Converting Your Company’s Plaster Walls to Drywall

small business office space

What do a former liberal arts college in southern PA, a massive World War II airplane hangar outside of Baltimore, and a vacant high school in northern Maryland have in common?  All were in danger of demolition, but instead have a new lease on life thanks to one of the hottest trends in commercial real estate—a practice called adaptive reuse.

The term was coined by commercial real estate manager and thought leader Saurabh Mahajan in 2017. It simply means repurposing a building for other uses than what it was originally intended for. To give a few examples, hotels are becoming affordable housing, retail spaces are being converted to medical facilities and historic factories are being repurposed into event venues and office space.

If you’re an entrepreneur, business owner, or restauranteur interested in a sustainable, environmentally friendly space, you should consider adapting an older building with its historical charm and architectural uniqueness for your company. Keep in mind, however, that you will have a lot of issues to consider and decisions to make. For example, if the walls are made of plaster—and chances are good they will be—you’ll need to figure out what to do: does it stay or does it go?

From the 1700s through the 1940s, interior walls were constructed of plaster over wooden or metal gridwork covered with three coats of lath, building up a flat surface to form a wall. These walls provided some insulation, fire-resistance, and soundproofing, but they weren’t without their problems.

For all their character, charm, and positive benefits, there are good reasons why plaster walls have fallen out of favor. As the building settles over time, plaster walls commonly develop cracks. If moisture infiltrates those cracks, slabs of plaster fall out of the lath framework. Plaster isn’t easy to repair and replacing it is expensive.

Replacing plaster with drywall is a job for the professionals. Unless you’re experienced in the construction industry and understand the steps and risks involved in replacing plaster with drywall, leave it to Robey, Inc.

Asbestos and Lead Testing

We’ll test the plaster and paint in the building for the presence of asbestos and lead, which is known to be toxic, and discuss any mitigation work with you.

Prep Work

After you’ve moved any fixtures or furniture in the space into temporary storage, we’ll protect the unique flooring the historic building is likely to have with 4 x 8 plywood.

Removal of Plaster

You basically have two options. You can cover the old plaster by installing drywall panels on top. This is the simplest way to go, but not necessarily the best or most efficient. We recommend demolishing the old walls and tearing out the lath and plaster all the way down to the studs before installing the new drywall panels. This is the better option, but it is the messier of the two techniques.

Hanging Drywall

The cost of each panel depends on its size and purpose. Commercially sized drywall is typically 4×12 and 4×16. A ¼ inch drywall is normally used for repairs, and ½ inch panels are used for walls and ceilings, and 5/8 inch drywall for fireproofing is the most expensive of all.

Installing Insulation

Replacing the lath and plaster in an adaptive reuse project with drywall for the first time always means installing insulation at $1–$3 per square foot for labor, materials, and clean-up.

For more than 30 years, we’ve been a leading local drywall contractor, serving areas in and around Baltimore, Maryland, northern VA, Washington, DC and south central PA. While we’ve completed hundreds of commercial, industrial, and institutional projects, we never forget that yours is unique. That’s why you can always count on us to create an end-to-end cost estimate to set expectations and keep your project in scope and on budget.

If you are considering replacing the plaster in your commercial property with drywall, call us—we’ll provide a budget-friendly solution within the cost estimation of the project without sacrificing quality.

When you’re ready, Robey is ready.