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Unread 03-18-2021, 03:01 AM   #1
Justine13
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Tile backsplash over rock lath plaster walls....

Hello all, I'm a new poster to this site but have read many posts. I feel I've exhausted myself trying to find a solution to my problem. I have a home built in 1954 in the twin cities area of Minnesota. I've gradually been learning about the materials used to build my house. I have some pretty cool features including a perfectly in tact coved ceiling in my family room area. I have never seen anything like it, my mom took note of it immediately when I purchased the home and it is quite remarkable. I found out quickly that I had plaster walls in most of the house. However, I believed I had wood lath plaster. Recently, I have decided to purchase new kitchen countertops to replace the old laminate. As a backsplash, there was a laminate board framed with metal stripping along the edges and the countertop. I removed it. In doing so, I found that I have ROCK lath plaster walls. There was a very thin layer of veneer plaster over the stucco/cement like board below it. There are some cracks near the light switch cut outs but for the most part seems to be in decent condition.

Bottom line....I am not looking to repair this plaster. I am not about to master the skills of plastering nor pay through the nose for someone to do it for me. From what I can gather, tiling a backsplash is not a very good idea over plaster. If you do so, you seem to need special bonding agents and if the surface isn't completely flat I will run into problems. The plaster in the kitchen is in good condition everywhere except for what was under the laminate backsplash. There seems to be a combination of old wallpaper, brown mud, and that thin veneer plaster that is chipping off in some areas.

Can I install a Hardie backerboard onto the plaster wall and tile over that? All the threads I read always relate to tiling over plaster in a bathroom where waterproofing is the main concern. I've read that an uncoupling membrane is a no-no for vertical surfaces. I am not about to destroy the rock lath to put up drywall when the area needed is maybe 40 square feet. Is there a different type of backerboard that would make sense? If so, how do I fasten it to this type of plaster wall? Cement screws? Do I need to prime the walls? All I want to do is put up some simple subway tile.

I attached a picture to help describe my issue. I have no doors on my cabinets because I've spent the past couple months stripping, sanding, staining, and poly'ing the solid oak to preserve them rather than replace! I will post a picture of the other side of the counter where the rock lath is exposed due to the chipping of the plaster, tomorrow.


All suggestions welcome!
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Unread 03-18-2021, 05:18 AM   #2
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Justine, plaster is a rock solid surface
I’d patch any divots or flatten out any humps with drywall “hotmud” or with thinset beforehand. You can prime with an additive for quik-level, it’ll seal the plaster and patch material from drawing moisture outta your bond coat for the tile. Also will help with your bonding strength, depending on the tile of choice will tell you how flat you’ve gotta make it beforehand
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Unread 03-18-2021, 09:07 AM   #3
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Hi Justine.

House forensics was something I got pretty good at. Here's what I see in your photo; Green surface was original wall surface. Original backsplash apparent at bottom. Later a full height laminate backsplash was applied to hardboard (Masonite) which was adhered to original surface with combed adhesive of some type. This was a common way to cover prior sins.

What I'm having some trouble figuring out is the jagged edge to the right in photo around that duplex receptacle. Has the entire wall been overlaid with something? Plaster? Drywall? Do you want to get plane of backsplash to the level of the overlay or vice-versa? Perhaps another photo from further back would be helpful.
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Unread 03-18-2021, 09:10 AM   #4
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Welcome, Justine.

I'd differ with Christopher only in my choice of patching material. Appears you have a Portland cement-based plaster (guessing) and I'd do my patching with a cement-based patching material. I'd wanna go over it all with a rub brick or similar to smooth it out a bit and tile over it with a modified thinset mortar.

Kitchen backsplashes are among the most forgiving areas to install ceramic tiles, but you still want good surface prep and a good bonding mortar.

[Edit] And now that I see Peter's post I'm reminded that I meant to mention that you need to continue removing that layer of material he's seeing at the far east side of the photo. That is almost certainly not a Portland-based plaster product.

