Is a crack in a lath and plaster ceiling bad news?

(13 Posts)
EllyGee85 Fri 14-Aug-15 14:07:10

We have lath and plaster ceilings throughout our 30s house and since having building work done, one of the ceilings has cracked in a couple of places. The ceiling wasn't actually touched during building works so I presume it's from movement. I know the previous owner had recently skimmed over the ceiling but ids at it was more than just a hairline crack. Do lath and plaster ceilings stay up with cracks in them or am I going to get a nasty surprise on my head one day?

3mum Fri 14-Aug-15 16:30:55

No professional experience but have owned several old houses with lath & plaster ceilings. I'd say cracking is very much the norm as they tend to expand and contract. In fact the only time they don't have cracks is for a short time after being skimmed...

Toomuchtea Fri 14-Aug-15 16:34:09

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Halsall Fri 14-Aug-15 16:37:49

Agree with 3mum. Lath and plaster is meant to be able to move to some extent; small surface cracks are normal and shouldn't affect the integrity of the whole ceiling.

You get bigger problems when the plaster is detached from the laths, and that can be serious - but it doesn't sound as though that's the case here.

Disclaimer: I'm not a builder either!

Tarrarra Fri 14-Aug-15 16:42:05

We had a hairline crack in a lath and plaster ceiling and left it for a few years. Eventually it got bigger and bigger and by the time we called in the plasterer he was surprised it had held on for so long. If the crack doesn't grow or get any bigger, I think you're ok. If the crack gets any wider, or seems to drop on one side then call a decent plasterer and have it replaced with plasterboard.

80sMum Fri 14-Aug-15 16:43:04

Some of our ceilings are the original 1925 lath and plaster. When we bought the house, 30 years ago, the survey pointed out that the living room ceiling had a lot of cracks and should probably be replaced.
We couldn't afford to get a plasterer in, so used textured paint (like artex!) to cover the cracks.
A couple of years ago we had the textured ceiling reskimmed, so there's a fair bit of extra weight up there now.
It hasn't fallen down (yet!).

PigletJohn Fri 14-Aug-15 18:04:09

sooner or later, an L&P ceiling will fall down.

My preference is to take it down before that happens. If you have fancy cornices and coving, these can be saved or even replicated by an experienced and sympathetic plasterer.

It is very dirty and dusty. You might prefer to have the job done at a time that is convenient to you, rather than ruin your furniture, carpets, TV, PC, clothes, books, family photos and whatever else in in the room and adjoining ones.

EllyGee85 Fri 14-Aug-15 18:34:19

Oh I really hope it doesn't fall down! And the whole house has been completely decorated top to bottom so not a good time to take it down!!

What clues are there that it will fall down? I've never actually know anyone who's ceiling has fallen down...

EllyGee85 Fri 14-Aug-15 18:34:38

Thanks for all the replies everyone!

PigletJohn Fri 14-Aug-15 19:03:42

sagging. A large slab may crack round the edges, and sag as the nibs break off. If you fill or paint cracks and they open up, the ceiling is moving.

If the loft is above and you can see the upper surface, you can look at the nibs and see how many are still hooked over the laths.

the nails holding the laths will rust away, especially above the bathroom and kitchen, and upstairs.

Bomb damage in houses built prior to May 1945 will have cracked and loosened many ceilings.

Smurfingreat Fri 14-Aug-15 19:12:09

If it seems to be getting bigger I'd get it looked at. My DM had a 6 foot chunk of ceiling fall off and miss her by inches! It also created a hideous amount of dust and debris. She didn't seem to traumatised though, about 20 minutes later she announced that at least now she had an excuse to redecorate. (Don't think she'd have been so happy if it hadn't landed in the middle of the room and missed all the furniture, not to mention her!)

ThriceWoe Fri 14-Aug-15 19:26:10

I actually have had lath & plaster ceilings collapse - but only new ones, which had been replaced by a supposedly reputable specialist company. Ironically, the original ceilings would probably have been fine with some TLC. I live in 400 year old house btw (though to be fair, the ceilings were probably 'only' around a hundred years old)

Lime plaster ceilings can last for many, many years and can often be repaired. OP, I'd suggest you get some specialist advice from eg The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (I know yours is 1930's, but they have a wealth of experience on looking after period buildings).

Plasterers have to know what they're doing with lime plaster; it's nothing like modern gypsum plaster and anyone who says they can work with lime needs to be checked out to make sure they've been properly trained and understand it.

There are modern alternatives to traditional lime: there's something called Limelite which has the properties of lime but is much easier to work with. We had a whole room re-done in that by someone who'd never worked with traditional materials; it was a great success.

Taking down an old ceiling is, as others have said, massively dusty, dirty and horrible.

Good luck, OP.

yomellamoHelly Fri 14-Aug-15 20:04:30

We have a builder in atm (who does lots of structural work). He said our ceiling cracks (1930s house) will be down to too much bounce in floor and may well be a result of many years of people cutting little notches and chinks out of the floor joists. And therefore we ought to get that checked out. (Don't think we ever will though.)

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