What Did Old Houses Use for Walls? Discover the Surprising Answers!

Old houses built during the 1700s through until the 1940s commonly utilized a unique wall construction method known as plaster and lath. This method involved nailing thin wooden strips made from timber (lath) to the studs on the wall and then layering several coats of plaster on top of the lath to create a smooth wall surface. This approach had gained immense popularity because of several reasons. The plaster and lath method was affordable, faster to install, and allowed for better sound insulation as compared to other wall construction methods. Additionally, it also allowed builders to create stunning plaster designs and ornamentation on the walls.
  • Plaster and lath were the preferred method of wall construction from the 1700s to the 1940s
  • Thin wooden strips called lath were nailed to wall studs
  • Multiple layers of plaster were added over the lath to create a smooth wall surface
  • Plaster and lath was an affordable and faster wall construction method
  • It also allowed for better sound insulation and unique plaster designs on walls
  • History of wall construction

    The construction of walls in homes has a long and convoluted history, shifting largely depending on the available materials and technology at the time. The earliest walls in homes were often made of mud and straw bricks, while later, wood became popular due to its versatility, especially in colder climates where it provided insulation. By the late 1700s, a new wall construction method had been developed, commonly known as plaster and lath, which would remain popular until the 1940s.
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    Plaster and lath wall construction

    Plaster and lath wall construction involves nailing thin, tightly spaced pieces made of timber (lath) to studs on the wall and then smoothing several coats of plaster on top of the lath to create smooth wall surfaces. The technique had several advantages over previous wall construction methods, including being a fire-resistant and durable option that could be easily repaired. Additionally, plaster could be made to any shape, from curves to cornices, making it a versatile option for decorative purposes.

    Timber lath used for walls from 1700s to 1940s

    Builders began incorporating timber lath into wall construction during the late 1700s and used it throughout the 1800s and into the 1900s. Lath is typically made from small, thin, and flexible pieces of wood, often narrow strips of oak, pine, or spruce, placed with gaps of a few millimeters between them. These gaps between the lath act as a key for the plaster to adhere to, helping to create a solid and structurally sound wall.

    Techniques used for smoothing plaster

    To create a smooth and uniform wall surface, several techniques were used during plaster and lath construction. Specifically, builders would use tools like trowels and screeds to smooth out the plaster, while still wet. Another technique was to add fibers like horsehair or straw to the plaster mix, providing additional strength and reducing the likelihood of cracks forming over time. Once the plaster had dried, it could be sanded down and painted, providing a smooth and aesthetically pleasing finish.

    Advantages and disadvantages of plaster and lath

    As previously noted, plaster and lath had several advantages as a wall construction method, including fire resistance, durability, and ease of repair. However, there were also some drawbacks, including the fact that it was a labor-intensive process that required skilled craftsmen to complete. Additionally, while plaster did provide some insulation, it was not particularly effective, and it could crack over time due to settling or shifting of the building’s foundation.
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    Maintaining old plaster and lath walls

    For historical or period homes with plaster and lath walls, maintenance is crucial for keeping them in good condition. Over time, cracks may form in the plaster, which can be repaired using plaster patching materials. If the plaster has become damaged or if it has begun to sag or crack, a professional restoration may be necessary. In some cases, homeowners may choose to simply cover the plaster with drywall or another wall covering material, although this can ultimately detract from the character of the home.

    Wall construction methods after the 1940s

    After the 1940s, wall construction methods began to shift away from plaster and lath. Instead, drywall or gypsum board became the most common construction materials used for interior walls, due to their lighter weight, lower cost, and faster construction times. Metal studs and insulation were also commonly used, with the added benefit of being more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. While plaster and lath walls continue to be appreciated for their historical significance and character, newer construction methods have largely replaced them in modern homes. In conclusion, plaster and lath walls were a popular construction method from the 1700s until the 1940s, offering a fire-resistant, durable, and versatile option. While they require skilled craftsmen and can be prone to cracking over time, maintaining these walls is important for historical homes. Today, newer wall construction materials like drywall and metal studs have become the norm, but plaster and lath walls can still be appreciated for their unique beauty and character.

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