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  1. #1
    Tyleisha Baez's Avatar
    Tyleisha Baez Guest

    Question Options for plaster walls - insulation, electrical, plumbing

    I have recently purchased an older home (1930s) and plan to renovate. But I cannot seem to find the correct resources on the web to help me make informed decisions. I am hoping this forum might be the correct place.

    The house is a two-family, each floor is a separate unit but there is a shared entrance and basement. The home has plaster walls some in good condition some are cracked. I plan to renovate the second floor first. I have a series of questions about repair options and the types of professional with whom I should be speaking.

    (1) I know the house is unbearably hot in the summer and freezing in the winter (New Jersey) are there any viable options for blown in insulation as I am sure this house does not currently have a vapor barrier. I have read the following online that guards against blown in insulation for homes without a vapor barrier "In old houses with plaster walls, there is no vapor barrier under the plaster so the wet air hits the insulation and condensates. This wets down the blown-in insulation making it a wet mass at the bottom of the wall cavity creating an inviting place for termites and dry rot. Then the moisture enters the exterior sheathing and wood siding causing permanent exterior paint failure." I certainly don't want that to occur but I need more energy efficiency in my home.

    Q1A. What types of professionals can help me best assess my current situation? More than a surface inspection that tells me I likely have an issue due to age of home and cracking of walls?

    Q1B. What types of professionals can help me best determine remediation options?

    (2) I have to address both plumbing, HVAC and electrical upgrades as part of my remodel.
    Electrical is older and will not meet energy requirements of my family, appliance, computers, air conditioning, etc. I would also need to move the fuse box from the basement upstairs into the 2nd floor unit.
    Plumbing water pressure is low when others are using the water.
    HVAC: The current system is newer (5 years) but old radiators are still in place with a stem heat boiler that replaced an oil furnace. The small space is freezing in NJ winters, rooms are all different temperatures and despite numerous visits from plumbers no one can seems to address the problem with the current configuration.
    Q2A. Given the need for these extensive repairs and the vapor barrier issue...Is it a better option to gut (remove the plaster) and expose the walls complete the above plumbing, HVAC and electrical upgrades? And replace the plaster with drywall throughout the home? I keep reading about the benefits of plaster in terms of noise reduction and other benefits.
    Q2B. What types of professionals can help me best assess my current situation outline the pros and cons of each approach so I may make an informed decision?
    I am seeking appropriate references as I completely understand that it would be nearly impossible for anyone to provide solid advice given the amount of information provided in this post. Thank you in advance for your suggestions and consideration.
    Best regards,
    NJ Homeowner

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  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Greenville, N.C.

    Default Re: Options for plaster walls - insulation, electrical, plumbing

    You need to research and find a properly educated and certified Building Performance Analyst. Some one who can evaluate the property and make recommendations.
    Start with the utility company. Many have energy services departments with expertise or at least a referal list. Some may have staff to do the basic auditing for you. You can also try Building Performance Institute for referals.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    Southern Vancouver Island

    Default Re: Options for plaster walls - insulation, electrical, plumbing

    You can get bad info online, just as easily as good info.

    I believe your walls and ceilings can be sealed well enough to prevent moisture problems. That problem will only occur if there is unrestricted air movement thru the wall and ceiling cavities.
    Hire an electrician to upgrade your service and wiring. Go with 200 amps. He will fish new wiring into the walls. Hire a plumber to fish new plastic (Pex) pipe into the walls.
    Seal all openings such as light fixtures and outlets with plastic gaskets made for that purpose. Have an insulation contractor blow in some cellulose or fiberglass insulation.
    You can apply vapor barrier paint to the interior walls. Chances are, you already have 7 coats of paint on those walls. Fill the cracks.

    If your heating system still needs help after that, you will have options -electric heat for the cold rooms, ceiling fans, circulation pumps, for example.

    John Kogel, RHI, BC HI Lic #47455

  4. #4

    Default Re: Options for plaster walls - insulation, electrical, plumbing

    There is no perfect answer, whatever direction you take has its pros and cons.
    First a “full gut” will allow all electrical, plumbing and HVAC access to install systems that should perform as well as any newer home. This will come with the highest costs but the best results (you can do the demo and the tear out to save $$). As far a sound issues, you can use acoustical channels on the ceilings or prep the entire home with 3/8 sheetrock and then add a second layer, this will perform similarly to the plaster (this method is sometimes used to match plaster walls thickness to drywall.
    A work around with limited tear out: you can do just the repairs needed and blow in insulation and then use a high quality primer and latex paint on the interior walls. The combined system will be close to the standard vapor barrier in performance. Or you can use one of the closed cell foam insulation materials that are sprayed into the cavity.
    These were very fast outlines with many details missing so please understand that they are too many items needed to be addressed in a forum like this one. Also many more details are needed about the home to give best practice answers along with choices.
    Many home in south Jersey were build with balloon framing from 1918 – 1935, depending on the area.
    As far as who to choose…no matter where you are you should interview a minimum of 3 contractors. You are looking for contractors who do whole house restorations in your area that have been around a long time. Make sure you check their work!

    Jeff Zehnder - Home Inspector, Raleigh, NC


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