marble-like appearance.

While this is actually a very simple process, it's rather involved. One mistake can easily ruin the entire wall, so proceed carefully and make sure you know what you're doing.

Several potential venetian plaster mistakes are similar to common paining mistakes. Tape up corners of the room to avoid getting plaster on woodwork or adjoining walls. Drape cloths over furniture, and wear a mask to avoid breathing in harmful fumes.

Prepping your wall properly is essential. Steps can be found in books, by asking a pro or by looking online.

Once you wall is prepped, you're ready to apply your plaster. The most common mistake made during the application of venetian plaster is not allowing each layer to dry thoroughly before proceeding. Check the manufacturer's directions for drying times, follow them closely. Applying the next layer of plaster too soon can ruin the entire project and require you to start over from the beginning.

When you've applied your plaster, sanding and buffing are your next concerns. This is where many homeowners run into trouble, simply because they're unfamiliar with the tools used. Sure, you can sand the entire wall by hand, using sandpaper. However, this is extremely time-consuming. A power tool is the quickest choice, and yields the most uniform and reliable results.

Sanders and buffers are available for rent by the day at many rental stores. However, don't make the common mistake of trying to handle one of these machines if you have no experience. Professional assistance doesn't have to mean hiring a contractor for the entire job there's no reason why you can't hire help for only the sanding and buffing portion of your project. If you have any doubts about your own abilities, play it safe and hire a pro. When you see the beauty and shine that a good sanding and buffing can create, you'll be glad you did.

Posted by: Diane Sheppard
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