“Ok Norma. In my bathroom, I had a towel bar hanging just below my window. Painters came to repair some humidity issues and repaint, and they took down the towel bar. I wanted to put it back up, obviously not in the same place. So I measured etc. and started drilling with a drill bit for plaster and BOOM… I hit metal. Now I didn’t want to go and put in the metal drill bit since there is a structural problem around the window. I figured if I start fiddling with metal, I may lose a window! So I tried a little further down, and although I didn’t hit metal there, I’m running up again something. So how do I do this without making my wall look like Swiss cheese???” – WYSK Reader Jen
NV: My dear Jen, I definitely want to help you avoid your bathroom wall becoming a hole-ly mess!
So let’s get right to it… how to install a towel bar! It’s best to go through a stud, at least on one side, for more secure mounting – it’s not necessary, but preferred. Finding a stud is usually easy. Your situation is a little special for a couple of reasons: (1) you’re mounting through a plaster wall and (2) placement is under a window.
First, some Plaster Wall 101. Typically, a wall is framed out with studs, 16″ apart (on center). Wooden lath is nailed to the studs, and then plaster is shmeared on to the studs in a few applications. The end result is a smooth finish.
On the opposite side of the lath, however, there are bulging plaster irregularities. So who cares how it looks inside the wall, right? Sure… except when you’re trying to use a common stud finder!
A stud finder works by testing density, so when you slide the finder over the part of a drywall wall with a stud behind it, ding ding ding, it knows you’re over a stud (where it’s more dense). On plaster walls, with all the various thicknesses, it can’t tell what’s what!
Here’s the other challenge for you… under a window, there are more “studs” framed in for support, called cripples. So the 16″ distance rule between studs doesn’t apply.
THE GOOD NEWS:
On plaster walls, you can use a metal scanner to locate studs! The wood lath will be nailed to the studs, and the scanner will pick up the metal nails. With studs located, you can screw through the plaster directly into the stud!
In the event you can’t locate the stud, or it just isn’t at the right placement for the towel bar hardware, you can use a toggle bolt. This fastener will require drilling a hole through the lath and plaster that’s large enough to accommodate the bolt – the drill bit size will be indicated on the toggle package. For more info on toggles, check out my “Anchors Aweigh! How To Put Anchors Into Walls” Fix-It Friday column.
Plaster Wall Drilling Tip: To avoid the plaster from crumbling out or cracking, apply masking tape on the wall over the drill point.
THE BAD NEWS:
Ok, so you’re hitting metal and not sure what else. Ugh! Because you say there was a humidity and structural issue with this window, I’m afraid they may have installed something beneath it, perhaps an oversized metal sill, and that may be jamming you up.
WHAT I WOULD DO:
I’d contact whoever did the window/wall repair and ask them exactly what’s behind the wall beneath that window now. Then I’d ask them what they suggest is the best method to reinstall the towel bar. (I’d also ask them why the devil they didn’t reinstall the towel bar they removed in the first place?! Arrrrrrr…)
Listen hon, I know you just want the damn towel bar up, who blames you, but sometimes a little thing like this can turn out to be a hole-ly pain in the ass-umed it would be easy – it’s just the nature of the home repair beast! That said, I’m confident that with this information, plus your smarts and determination, you’ll get a new towel bar up, one way or another!
Best of luck, Jen!
Got A DIY Question? Ask-The-Expert!
If you have a DIY home repair, maintenance or improvement question for Norma, now is your chance to ask-the-expert and have her answer. Your burning question may just be the “star” of an upcoming Fix-It Friday column.
Fix-It Friday is an exclusive Women You Should Know® editorial series authored by seasoned veteran of home improvement, Norma Vally, the former host of Discovery Home Channel’s series “Toolbelt Diva” and a show on Sirius Satellite Radio by the same name. The weekly column is designed to inspire women – weekend warriors, aspiring handywomen, and even seasoned DIYers – to take on home repairs and maintenance projects with confidence and gusto.