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When it comes to interior walls, it can be challenging to find which material is best to use. There are many materials to choose from these days, all of which offer distinct advantages and disadvantages to the interior of your home. Some of the most popular means of installing interior walls are to use either drywall or plaster, but which is better? The plaster vs. drywall debate has been going on for a really long time, so let’s have a look at each of these walling materials and find out what these materials are good for, and whether there’s an answer to the plaster vs. drywall debate!
Table of Contents
Drywall vs. Plaster: What Are These Materials?
Before we get into the drywall vs. plaster debate let’s have a look at what each of these materials is, what their qualities are inherently, and where they are best used. Keep in mind that interior walls have some preferred qualities, some of which these materials have and others that they might not but let’s have a look at what they’re made of and what they can do so you can decide for yourself.
What Is Plaster Wall?
Plaster is a staple of the interior design and construction industry these days, but it’s actually been used for a really long time. What is plaster wall, though? Essentially, plaster is a mixture of sand, cement, and sometimes lime, with a thick consistency that is typically smeared across the surface of walls to provide a protective layer and make it easy to paint.
As we mentioned previously plaster has actually been around for a really long time. How long? Plaster was used in the tombs of ancient Egyptian royalty, although at the time the mixture was made of sand, animal hair, and a little bit of water. The ancient Romans applied a plaster mixture to their homes which they then adorned with beautiful fresco images.
Although lime-based plaster proved to be the most popular of the plaster types, a great alternative to it would be the gypsum-based plaster formulas.
Gypsum-based plaster dries faster, making it the perfect tool for time-sensitive projects, or jobs where you need to plaster a lot of surfaces quickly. As you can see, plaster has stood the test of time, and has even evolved over the years thanks to advancements in technology.
History and Use of Plaster
Back in the day plaster was used virtually everywhere thanks to it being readily available, relatively affordable, and easy to use. How is plaster applied? Plaster is sold in a dried cement-like powder that forms a sort of paste when mixed with water.
In older American homes, plaster was lathered on an interior structural surface called lath, which consisted of strips of wood. In other parts of the world, plaster is commonly applied to brick or cement block walls.
Generally, three layers of plaster are applied. The first layer is applied, cut, and allowed to dry. The second layer of plaster is known as the “brown” layer, and once it dries the final layer of plaster may be applied. Plaster is an excellent option if you want to insulate your space from external noise, and because gypsum plaster has such a high water content, it also functions as great protection against fires.
Plaster is also quite versatile as it can be applied to surfaces that are of unconventional shape, or those that aren’t completely flush. That makes it the ideal material for custom-built interior surfaces, mixed media art pieces, and even some exterior walls.
It can take some skill and experience to get the right consistency when mixing plaster though.
This means that it can be a steep learning curve for beginners, which may be why it has fallen out of favor with both contractors and homeowners in recent years. This combined with the fact that plaster is labor-intensive to apply, time-consuming to mix, and can crack as buildings age, means that most people prefer alternate materials these days.
What Is Drywall?
Drywall is essentially a bunch of composite materials that are joined to make solid sheets. These sheets are used to create interior walls and are generally coated with a layer of drywall mud in order to make the surface paintable and flush. What is drywall though?
Basically, drywall is a series of sheets made of calcium sulfate dihydrate which are used to construct various interior walls.
The core material of drywall consists of something known as calcined gypsum that is mixed with water in order to create the core of the sheet. Once the mixture has been made it is usually flattened between two pieces of paper (of which the material can vary) which when hardened will form the core of your drywall, before drywall mud and/or tape is eventually applied.
One side of a drywall sheet is known as the paper face, which is generally smooth to the touch, and the other is quite rough, which is usually the part that faces the interior of your home exterior walls. There are many types of drywalls that have different tolerances and inherent qualities. These are usually custom-made for special applications.
Drywall is pretty easy to install and can be affordable depending on what type of drywall you need or want.
After all, these are just sheets of gypsum rock when it comes down to it, so all you really need to do is line them up, attach your corner beading, tape up the joints between them, and apply your drywall mud. As you can see, this is far easier to install compared to plaster walling.
History and Use of Drywall
Drywall is extremely convenient to install and is pretty easy to come by. All that you need to do is measure how many boards of a certain size you will need, get this board, line them up, secure them, layer them with drywall mud, and paint them. This is far less labor-intensive when compared to plaster walling, not to mention less time-consuming.
Drywall also has a number of inherent qualities that make it similar and even superior to plaster walls by comparison.
Like plaster walling, drywall is inherently resistant to fire as the boards have a large water content. Drywall is also cheaper to install whether you are doing it yourself or hiring a professional, as all you need to do is nail or screw the boards to the studs that make up your interior structure.
However, there are some notable drawbacks to using this material as a base for your interior walls. For once, drywall cannot be used to cover irregularly shaped surfaces in the home, and just like plaster walls, they tend to break if the surface expands or contracts. Additionally, if drywall shifts away from the stud it’s connected to it can result in “stud pops” which can ruin your paint job.
