If you’re building a home or buying one, you want to make sure you understand all there is to know about its basic construction and maintenance. While most people look at things like the foundation, roof, plumbing, and electrical systems, they don’t often consider the walls.
There are different options for a home’s interior walls. Typically, plaster was used in older homes and drywall (also called Sheetrock) is used in homes that are newer.
But that’s not always the case. For example, an older home that has been remodeled might have walls made from drywall, and it’s possible to have a new home built with plaster walls (or several other alternatives).
The turning point for which wall surface was used in homes was right around World War II, when drywall became popular and plaster slowly started to fall out of favor.
But even today, there are people who choose to have plaster walls in their homes because of the high-end quality this material can provide.
They may also choose plaster if they have these types of walls already and just need a repair, or if they’re going for a restoration of an older home and want to keep the original look and feel the home had when it was built. Here’s what you need to know about plaster vs drywall as interior wall options.
Table of Contents
- What is a Plaster Wall?
- What is Drywall?
- Plaster vs. Drywall – Pros and Cons
- Plaster vs Drywall – Comparison Table
- The Cost of Plaster Walls
- The Cost of Drywall
- How to Tell the Difference Between Drywall and Plaster
- What Kind of Walls Do I Have?
- When Would You Use Plaster vs. Drywall?
- What is Sheetrock?
- Final Words
What is a Plaster Wall?
A plaster wall, sometimes called a lath and plaster wall, is made from thin, narrow strips of wood that are nailed horizontally across the wall studs. Then, several coats of plaster are applied over the wood, to make a smooth, even wall.
The underline wood can be other material as well such as brick, cement etc. The plaster material is the protective coating which is made from gypsum or lime.
Coating the wall with plaster is a relatively labor-intensive process that can also be time-consuming. Each coat of plaster that is put on the wall has to dry thoroughly before the next coat can be applied.
Anyone waiting for their home to be ready has to pay careful attention to that, because the length of time to complete the plastering of the walls can mean the home won’t be ready as soon as a person might otherwise expect.
What is Drywall?
Drywall is purchased in “sheets” which are typically four feet by eight feet in size. These sheets can be purchased in various thicknesses, with 1/2 inch generally being the most common.
They are made from gypsum pressed between paper on both sides. Because drywall isn’t as labor-intensive as plaster, it goes up faster and more easily.
The sheets of drywall are screwed into the studs at regular intervals, until the entire wall is covered. Then drywall “mud,” which is actually called joint compound, is used to fill in the lines where the drywall sheets meet.
Along with a special type of tape used in the same area, this compound makes the lines disappear. Then the entire area is sanded in order to make it smooth, so you can’t see where each drywall sheet meets up with the one next to it.
Plaster vs. Drywall – Pros and Cons
Like anything, there are pros and cons when using plaster or drywall.
Typically, plaster is more expensive. Part of the reason for that is the labor needed to create these particular types of walls.
They take more time and manpower, so they cost more. They also require more effort and precision to make sure the plaster is even and properly textured on all the walls. The cost and length of time it takes to complete a plaster wall are the biggest cons.
An additional downside is that plaster can crack and break over time. Houses shift and settle, and that can cause cracks in the walls that have to be re-plastered.
Over time, plaster may also fall from the ceiling due to heating, cooling, and general movement of the home.
Plaster is solid and secure for a long time, but once it starts to break down and become damaged it’s possible to see large chunks of it come loose from the walls or the ceiling.
This is part of the reason that many older homes have plaster walls and tiled ceilings. The plaster started to fall off and it was much less expensive to tile the ceilings than it was to have them re-plastered properly.
Another concern with plaster is that it can be more difficult to hang pictures and other items on the wall properly, and drilling into the plaster to avoid damaging it may be necessary. Using a hammer and nails on plaster walls can cause significant problems.
At first glance it sounds like plaster is all bad, but that’s not the case. There are some real pros to using plaster in the right applications.
For example, plaster provides a high-end look you just can’t get with drywall. Plaster can be finished out in a stucco-like texture or with a smooth look, and both can add elegance to any location.
Another big benefit of plaster is its sound-deadening qualities, and most homes made with plaster are quieter and don’t carry sound like homes made with gypsum-based drywall.
Because plaster is much more dense than drywall, it is great for rooms that you want to have excellent sound proofing.
Curves and Round Columns
If you need to go around a curve in your home or if you have round columns in your entryway, for example, plaster is the best choice for these areas.
Drywall doesn’t bend or curve, and trying to make it look right on a curved surface is not at all easy. But plaster can be shaped and molded into curves, giving it the advantage over drywall for these types of applications.
Drywall is still the typical choice for today’s home, though. That’s partially due to cost and time, but also due to the insulating properties of drywall.
It performs better than plaster at keeping heating and cooling inside the home, and when coupled with today’s insulation options it’s even better.
