Category Archives: Plastering Guides

Covering your back – how not to get stung by customers that just don’t want to part with their money

32490514 - handwritten underlined terms and conditions texts in all uppercase, isolated on gray background.It would be lovely to get through a lifetime of plastering without having to deal with difficult customers and those that refuse to pay on shaky grounds; unfortunately that is a daydream and not a realistic expectation when you are self-employed.  Most customers are reasonable and will pay for the work you do, but there will always be some people who take a chance on getting something for free.  What can plasterers do to protect themselves from disputes and non-payment threats?

One very important thing to do is to photograph your working area before you start.  It can be worthwhile photographing the access route to that area as well, as marks on walls or damage to carpets are sometimes cited by homeowners as grounds for a discount or not paying.  Modern cameras, both digital and those on smartphones automatically log date and time data against each file, so there’s no need to get a copy of the day’s paper to prove the date, although it wouldn’t hurt if you had one handy (best keep page 3 out of the shot though).  Having photographic evidence of the state of the house and room to be plastered before you start any work, means you have proof of any damage that was there before you arrived.

Agree in writing with the homeowner that they will remove or cover any furniture, remove skirtings’ and sockets or radiators, and anything else that may have been agreed (i.e. they may be suppling some of the materials).  If the homeowner does not keep to their end of the deal ensure you photograph this as well, as if you end up charging more in labour costs you can prove that these extras were outside the original scope of the work.  Having the scope of work agreed in writing as well, will back you up should the homeowner claim that you have failed to complete part of the job.

When you quote for a job and can clearly see that there will be problems with plastering, either due to cracks in the walls, damp or other issues then ensure this is discussed and agreed with the homeowner.  They may expect you to be a miracle worker, remedying underlying issues that are nothing to do with plastering, so by making them see what can be realistically achieved you can both start off on the same page.  It is a good idea to get any agreements that you will not be liable for issues arising due to damp or structural problems in writing as well.

Asking for a deposit, if only to cover the materials, is one way of sounding out potentially difficult customers.  Most reasonable people will be happy to pay in advance for the materials and if they say no, it could be a good warning sign that there may be issues with payment on completion.  There are stories of people organising work then being on holiday for long periods when the job has finished, making obtaining payment a nightmare.  Check with the homeowners that they are not planning a two month vacation just as you are due to finish plastering.

Providing a method statement to all customers is a good way of being transparent with the homeowner, without spending time repeating yourself and explaining what you are doing.  If there is no confusion with what work you are there to do, and in what order, the chances are you will be left largely alone.  Terms and conditions, including when payment is due, are also worth providing on every quote and it is important that the homeowner signs something to agree to those terms, which can then be used to prove your case should it be necessary.  This is considered to be a contract and should the customer threaten to take legal action (it’s not common, but it does happen occasionally) then you can rest easy knowing you have all the paperwork to back you up.

Unfortunately there is no such thing as mybuilder.com for customers, so with all new customers you have no way of telling, except for your instincts, whether they are going to be reasonable or not.  For this reason alone it is worth taking the steps outlined above, and as a bonus it also makes you look professional.

Despite what Tony may tell you, tiger stripes are not Gr-r-reat!

There’s nothing more annoying than getting to the end of a job only to find tiger stripes or original artwork tiger with dark stripes, isolated on beige background, and sepia color version, llustration. spots appearing in the final coat, which you have just spent time getting a smooth as possible.  They are not easy to decorate over, as they will even show through a couple of coats of paint in the right light, and wallpaper can fail to adhere well over these areas, potentially causing bubbling under the surface, if the papering is done too quickly and the plaster is still a little damp between the layers.

Tiger stripes in plaster are often the result of putting the second coat on too soon after the first coat has been laid down.  If the second coat is too thick this can also cause tiger stripes, but the main cause is a first coat that is still too wet to receive the second coat.  Other causes of stripes in setting plaster are a dirty trowel (as debris or dried plaster on the edges can drag into the plaster surface) and the scratching in, being done too deep.  If the hollows of the scratching are too deep for the second coat to fill, then the colour differences will appear as the plaster dries differently, without proper contact with the first coat.  The same effect happens when the trowel is dirty between coats; the scratch coat takes the brunt of the messy edge and you get more hollows than intended in that first coat.  Tiger stripes in plaster can also be caused by using too much water when laying in the second coat; a mix that is too wet will not take to the scratch coat well enough to dry evenly.

To avoid most of the potential causes of tiger stripes, make sure the trowel is cleaned well between coats or use a different trowel for each coat.  Also, ensure that the first coat is dry enough that it will bond well to the second coat, yet still wet enough to bond with the second coat.  Mixing up new plaster for the second coat is also a good way to ensure that the mix will be the right consistency; laying up stiffer plaster with a wetter trowel to make it workable is one of the other suspected causes of tiger stripes.

