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The plaster vs. drywall debate has been going on for a long time, and there have been plenty of questions that have sparked from this discussion. The reality is that most people rarely think about their walls when doing any remodeling, and this often leads to questions such as “is plaster the same as drywall?”, or “what is plaster wall?”. Fortunately, we have done our research to ensure that you get all of the information needed to make an educated decision when it comes to your next wall project.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is Plaster?
- 2 What Is Drywall?
- 3 Differences Between Plaster and Drywall
- 4 Cost Comparison
- 5 Environmental Impact
- 6 Aesthetics
- 7 Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Plaster?
Before you assume that plaster is an outdated wall material, it is still used in modern homes due to the myriad of benefits that it has to offer. Below, we will take a closer look at it along with some of the advantages and disadvantages that come with using it.
Definition of Plaster
Plaster is a construction material that is used to preserve or decorate walls and ceilings, as well as for casting and molding ornamental components. In English, “plaster” normally refers to a substance used for constructing interiors, whereas “render” typically refers to external uses. In the United States, exterior plasterwork is also often referred to as “stucco”, while elsewhere in the world, the term stucco describes a decorative plaster finish commonly known in the U.S. as Venetian plaster.
The most popular varieties of plaster mostly include cement, lime, or gypsum, although they all function similarly. The plaster is produced as a dry powder that is combined with water and sand to make a hard but usable paste before being put to the surface. Through crystallization, the interaction with water releases heat, and the saturated plaster hardens.
History and Traditional Use of Plaster
Plaster was initially utilized in the Middle East as a construction material and for decorative elements at least 7,000 years ago. In Egypt, gypsum was burnt in open flames, ground into powder, and combined with water to make plaster, which was used as a mortar amid pyramid stones and to produce a smooth front for buildings. In the ancient city of Jericho, a sect of worship developed in which human skulls were plastered and painted to resemble lifelike heads. Plastering skills were introduced to Europe by the Romans.
Plastering is an ancient method, and some of the earliest techniques are vastly similar to those employed now.
Despite its ancient roots, one of the main reasons for it not being used as much today is due to how expensive it is and the process of layering takes a very long time.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Plaster
Plaster is tougher and thicker than drywall, and as a result of this and its chemical composition, it is superior at sound absorption. It is assumed that a twice-as-thick wall should be twice as effective at soundproofing. Excellent for seclusion, but not for eavesdropping. A conventional plaster wall is almost twice as thick as conventional drywall installations at 7/8 inches thick. Thicker plaster walls also give greater thermal breaks than drywall, resulting in lower utility costs.
A solid plaster wall’s tensile strength is significantly greater than that of drywall. Try sanding dried plaster or striking a hole in plaster vs. drywall wall. It is not going to happen. This strength comes in useful when it comes to avoiding drywall dings, nicks, and dents.
Since plaster is stronger, it is more difficult to drill or nail into, making decoration more challenging. This earlier post has some tips for hanging objects on a plaster wall. Masonry nails will hold small to medium picture frames, but when attaching shelves or larger items to plaster walls, you will need to drill a hole and then screw a masonry fastener into a wall-plug.
Plaster becomes more brittle than drywall as it ages because it is constantly curing harder and harder. Cracks in walls as well as ceilings are widespread in heavy traffic areas or regions with shaky foundations, and they can be destroyed by time and gravity. Gravity can cause greater problems on a plaster ceiling since the keys do not operate as well as when used on walls, and foot movement from above can also undermine the plaster ceiling.
Wi-Fi and cellphone transmissions die behind thick plaster walls. Even in a modest cottage with plaster walls, a simple wireless router is unlikely to suffice. You will be able to get away with using a range extender, but if you have a large home, this will turn out to be an expensive upgrade.
What Is Drywall?
By looking at the drywall vs. plaster debate, according to the research, plaster seems to be the obvious choice. However, before we can jump to that conclusion, we need to understand what is drywall and what is its role in modern construction. Below, we have provided all of the information that you would need to understand drywall.
Definition of Drywall
Drywall goes by many names; gypsum board, wall board, cement board, or sheetrock, and it is usually available in two forms: joint compound or drywall panels. Manufacturers make gypsum drywall panels with paper coatings on both sides. This keeps the board’s shape so that installers may attach it to the wall using drywall screws or similar types of fasteners.
Standard drywall panels as well as fiberglass insulation are generally used to cover wall studs in new house construction projects. A few companies make drywall with modifications to increase functioning or fulfill certain construction regulations.
Drywall is now available with different properties such as soundproofing and mold resistance.
History and Traditional Use of Drywall
Drywall has a lengthy history of hardship before becoming popular before and following WWII. It was devised in 1916 as a dry substitute for plaster, but it would take another 25 years for it to be universally recognized as a legitimate construction material. Homes and structures built using drywall might be finished in one-tenth the time of those built with plaster.
With the end of the war and a reduction of the workforce as a result of the war effort, material needing reduced labor arose. Of course, the material was drywall. Drywall could be simply transported and installed with fewer expert employees. Homes and companies might be built faster and with fewer workers.