Hanging Things on the Wall
Drywall is also easier to deal with on a daily basis. Hanging pictures and other items doesn’t require screws or drilling, and a nick or scratch can usually be handled by the homeowner.
Even more significant damage to the drywall is often repairable without professional help, which makes drywall a popular options for the majority of people.
Drywall also doesn’t do well if it gets damp, and can mold if exposed to water and not dried properly. A special type of drywall is made to go into bathrooms in order to avoid these types of dampness issues.
But even the drywall made for damp locations can be easily destroyed by a significant amount of water, at which point the drywall will have to be removed and replaced.
Even though it has some downsides, drywall is still the wall of choice for the vast majority of residential structures built today, and for those that are older but need to be remodeled.
Plaster vs Drywall – Comparison Table
The table below summarizes which wall material is best for specific features/characteristics.
|Feature||Plaster vs Drywall. Which is Better?|
|Curves and Round Columns||Plaster|
|Easy to install||Drywall|
The Cost of Plaster Walls
Plaster walls cost more than drywall. While the material costs are comparable, it’s the labor that makes the cost higher.
Typically, you can expect to pay about three times as much for a plaster wall as you will for a drywall one, all other things being equal.
The area of the country you’re in will affect the specific cost of the plaster walls, as some places have higher numbers of older homes and buildings where plaster repair is common and it’s still used for walls in some new construction locations.
Living in an area where there are more people who do plaster work for a living means you’ll typically pay less for plaster walls than you might elsewhere, in an area where the use of plaster isn’t as common.
You should expect to pay an average of $500 per 100 sq.ft for plastering your walls. If you want extra work such as resurfacing, you should expect to pay even more.
The Cost of Drywall
Drywall costs several dollars per sheet, with the exact price varying by location. However, because drywall takes a lot less time to install and finish out, the total cost of a wall will be around 1/3 of the cost of the same wall when plaster is used.
Naturally, that’s going to vary some based on the area of the country, the company that is hired, and other factors.
If you have a wall that’s curved or other unique features that can be hard to address with drywall, that could potentially raise the cost and make it more comparable to plaster.
On average, you should expect to pay around $200 per 100 sq.ft for drywall work.
How to Tell the Difference Between Drywall and Plaster
While just looking at the wall may not give you the information you’re seeking, there’s a quick and easy way to tell whether you have plaster or drywall in your home.
Take a pushpin, and find an inconspicuous spot. If the pin goes in easily, you have drywall. Pushing a pin into a plaster wall is much more difficult, and you shouldn’t force the issue. That could actually cause damage.
If the wall doesn’t belong to you, pushing a pin into it might not be the right choice. In that case, look for any signs that there’s flaking, cracking, or damaged areas such as chips missing.
Generally, that indicates a plaster wall instead of drywall. Plaster walls are also often thicker, which could be difficult to spot unless you’re looking at a corner or an area where molding or trim has been removed.
What Kind of Walls Do I Have?
Finding out what kind of walls your home has can be very important for any kind of future repairs. You’ll also want to know this information so you can be mindful of how you need to hang pictures or other items.
If you try to use a nail to hang something on a plaster wall, you could crack or splinter the plaster and have to have it repaired.
If you have drywall this won’t be an issue, but you’ll want to be mindful of dampness and other concerns that could affect your walls and potentially cause you problems.
If you aren’t sure what type of walls are in your home, try the pushpin test discussed above. You can also ask a professional contractor to come and tell you about your walls, so you can find out what they’re made from and get your questions answered.
When Would You Use Plaster vs. Drywall?
Typically, you would use drywall when building a new home or when remodeling a home that needs repair.
The cost and simplicity of using drywall make it a good option for the majority of walls in homes and also in plenty of commercial buildings.
While you can use plaster for newer buildings, most people don’t. You may want to use plaster for the repair or restoration of an older home, for a higher-end look, or for walls that are curved.
These are three good reasons to choose plaster instead, because they might not be right for drywall. That’s not to say that you can’t remodel an older home by using drywall, but if you want to restore it to its original look it may be best to select plaster instead.
What is Sheetrock?
Sheetrock is a brand of drywall. Many people use the terms interchangeably, but that’s really not accurate.
While all Sheetrock is drywall, not all drywall is Sheetrock. Some drywall may be made by other manufacturers.
The composition of the products, however, will be basically the same. The quality should also be comparable, since drywall must meet specific quality and safety standards.
You don’t have to buy Sheetrock brand to get good drywall for your project, although some people do prefer to get the brand name instead of something they might not recognize.
Because drywall and plaster both do basically the same thing but have different properties, along with different pros and cons, it’s important to think carefully before choosing one or the other for your home.
If you already have plaster walls that are in good shape you may want to keep them, but if you’re remodeling or your walls need significant repair, sheetrock may be your best choice for long-term quality and durability, overall.
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