Drywall vs Plaster – The Difference Between Popular Wall Materials

Photo: istockphoto.com

If you are thinking of taking on a wall construction project in your home, you will likely hear about two options: drywall and plaster. Newer homes typically have drywall, a material made of plaster of paris sandwiched between two sheets of paper and usually sold in 4 by 8 foot panels. Drywall is quick and relatively easy to install by screwing it into the posts of the wall. Today it is available in different strengths and other options. Plaster of paris and lath, on the other hand, is a more labor-intensive but high-quality wall treatment, where workers nail lengths of wood called laths to the studs and then apply several layers of plaster over them, which are used in most homes built before World War II.

Both methods have their respective strengths and weaknesses, so we split the two materials here – drywall vs. Plaster. Read on for what to consider before planning your next project.

Drywall vs Plaster - A Guide to Understanding the Differences

Photo: istockphoto.com

Plaster is more labor intensive than drywall.

In fact, the labor shortage during World War II is one of the reasons drywall grew in popularity. These days plasterers are more specialized craftsmen than drywall installers. Therefore, the first thing to check when you have skilled workers available in your area is before you decide on the high-maintenance material. For repairs, they can range from simply working on some plaster of paris to rebuilding the wall, especially in cases where electrical or plumbing work needs to be done behind the walls. Drywall repairs, on the other hand, are multi-stage, but easier and easier to carry out for handy homeowners.

Drywall vs Plaster - A Guide to Understanding the Differences

Photo: istockphoto.com

Plaster costs more than drywall.

Because plastering requires more expertise than drywall installation and takes longer, the job alone typically takes about three times or more than drywall installation. The material costs are comparable.

It’s easier to hang items on drywall, but it’s not impossible with plaster of paris.

Plaster is harder and more brittle than drywall. While with drywall it’s possible to slide tacks into the wall to hang posters, you probably couldn’t pierce a plaster wall with the faint tip of a tack. More importantly, you run the risk of the plaster peeling off or cracking. If you need to hang an item like a picture frame on a plaster wall, use screws instead of nails to avoid possible damage. Using a hammer on a plaster wall can be disastrous.

Plaster is more soundproof, but drywall usually means better insulation.

Plaster is a dense material and blocks sound transmission much better than drywall gypsum. Although the plaster is denser, it cannot exceed the thermal capacity of standard drywall in conjunction with today’s modern insulation. The drywall installation process allows such flexibility to accommodate these layers. Retrofitting original plastered walls with insulation – as with most work on plastered walls – can prove difficult and still offers a less energy-efficient amortization than drywall with insulation.

Plaster of paris has a high quality appearance.

It can be applied smoothly, glossy or with a stucco structure. While drywall is the standard in most homes these days, plaster is still used for a variety of aesthetic enhancements. For example, plaster may be a better choice than the popular drywall on curved walls, as it is difficult at best and impossible at worst to get the drywall to bend as desired.

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