This new method of mass construction grew immensely popular as it was perceived as patriotic. Additional funds were thrown into the war effort yet being able to meet domestic demand for home and company building. Today, drywall is one of the most popular construction materials as it remains cost-effective and very easy to use.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Drywall
With no clear winner of the drywall vs. plaster debate in sight, we need to take a closer look at the advantages as well as the disadvantages of using drywall. You will find that both of these construction materials hold distinct benefits, which almost makes them seem as if they cannot be compared.
The disadvantage of plaster is that you need to achieve the right mixture of cement, sand and water, and a fair degree of expertise to apply it smoothly and evenly.
In addition, in American homes, interior plaster was traditionally applied over thin wooden strips known as lath, that had been nailed to wooden studs, requiring even more work and materials. Drywall is simpler and quicker to set up, expediting home building or refurbishment. Drywall is also widely available on the market. If you need to swap out a panel or sheet, you should have no trouble finding an equivalent that matches your existing panels.
The pricing is another one of the factors that contributes to the popularity of drywall. It is a low-cost material that may be utilized in home construction. Along with that lower cost comes some disadvantages though: Even relatively minor impacts can result in damage, which is evident if you have teenage boys in your home. There is damage-resistant drywall that is better at withstanding shocks if you want a stronger variety.
Drywall can easily be damaged by water, particularly when it is installed near sinks, restrooms, or bathrooms. Water damage might cause the sheets to collapse and mold to develop. However, there are fiberglass variants that are more moisture-resistant.
If recycling is essential to you, you should be aware that drywall is difficult to recycle and is frequently disposed of in dumps. So, if you can repair it, do so, but ultimately it will end up in the local garbage dump. Drywall may not be as strong or long-lasting, especially in high-traffic locations.
Differences Between Plaster and Drywall
Both plaster and drywall have their respective roles in the construction and DIY industries but it is no secret that these compounds are significantly different from each other. As part of the plaster vs. drywall analysis, we will take a look at the differences between the two as we compare factors such as composition, installation, durability, and general maintenance.
Gypsum plaster, sometimes referred to as ‘plaster of Paris’, is the most popular type of internal wall plaster. It is made by heating gypsum to approximately 300°F.
When combined with water, dried plaster powder reverts to gypsum.
Unmodified plaster begins to set around 10 minutes following mixing, but it will not be entirely set for another 72 hours.
Drywall is made by compressing only one layer of gypsum amid two sheets of thick paper. Mined gypsum is combined with starch, and paper pulp, as well as an emulsifier that functions as a thickening agent. It is mixed with water to make a thick paste, which is then put in thick layers over Manila paper. Another layer of Manila paper is laid on top before the item is dried in the oven. After that, it is cut into sheets.
The installation process of plaster vs. drywall are very different from one another. Plaster is normally applied in layers, the number of which is determined by the roughness of the area being plastered. Rough, bare walls may require a minimum of three coats of plaster. To make plaster involves achieving the exact correct mixture of cement, sand, and water to create the desired velvety consistency.
After mixing, the plaster must be used quickly before it starts to set. Getting plaster to stick to a wall and achieving a smooth even finish requires a fair amount of expertise and practice. As a result, installing plaster is both time- and labor-intensive and there is very little margin for error.
Installing drywall, on the other hand, is much easier and can be done in an afternoon.
Drywall panels need to be attached securely to wall studs or furring strips installed over brick surfaces. Panels are attached vertically to metal studs but are better attached horizontally to wood studs since wood is more inclined to warp over time, and horizontal hanging helps decrease deflection.
Durability and Lifespan
Drywall is substantially less dense compared to plaster and has an open section behind it. This makes it prone to mold accumulation as well as damage, and it might require more regular repairs.
Plaster is firm and thick, making it the preferable choice for individuals seeking a long-lasting finish.
When the layers dry, they form a solid mass, and plaster walls may typically survive for decades before needing to be rebuilt. However, because plaster walls are so sturdy, more effort and specialist fasteners will be required to hang photographs or art on them.
Maintenance and Repairs
As we have established, drywall is less durable than plaster but it is more easily repaired. Small holes, fractures, and chips may be repaired with store-bought drywall repair kits, and the majority of hardware stores carry drywall patches for larger holes.
Minor chips, fractures, and uneven spots in plaster walls may be repaired easily using a plaster repair kit; however, major damage will require expert assistance.
Deep or extensive cracking necessitates a multistep restoration technique, and plaster that has eroded beyond repair might require complete replacement. Any exposure to moisture will also mean ripping out old drywall for complete replacement.
When it comes to cost, drywall seems to be the cheaper option. However, there are a variety of factors that need to be considered before we can decide that it is the ideal option.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but in some scenarios, there is the possibility that plaster can be cheaper over the long term. So, let’s take a closer look at the material, labor, and long-term costs that come with each material.
When it comes to drywall material pricing, you can expect it to be cheaper than plaster. On average, drywall costs $10 to $20 per sheet, or $0.30 to $0.50 per square foot, based on size, type, and thickness.
