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Lath and Plaster

Lath and plaster is a traditional building process, used by craftsmen to form walls and ceilings dating from the early 1800s until the mid 20th century and a natural progression from the historic wattle and daub technique.

Laths are narrow strips of wood or timber, approximately two inches wide, that are secured horizontally against the structural joists, or stud walls of a building. A space of around a quarter of an inch is left between the laths, to which plaster is applied. The plaster is spread firmly against the lath, forcing the plaster into the gaps inbetween. This creates plaster-keys, overlapping plaster on the back of the lath structure, to ensure the plaster adheres securely to the lath and providing a base for subsequent layers of plaster to be applied.

Two layers of plaster are traditionally applied, this is known as a brown coat, before the plaster is finished with a smooth, white coat to form the top layer. When the top layer is fully dry, which could take some considerable time, walls and ceilings can be finished off by painting or papering.

Lath and plaster walls and ceilings offer a great deal of strength, durability, soundproofing and flexibility of design. Walls can be constructed to unusual designs and shapes and when plaster is fully dry it's rigidity should remain indefinitely.

What to watch out for

Some conditions however, can cause plaster to crack, separate and fall away from a lath structure. Structural movement due to overbearing weight or subsidence can result in cracks appearing. Weaker areas such as window and door frames can be usual starting points for plaster cracks to form and spread.

Wooden laths tend to expand and contract with moisture and humidity, however water damage caused by roof leaks or damaged pipes can significantly damage both laths and plaster, which could result in plaster falling from walls and ceilings to buckle and sag. Laths can be professionally replaced if structural damage is the root cause of plaster loss, although this could result in significant disruption to the property and prove to be relatively expensive to the property owner.

The traditional lath and plaster building process has latterly been replaced by drywall or plasterboards, which are less time intensive and cheaper to install.


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