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How Old is Your House?

How Old is Your House?
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The lath behind the plaster can help determine the age of a house.
Photo/Art by Annie Graves
The lath behind the plaster can help determine the age of a house.

If you’re trying to date your house, you may be able to find a clue in its plastering job. Although it’s difficult to determine the age of plaster itself, you can come up with an approximate date by examining the lath behind the plaster.

The earliest lath was hand-split with a hatchet, resulting in an irregular board that expanded like an accordion. Wet plaster pressed against the lath would ooze between the splits before hardening, forming a permanent “key,” or attachment.

After the use of circular saws became widespread around 1830, split lath was still used in rural areas, but elsewhere the fastest, cheapest way of producing lath became sawing boards into thin, regular strips. This process, distinguished by the regularity of the lath and the saw marks, remained standard into the 20th century, when drywall began replacing plaster as the wall covering of choice.

Earl Proulx (1913-2002), Yankee’s “Plain Talk” columnist

READ MORE: The Big Question: Old Houses

Updated Friday, April 17th, 2009

2 Responses to How Old is Your House?

  1. ann scourtes February 24, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

    thats cool

  2. w s tays March 19, 2015 at 4:20 pm #

    My house is late 16 hundreds, end chimney colonial with split lath in the ceilings and strip lath in the walls. Researching s Berwick me we found in 1631 a saw mill on the great works river had multiple blades up to 17 at once, up and down saw, the first water powered in USA this would explane the lath diferance so strip lath may have been early than thought, I deal with gang saws in the wood industry and they had to be cutting lath.

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