Drywall materials range in price from $200 to $400 for a 12′ x 12′ bedroom’s walls and ceiling.
Plastering typically costs within the range of $2 to $10 per square foot for walls. If you are planning to do the ceilings, it will cost between $2.50 and $12.00 per square foot. Naturally, this is based on the type and style of plaster used. Plastering a 12’x12′ room costs between $1,200 and $6,000, which is much more expensive than drywall.
Labor costs are generally an afterthought, but unless you are planning to do the job yourself, this should be part of your budget. The cost of drywall installation ranges from $1.50 to $3.50 per square foot, based on the height of the ceiling, finish level, and drywall type.
The cost of labor to hang and finish drywall ranges from $1.00 to $2.70 per square foot. A 12′ by 12′ room will cost between $580 and $1,800 to drywall.
Plan to pay anywhere from $2 to $5 per square foot for plaster application or $4 to $10 per square foot when it comes to refinishing, which needs additional prep and removal of previous plaster. Professionals often charge by the hour, so when hiring for the work, anticipate paying $60 to $80 per hour.
Long-Term Cost Analysis
Plaster will undoubtedly last longer than drywall, but once repairs come into play, it can get very expensive. Small chips and cracks can easily be repaired, but refinishing or repairing structural damage could require a complete overhaul of the surface.
Drywall, on the other hand, might not be as durable, but it is much cheaper to replace when damaged. Not only is it cheaper, but it is a job that you can easily do yourself if you have the proper tools on hand.
With climate change and a range of other environmental factors coming into effect, more companies are becoming increasingly mindful of the environmental impact of the products that they are producing. Building materials have a negative reputation for being environmentally unfriendly, so let’s take a look at the effect plaster and drywall have.
Comparison of the Environmental Impact of Plaster and Drywall
Plaster walls are environmentally beneficial to some extent. Plaster’s major components, such as sand and lime, are organic and sustainable resources. Plaster walls also have an extended lifespan, eliminating the need for regular maintenance. The same cannot be said about drywall as it generates significantly more waste. Drywall cannot be recycled and the gypsum used is a breeding ground for microorganisms that produce hydrogen sulfide, which is a lethal gas.
Eco-friendly drywall products have become more popular. As far as sustainability goes, it ranks as one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gasses. More expensive eco-friendly drywall products are available but are yet to gain traction in the construction industry due to costs.
Plaster is much more sustainable and you can also use clay plaster products. These are non-toxic and organic while also being lime and concrete-free.
One of the main reasons for choosing a particular type of wall finish is the look of it and there is a big difference in the aesthetic of drywall and plaster. Drywall has a single layer that limits what you can do with it, whereas plaster easily consists of three layers that can be shaped and molded.
Comparison of the Visual Appeal of Plaster and Drywall
The aesthetic attraction of plaster as well as drywall is one of the most noticeable distinctions. Plaster has a more polished appearance than drywall along with being less prone to holes and dents.
Professionals can apply the required texture using plaster if they want a glossy, smooth, or stucco-like surface.
Because drywall is difficult to bend, plaster is the finest choice for curving walls or ceilings.
Hanging art or any type of decor on drywall is very simple due to its thickness, but the same cannot be said about plaster. Plaster is extremely hard once cured, so you will need to ensure that you have a drill to make a pilot hole for a wall anchor into which to insert the screw from which to hang the artwork.
Plaster is generally more difficult to paint and decorate when compared to drywall, but it will have a much better aesthetic if done properly.
Suitability for Different Design Styles
Drywall may appear less polished when compared to plaster, but the smooth flat sheets that drywall comes in makes it the ideal material to achieve the crisp shapes and edges required for sleek modern interior architectural designs.
Decorative plaster is very expensive, but this makes it possible to carve different designs into the surface. Specialist-applied Venetian plaster is also known for its polished look and it is very popular for covering curved walls. Overall, you will have many more design options with plaster.
Now that you understand the differences between plaster and drywall, you will be able to choose between the two without any regret. Drywall is cheaper and easier to work with but not as durable, whereas plaster is more expensive and requires a professional, but will last much longer. Ultimately, the decision is yours, and we wish you good luck with your project!
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is the Difference Between Plaster and Drywall?
If you are wondering about the difference between plaster and drywall, it is easy to get them mixed up. Plaster consists of a blend of water and either powdered lime, cement, or gypsum. Drywall consists of gypsum plaster that has been compressed by two thick sheets of paper on either side.
Is Plaster the Same As Drywall?
No, it is not. Plaster can either be made of water blended with powdered lime, cement, or gypsum. However, drywall is gypsum plaster that is covered with thick paper to create a sheet that will be used as a wall panel.
What Are Interior Walls Made Of?
This will depend on when your house was built. Homes that predate 1940 with no significant renovations will more than likely have walls made of plaster. Newer homes that were built in the 1970s and after have walls that consist of drywall. This is one of the best methods to determine what are interior walls made of when dating the house without getting tools involved.