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Which? Trusted traders’ money-saving plastering tips

Are you looking to save money on skimming, outside rendering, ceiling repairs and other plastering jobs? Our expert plasterers advise on how to keep costs down.

In this article

Great plastering is the unsung hero of any decorating project. Without the foundation of a smooth finish, your walls and ceilings won’t look that great. Tired and cracked exterior renders will look so much better after they are redone.

So how do you go about getting a great finish? The first step is not to attempt to do it yourself. Plastering is a highly skilled job, with plasterers having their own specialist equipment and tools. Although Brian Gardiner, from Which? Trusted trader Proper Plastering, told us it’s not so much the plastering, as the preparation that’s the key. ‘I can teach anyone to put plaster on in two weeks,’ he said, ‘but it’s the preparation that makes it stay there for 25 years.’

We look at some common plastering jobs, and how you can try to reduce costs. If you want an idea about average plastering prices, take a look at our cost guide to plastering.

Repairing a ceiling after water damage

A few drops of water won’t damage a ceiling. ‘Plasterboard or lime plaster can absorb quite a lot of water and let it run out again without damage,’ Brian explained. ‘In that case, you can put stain-block paint over and repaint it.’

It’s a judgement call as to when you need to replace the whole ceiling, or when you can just repair part of it. If it’s a small area of damage and the rest of the ceiling is in good condition, it’s generally going to be worth repairing, but your trader should be able to advise you.

You can find an endorsed plasterer with Which? Trusted Traders.

If you are able to repair the ceiling, your plasterer will need to cut out the damaged part to the nearest ceiling joist. They may need to put in timbers and attach new plasterboard, before re-skimming (adding the coat of plaster).

If the ceiling needs replacing, there are two options. The first is to overboard it: put plasterboards over the original ceiling and screw them tightly. Your plasterer will screw the boards into place to avoid banging them about and causing more damage, then overskim the new board. The alternative is to plasterboard over the repairs and re-skim everything to even it all out.

What adds expense?

The height of the ceiling and obstructions such as kitchen units will add to the cost of a ceiling repair or replacement job. There’s not really anything you can do about this, but it’s worth being aware of.

How can I make it cheaper?

‘Remove all wallpaper, if applicable,’ Brian said. ‘Also, remove as many personal or valuable items from the room as possible in order to speed up the work. The working conditions – how much space there is and how easy it is to access the area – have a big bearing on cost.’

Follow our tips to hire the right plasterer for your project. Read on for more cost-saving advice for plastering projects.

Outside rendering to an older property

Adding render to a property can be a style choice. A smooth coat of render (external plaster) can cover over a shabby wall or mismatched brickwork, and give your property a real lift.

It can also protect the brickwork from damp and exposure to the worst of the elements, as well as improving the insulation of the building.

What adds expense?

Scaffolding will increase costs substantially. Brian estimates that scaffolding will add around £1,200 to the cost of any job. But if your plasterer is working at height, this may be unavoidable. Check our guide to the rules around using scaffolding for more details.

Other factors that will increase the cost of outside rendering include the chosen finish, how much surface preparation is required, and any down pipes that need removing and replacing. Acrylic renders are slightly more expensive, but can be worth investing in, as they tend to last longer.  

How can I make it cheaper?

Brian’s advice is to ‘make space available for the plasterer to mix the materials, otherwise they’ll waste time and money doing this before they can begin the work.’

Think carefully about which finish you would like, and whether it is sympathetic to the style of your property. Also, bear in mind that some external renders are more difficult to decorate in the future. Ask your plasterer for advice.

Communication is key for any home-improvement project. See our guide for more tips for a smooth-running collaboration with your trader.

Making good after a rewire

Electricians are legally obliged to ‘make safe’ any wiring they install during a rewire. However, they are electricians rather than skilled plasterers. Brian said his advice is to ask your electrician not to fill over the wiring, and knock that off their costs. Then employ a plasterer to compete the job instead.

He told us: ‘Often an electrician will use the wrong materials. They don’t prepare the chase (the cavity the wires sit in) properly. They leave it proud (sticking out). It’s not their favourite part of the job, but they’re obliged to make it safe, which is why they do it.’

What adds expense?

‘Making good following a rewire requires access to every area of the property,’ Brian explained. ‘If a customer doesn’t prepare by moving furniture to the middle of rooms, the plasterer will have to spend time doing this before they can start.’

How can I make it cheaper?

Brian says: ‘Remove wallpaper around the areas which will be made good, otherwise you’ll have to pay the plasterer to carry this out before they can begin the job.’

When removing wallpaper, make sure you get rid of all remnants using lots of water and a kitchen scouring sponge.

Need an electrician? Read our guide on how to hire electricians.

Re-skimming a room prior to decoration

Re-skimming a room involves preparing the walls and applying a new coat of plaster on top of what’s already there. Your plasterer needs to apply it as evenly as possible, so all obstacles, such as furniture, radiators, sockets and light switches, need to be moved out of the way. Brian said: ‘I go in and unscrew and sockets or light switches, tape the wiring to one side and then replace them afterwards.’

What adds expense?

Many factors can make a re-skimming job more expensive, such as the need to remove and re-fix radiators, the presence of ‘blown’ (loose) original plaster which needs removing and making good, and the difficulty added by kitchen and bathroom units.

Check with your plasterer whether they are happy to move radiators. ‘Heating systems can be temperamental,’ Brian told us. ‘Some plasterers will move radiators with the proviso that they’re not liable if the boiler doesn’t fire up properly afterwards. Others prefer a heating engineer to do the job.’

If your plasterer has to remove the existing plasterwork, this increases the cost because of the price of the waste disposal.

How can I make it cheaper?

As with most plastering jobs, the three things a plasterer will need to complete a re-skimming job are water, electricity, and enough space to set up equipment and mix materials.

Remove as much furniture as possible from the room, to make it easier for your plasterer to access the walls. Anything left in the room will need to be covered with dust sheets, which adds time and expense. Call in a heating engineer to remove radiators in advance.

Brian also suggests that you ‘ask your plasterer if you could save money by following their instructions to remove blown plaster before they arrive to undertake the work’.

Find out more about painting and decorating costs. Read on for more plastering cost-saving tips.

Plasterboard over an existing ceiling, then plaster and cove

Plasterboarding over your existing ceiling means your plasterer will need to find out where the wooden joists are. They’ll do this by knocking holes through the existing ceiling. Then the plasterer will screw the plasterboards up to the ceiling, skim it (add the plaster) and put coving (a curved surface) around the perimeter.

What adds expense?

Removing the existing plaster all the way back to the joists, which can be necessary if the ceiling is in bad shape, will add to the cost. It will also be more expensive if the ceiling isn’t flat.

If you want to install ornate coving, you’ll need to use a ‘fibrous plasterer’ who specialises in this. If it’s just straightforward ‘off-the-peg’ coving, any plasterer will be able to do the job.

How can I make it cheaper?

‘If the ceiling is not badly damaged, ask your plasterer if it’s possible to simply repair and re-skim the ceiling to save money,’ Brian said.

Which? Trusted Traders endorses plastering businesses around the UK for all your plastering needs. You can use our straightforward search feature to find an endorsed plasterer in your local area.

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