Drywall is also not the most durable material, as it isn’t very resistant to things like impact and abrasion.
What’s more is that you’ll need drywall tape, drywall putty, and drywall filler in order to properly install your drywall. Compared to a simple poster wall, there are way more things to consider, but when looking at the price difference it’s easy to see why many people still choose drywall these days.
The Difference Between Plaster and Drywall
Drywall and plaster serve the same purpose, so what is the difference between plaster and drywall? Let’s have a look at some of the characteristics of each of these materials to see what makes them both unique and where they overlap with one another. Since these are some of the most commonly used materials to construct interior walls, it might be worth knowing if you ever have to choose between the two.
Drywall and plaster are pretty different when it comes to the composition of their base materials. Plaster is a mixture of sand, cement, water, and lime, which is a applied to series of horizontally positioned boards that have been nailed to your walls studs.
You could think of plaster as drywall mud, if drywall mud was the hardened into the actual wall that didn’t need paper/board backing. It is also thicker than drywall and more robust.
Drywall, on the other hand, is made of calcium sulfate dihydrate, which is mixed with water and pressed between two sheets of really big paper until it dries solid. These sheets are then placed in series where you would like a wall to be and nailed directly into your wall studs. Think of drywall as plaster that has been squeezed between two pieces of paper and allowed to solidify. Not so different, are they?
The installation process for each of these interior wall composites is pretty simple too. Let’s have a look at plaster fist. If your walls are not of brick or cement block, then you will need to create a lath layer. Thus consists of thin wooden planks nailed to your studs to create a surface onto which the plaster can be applied. You will usually apply three coats of plaster on top of this layer, allowing each layer to dry before the next is applied. Be sure to mix your plaster in the correct ratio’s of cement, sand, and water, or it will be difficult to apply.
The drywall is a bit easier to install. You need to measure how many sheets you will need, then get the number of boards you will need and position them where they will be installed. Next, you need to secure your corner trim, nail your drywall sheets to their corresponding studs, apply your drywall tapes to the joints between each sheet, and finally coat your wall with drywall mud.
In both instances two to three layers of plaster and drywall mud are applied, allowed to dry completely. Drywall will need to be sanded and cleaned before being ready for paint, while plaster must be finished to the required smoothness before it dries.
As plaster and drywall are both absorbent surfaces, leaving them unpainted will result in long-term damage. In addition, before painting plaster or drywall, you will first have to apply primer. Installing drywall tends to be less messy and less labor-intensive compared to installing plaster walls. This is one of the reasons why drywall remains more popular, even though the material is inherently less durable.
Durability and Lifespan
Durability is something that most homeowners look for, especially if they have little ones running around and/or if a space will be seeing a lot of foot traffic. After all, regardless of whether you choose drywall or plaster, it’s a major investment that you’d presumably would like to spend as little time maintaining and/or repairing as possible.
When it comes to durability, many would argue that plaster walls are inherently more durable than drywall.
When it comes to thickness and resistance to impact/abrasion, plaster does give drywall a run for its money. However, drywall Is not as rigid as plaster walls and therefore will not crack if the structure expands and/or contracts throughout its lifetime.
It seems that just like the rigidity of plaster counts against it under certain circumstances, so does the flexibility of drywall where impact and abrasion are concerned. However, while plaster can crack, you will undoubtedly experience wall pops with drywall sheets at some point in time as your drywall nails work away from your studs.
If this were a points-based game, drywall would lose yet another point when it comes to longevity.
Drywall is just not as durable as plaster, and if you’re wondering exactly what the difference is, drywall tends to last for exactly half as long as plaster. That being said, on average well -maintained plaster walls can last 100 years, while well-maintained drywall tends to last only 50 years at the maximum.
Maintenance and Repairs
As we mentioned previously, interior walls are an investment. Knowing that your walls won’t require too much maintenance and won’t cost an arm and leg to repair should damage occur can give you great peace of mind. Between drywall and plaster then, which gives the least hassle when it comes to maintenance and repair?
Repairing plaster walls isn’t really something you need to worry about too often considering that they are really difficult to damage to begin with.
Plaster walls therefore rarely need repairs, but should the wall crack, it can be extremely challenging to repair on your own especially if you have no experience with this type of repair work. In most instances, you will need to consult a professional.
On the other hand, plaster walls don’t really need to be repaired aside from cleaning them, especially if they have a polished finish. Plaster typically provides a smooth finish that isn’t super porous which means that you won’t be on your hands and knees checking for cracks, mold, and indents like you would with other materials.
Drywall on the other hand needs to be maintained fairly regularly.