My opinion; worth price charged.
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Unread 03-18-2021, 11:45 AM   #5
Justine13
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So the green appears to be some paint. The red/pink is old wallpaper. I think the brown troweled stuff is a glue mastic that held the laminate backsplash on.
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Unread 03-18-2021, 11:52 AM   #6
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CX, if the rock lath is made with lime should I be using a modified thinset? I think I read somewhere you should use unmodified? Something about chemical reactions. At least this is somewhat good news from you experts. Continue removing the veneer plaster and try to obtain a smooth finish with a cement based compound sounds much more obtainable.
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Unread 03-18-2021, 01:16 PM   #7
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I know of no reason you would not use a modified thinset mortar (ANSI A118.4) over lime plaster. I know the Portland cement doesn't mind, and I don't know why any of the polymer modifiers would object. One of the more educated members will correct me if that's wrong.

You could certainly use an un-modified thinset mortar (ANSI A118.1) if you prefer. The modified mortars are generally a bit easier to work with, but a good quality un-modified would be fine as well. A bit more difficult to locate, though.

I'd want to see the old adhesive removed to the extent feasible. The paint can be roughed up a bit and tiled over in a backsplash application in my view. Taking everything down to what looks like the original wall mud/fat mud/wall mortar layer would be optimal, but not likely worth the effort and you're never gonna care.

That final layer near the window in your photo is looking more like gypsum drywall, now that Peter mentioned it. That would have been an adequate substrate for your new tile had it all been left in place.

My opinion; worth price charged.
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Unread 03-18-2021, 01:35 PM   #8
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So do you think I should chip away the thin layer of plaster (which was painted green) to continue to expose the cement layer? Then use a cement patching compound to level it out and patch cracks? Or should I just leave the plaster and go over all of it with the patching compound? Would some Quik Crete be feasible?
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Unread 03-18-2021, 02:39 PM   #9
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Justine wrote:
Quote:
I found that I have ROCK lath plaster walls. There was a very thin layer of veneer plaster over the stucco/cement like board below it.
My house was built in 1954 too, but in Massachusetts.

I think that is what is in my bathroom... There is part by the tub where the tile fell off and part of the wall is broken... There is what looks like a skim coat of plaster over some sort of cement. Don't know if that will mean anything for the remodel.

BTW what to you mean by coved ceiling? Maybe post picture?

The ceilings in the part of my house have very nicely done (plaster?) and regularly spaced "swirles"... That must have taken bit of work!

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Unread 03-18-2021, 03:50 PM   #10
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Unless there's some compelling reason to remove outermost layer of original surface, I'd leave it alone. That coming from someone who likes to start fresh and erase past sins. If that additional layer of plaster/drywall/whatever can all come off as cleanly as it appears to, I'd do that since you've already started. Is the wall sound at the green level?

Assuming it's sound, I'd be inclined to clean up surface some and float something like 1/4" drywall or tile backer on top of it using as few fasteners as possible and appropriate adhesive. Could be mortar or construction adhesive. The only thing to figure out would be how to finish the ends because it appears they'd stand proud of wall surface elsewhere in room. Could be J or L mold, painted wood or some other terminus.

You stated you didn't want to plaster, so this would be a workable solution and save you a bunch of work to gain almost nothing in the end.

Floating whatever sheet goods on will mitigate a lot of surface undulation telegraphing , as you let the material define the new outer plane and the adhesive follow the wonky wall behind.
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Unread 03-18-2021, 06:14 PM   #11
Justine13
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I considered this as well. Putting up a thin backerboard but had the same concerns about the edge since it will not be flush with the rest of the wall. I continued to chip away the plaster over the cement today since I had already started on one side. I'm going to consider my options for backerboard but if I can't find a nice edging solution I think I will remove all the plaster and level it out with cement patching compound. Then I will just tile right over the cement. Subway tile is pretty cheap. I figure if this all falls apart in a couple years I will re do it with a new approach. Thanks everyone for the advice!

I will post my coved ceiling when I get a chance! I work nights!
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