If the stripes are caused by hollows in the first coat, more pressure is needed on the second coat to flatten the two layers together and remove the stripes.  As they usually appear while the final coat goes off there can be time, if you are quick, to work the plaster a little more with a wet towel and even out the two layers.  Stripes can be made worse by applying too much pressure; some plasterers say that too much pressure when flattening out is what causes them in the first place; so do be careful when reworking a final coat that is drying in stripes, that you don’t make the problem worse.

If the stripes are caused by the second coat going on while the first is still too wet, you can try and remove them by working the surface again just as is goes off; sometimes adding more water to the surface can even out the stripes at the end stage.  If this doesn’t work you are probably stuck with them, and leaving the wall to dry fully, then lining is the best option (if you don’t want to hack the plaster right back and start again, that is).

Hopefully you will never see another tiger stripe in your plaster, and the only ones you’ll be familiar with are on your cereal box!

Rough Guide to Pricing and Quotes

Pricing domestic plastering jobs can be a tough task; going in with a hefty quote may priceSmiling couple doing renovations at home you out of the running, but going in too low can give the impression that the resulting work will look cheap.  Either way, the biggest risk is being out of pocket when the job is done, especially if unforeseen problems arise along the way.

Domestic customers often don’t know what is involved in plastering, and can assume that all is needed is a simple re-skim or repairing a crack in existing plaster, leading them to believe that the job won’t cost much and writing off any quote that they think is too high.  Similarly, they may ask for a quote based on the size of the room, without allowing you to see the place before quoting.  It might be tempting to offer a price without having seen the job first if you need the work, but this often leads to quoting too low as the homeowner may have missed out crucial details about the room.

Always ask to see the space you are being asked to work on before giving a quote.  This means you can properly check out the surfaces you are working on, and get to know the customer a little bit.  Being able to discuss what the customers wants face to face is much easier than on the phone or by email, plus you can make suggestions and offer ideas that they may not have thought of.  By being able to explain to the customer exactly what is involved before providing a quote, they will know what to expect from your quote, and be confident that you will do a good job.

Try to avoid giving a quote on the spot; even providing a ballpark figure can be risky if it is more than the customer had in mind.  Instead, make notes about the surface quality, any remedial work that is needed, the size of the area and any plastering materials needed, then write up a comprehensive quote when you get home.  It is a good idea to email a quote over the same day you have met the customer, as it gives the impression that you are prompt and punctual.  If this is not possible, tell the customer when you will send them a quote, and stick to it.

When quoting try to split out the costs as far as possible; this may involve providing a separate sheet of materials costs for bigger jobs with several stages (for example, plasterboard, tape, specialist finishes, equipment hire).  Being transparent in your costings gives the customer peace of mind that you are not hiding anything and that you will do a thorough job in their home.  It is also a good idea to provide a timeframe for the job, especially if you know the customer needs the work done quickly.  They may be prepared to pay more for a faster job if you are able to hire in enough plasterers to cover the tasks, so give a couple of timeframe options if that is appropriate.

Putting forward some potential start dates for the work with the quote allows the customer to check their calendars straight away, and may give you the edge over a similar quote that has not provided potential start dates.  The customer will have contacted several plasterers for quotes, so don’t be tempted to follow up first thing the next day or it could seem pushy.  Lastly, allow them a couple of days to consider their options before calling, and do ask if they have any questions for you, as the more helpful you can be the better your chances of getting the work.

Explaining Humidity and Plaster Drying to Homeowners

Our summer so far has been quite humid despite the lack of very sunny days, and the

A large dehumidifier against a cream wall

effect this humidity has on plaster drying means that it can take a little longer for surfaces to dry.  It can be tempting to use a dehumidifier in a newly plastered room to help speed up the drying process, and homeowners will often go down this route as they think it will get their room back to normal more quickly.  Using a dehumidifier, however, will not lead to a good lasting finish.  Plaster will dry and cure at the rate it should unless the humidity really is at levels far above what is normal, so encouraging faster drying with a dehumidifier usually leads to more surface cracking than you might expect.

Although being hired for a re-skim on walls that have cracked a little means more work for you, it may involve trying to educate the customer as to why the plaster cracked in the first place, and that it was not down to poor application the first time round.  It is far better to explain to the customer why using a dehumidifier is not a good option for trying to dry out a newly plastered room when it is muggy, and make them aware of the potential problems involved in pushing plaster to dry too quickly.  This shows you are professional, and also aware of the homeowners’ desire to get their room decorated and back to normal as fast as possible.  What they do with the information you give them is up to the customer themselves, but at the very least if you do get called back in to fix cracks caused by ignoring the advice not to use a dehumidifier, you have done everything possible to avoid the problem and you should be free of blame too.

Plastering Over the Cracks

Cracks in plaster can have many causes, and sometimes these can be of a structural Crack i the plaster on a wall of an old buildingnature, which means some structural assessment and work will have to take place before the plaster can be repaired.  Ignoring structural reasons for plaster cracking and simply re-skimming the wall will only lead to the cracks re-appearing, so try to rule out any issues caused by damp or by the age of the property.  Sometimes older buildings are prone to plaster cracks due to the wooden and brick construction, as wooden floor joists can sag over time with the weight of internal brick walls.