If you don’t keep your eye on your drywall and it is damaged, the damage could easily spread to other sections of the board which means more work for you. You should ensure that your drywall nails are secure, that there is no moisture underneath the wall, and that your paint is adhering correctly regularly. However, when it comes to repairing drywall, the job is much easier, at least when compared to plaster walls. You see, drywall panels can easily be replaced, and spot-repairing holes in drywall can be done with drywall putty or spackle depending on the size of the hole. All that’s left after this is to paint the affected area or repaint the entire drywall sheet.
When it comes down to it, whether most of us choose drywall or plaster will depend on the cost. How much it costs to purchase, install, maintain, and repair can sway even the most stubborn mind in the other direction. That’s why we’ve compared a few of the cost differences between drywall and plaster for you to consider.
The cost to purchase plaster is usually pretty cheap, and if you are capable of installing plaster walling on your own you are going to save a lot of money.
After all, the plaster itself is just the powder, so it can cost anywhere between $2 to $10 per square foot of coverage.
Although this is cheap, drywall will only cost you around 1$ and 3$ per square foot, making drywall the winner.
Labor is another factor you should consider, especially since contractors tend to charge by the hour. If you have a large area to cover this could work out to be pretty expensive. For example, when installing plaster labor usually accounts for around 70% of the total cost as skilled plasterers can be super difficult to find these days.
This makes sense considering that their skills are in high demand and there aren’t many of them to meet the demand. However, since drywall is really easy to install and there are many drywall installation services these days, the total percentage labor included in drywall installation cost is usually only around 35% to 60%.
Long-Term Cost Analysis
When it comes to the long run, you might be willing to fork out some extra cash if it means you save a lot of money down the line. After all, if the money is worth it, it beats having to constantly maintain and/or repair a wall surface for years and years to come. So, is drywall or plaster more effective financially in the long run?
Plaster is far more effective in the long run. Not only will well-looked-after plaster walls last you a century, but you won’t have to do much in maintaining and/or repairing it because it is so robust.
Drywall on the other hand usually only lasts between 30 to 50 years and needs to be maintained often, and since it damages quite easily you might have the odd repair every now and then to contend with. So even though plaster is a greater initial expense, it tends to pay for itself eventually.
Still can’t decide which walling material is better? Well, if you’d like to do your part in preserving our environment and you’re wondering which material is the least harmful, we’ve provided a few factors for you to consider before you settle on an answer. Here are the respective environmental impacts of both drywall and plaster.
As we mentioned previously, plaster lasts for a really long time, and since the majority of its composition consists of natural and bioirrigated materials it will not harm the environment should your wall collapse and/or need to be removed. Additionally, since plaster rarely needs to be replaced, less of it is produced, making it a good option in the context of sustainable construction materials.
Drywall doesn’t tend to last as long and generally needs to be replaced every couple of decades depending on how well it is taken care of.
This combined with the fact that the production of drywall can sometimes involve harmful chemicals means that it isn’t particularly good for the environment overall.
Disposing of plaster walls is a rare thing considering how sturdy and long-lasting they are, but when they are torn down and disposed of you can rest assured that plaster walls don’t pose any threat to the environment. The only variable would be the type of paint used to coat your wall, but most paints these days are rendered almost completely inert after a few years.
Drywall on the other hand can be harmful to the environment when disposed of incorrectly. What does this mean? Well, in addition to the insulation used with drywall, it can produce hydrogen sulfide gas when left to rot and disposed of incorrectly. This is not only dangerous for the environment but for people too.
Aesthetics are a largely subjective topic, but you should know what you’re getting depending on what material you choose. Plaster tends to provide a smoother, classier finish when compared to drywall, which can be confusing.
Plaster tends to cost more, but since this look is highly sought after lots of homeowners are willing to pay for this exclusive aesthetic.
Even once drywall mud has been applied and it has been painted, drywall tends to provide a rougher look when compared to plaster. However, there are ways to refine the finish of your drywall, but it will take considerable time and effort to do so. That being said, drywall rarely provides a bad look, and there are loads of customization options when it comes to texture and color.
Now that you know what plaster and drywall are, whether plaster is the same as drywall, what some of the pros and cons of each material are, and some of the key characteristics to consider when choosing one, we wish you the best of luck when choosing one for your next project. Remember that most things last when they are well maintained, and that the longevity of your walls largely depends on you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Plaster the Same As Drywall?
If drywall and plaster are both used to create walls, is plaster the same as drywall? Well, no. While drywall consists of sheets that are joined together, plaster is applied to walls in the same way that cement is applied to brick.
What Are Interior Walls Made Of?
If the outside of houses is made of shiplap or brick, then what are interior walls made of? Most interior walls these days are made of either plaster or drywall. These materials can be used to quickly and effectively construct interior walls.
Does Drywall Last Longer Than Plaster?
No, because plaster walls can last for over 100 years if they are well looked after. Drywall is far less robust, with drywall sheets only lasting between 30 to 50 years, even if they are meticulously maintained throughout the course of their lifespan.