Replacing roof tiles with heavier ones can also lead to plaster cracking as the load on the basic structure of the building is increased.  Areas around bay windows are especially prone to damage from shifting load in the home.  The drainage around the building is also a major factor in structural stability, as soft ground on one side of the property can see half the building settling further into the ground (an issue for older homes with shallow foundations) leading to cracks in the plaster.  Drainage on sloping ground with a clay soil can also lead to water entering a building when air vents are placed too close to the ground or may become blocked, causing damp and therefore cracks in the plaster.

Finally, plastering over older lime plasters with a modern gypsum based product can lead to cracking as the two layers have different properties and can move independently of one another, causing cracks in the top layer of plaster that may spread to the coats underneath.  If you intend to re-plaster a room that has lime based plaster on it, the best course of action for a lasting finish is to strip the plaster back to the brickwork and start from fresh.  This may be more work, but the final result will not be prone to cracking caused by the difference in plasters.

Some cracks in plaster may be caused by drilling into a wall, and these can be repaired fairly easily, as the cause is not structural, nor will it happen again unless more drilling takes place.  Larger cracks can be repaired by cutting the crack into a v-shape and filling in cutting plasterboard plaster hand with dirty sawwith a gypsum based plaster filler, as the increased contact area between the existing plaster and the filler improves the bonding and gives a longer lasting result than just filling in a crack as it is.

In new builds where plasterboard is used and finished directly on to, there should not be any problems with cracked plaster from structural or application issues, provided the job has been done properly; cracked plaster is a common problem in older buildings due to the construction and often several layers of plaster being applied over many years straight on top of each other.  Of course, the decision on what work can be done is made by the homeowner and depends on their budget, but with sound advice from a plasterer the end result can be exactly what they want.  It is tempting to cut corners and simply plaster over cracks when the cause is obviously structural or down to old plaster as the base layer, but the homeowner needs to be aware that the cracks will come back if not properly sorted out.  After all, if the cracks come back the homeowner is unlikely to use the same plasterer to fix it again as they won’t trust the work, but with a decent explanation of the causes and solutions to their cracked plaster they can make an informed decision, even if this does mean taking a short cut and spending more money in the long run.

What Makes Venetian Plaster So Unique?

Venetian plaster is an ornate style of plaster that traditionally uses marble dust within theVenetian plaster texture. Closeup. Studio shot. Macro. mix to leave a marble-like surface effect on the finished wall.  Although the term refers primarily to the product, meaning a plaster that comes from the north of Italy and is used for creating beautiful surface effects, the term is more widely used within the trade to refer to the job, the style and the techniques.  Synthetic Venetian plaster is available, and is considered by some to be more consistent and reliable in application than natural recipes.  That said, some traditionalists insist on using authentic Venetian plaster because the lime and marble mix is hardwearing and will not fade over time as the synthetic versions do.

Venetian plaster is usually polished to give a high shine effect that mimics the sheen of polished marble, although it is sometimes left unpolished where a more natural, rough hewn finished is desired.  The effects and styles were developed several hundred years ago, when Venetian plaster interiors were all the rage across Europe.  Marmorino, scagliola and travertine are just some of the techniques used to create the look of ornate marble and stone work, and the same techniques developed all that time ago are still used today.  The plaster is applied in thin layers, which are burnished and built up further to create the depth and texture that makes well-applied Venetian plaster look exactly like marble.

Venetian plaster work is a specialist skill, and it can take months, even years of practice to master the techniques and effects that can be created.  Despite the long, and continuous training required to be a good Venetian plasterer, the earning potential is high due to the demand for Venetian plaster and the types of projects where it is used.  Venetian plaster is a popular option for high end properties, both commercial and residential, and the Empty green room with venetian plaster renderingspecialised nature of the skill often means clients are willing to pay top dollar for a unique finish.  Prices start around £100 per m² and compare very favourably to the earning potentials of basic plastering, at around £10 – 15 per m² depending on location.

Although the cost of authentic Venetian plaster is high compared to standard plasters and paint finishes, it is more durable and easy to clean and does not need maintenance or further work once it is done.  Creating stunning stone effects and highly polished features is much cheaper in plaster than using real stone, and can create pillars and features on a wall at a fraction of the cost, offering the homeowner the chance to have something really special without spending a fortune.  Because an authentic Venetian plaster wall is a long term investment that will not be painted over within a couple of years the clients expect the highest quality finish, so it is worth getting as much experience as possible in order to build up a portfolio of projects and to perfect the techniques and styles that are possible.

It is the range of textures and finishes that can be achieved with Venetian plaster that make it unique, especially the array of colours and depths that are available to fit in with any decoration scheme.  The skill and knowledge of good Venetian plasterers makes it even more special, as is not something just anyone can start doing on a whim.  It is a good skill to have, and offers a talented plasterer the chance to be creative, and earn a lot more while doing so.  If you decide to train as a Venetian plasterer, look for a tutor who has experience and good credentials and learn from the best.