Plaster vs. Drywall: What’s the Difference?

Are you thinking of taking up a wall-construction projectIf so, then you have a huge decision to make, my friend. The two most likely materials available to you are plaster and drywall. Both of these materials have their own sets of ups and downs which you should know about before dedicating your time and resources of purchasing and installing.

So fasten your seatbelts as we go over key differences between plaster and drywall where it matters most. But first, the basics.

What is Plaster?

The use of plaster in wall construction can be traced back to our ancestors. In fact, some would argue that without plaster, civilization would not exist. The developed world mainly utilizes plaster to construct outdoor walls, but some houses – typically those built before the 1900s – are made using good old fashioned plaster.

Plaster is essentially a combination of materials for casting and coating walls. Plaster begins its physical life as a wet slurry consisting of minerals and chemicals. The plastering process involves slather wet plaster on a surface and letting it sit until it dries out.

The most important ingredient in plaster is the binding component. The most common binders used in making plaster are lime and gypsum. Plasters consisting of these minerals separately are referred to as lime plaster and gypsum plaster respectively.

Apart from the binder, the majority of plaster’s composition consists of fillers like silica sand and clay (the latter is typically used for outdoor plastering). These materials make up the body of plaster and give it structure. Water is then added to the mixture of the binder and filler to create slurry which is applied to a surface with a trowel.

What is Drywall?

Drywall is the latest and greatest thing to happen to indoor wall construction in recent history. Most modern houses have ditched the use of plaster and instead rely on drywall to prevent nature from barging its way into our homes like it pays the bills.

Drywall goes by many names – plasterboard, wallboard, sheetrock – so if you run across any of these, know that they’re all the same thing. The main ingredients used in making drywall are gypsum (more than 70%) and cellulose (around 10%). If you decide to use drywall, make sure to avoid the stuff coming from China, which can contain lethal amounts of sulfur and formaldehyde.

Plaster vs. Drywall – Main Differences

Preparation

The largest difference between preparing plaster and drywall is that plaster requires mixing materials with water to create a wet slurry, which is then applied to a vertical surface. Mixing the plaster varies from brand to brand, so if you decide to go use plaster, follow the instructions carefully.

Drywall, on the other hand, is better suited for those looking to make quick work out of installing walls. Drywall is sold in various sizes, but the most commonly used size is 4 x 8 feet (1/2-inch thick). However, you should choose a size that’ll produce fewest seams.

Installation

Plastering requires a completely different set of skills from installing drywall. After mixing a batch, you’ll want to go over the wall which you wish to plaster. That’s right. There needs to be a wall or a base for the plaster to latch onto. Make sure that the parts of the floor that are directly adjacent to the wall is covered since plaster can cause irreparable damage to hardwood and even tiles.

Attaching drywall is a lot easier and quicker to do. The drywall panel needs to be aligned with the existing joists before you drive screws or fire nails, connecting the two together. These panels can also be cut down to size if needed.

Soundproofing

Plaster is considered to be more effective at preventing sounds from leaking in and out. This really shouldn’t surprise anybody due to its thickness. Adding multiple coats of plaster can increase the soundproofing ability of the material.

This doesn’t mean that drywall is a bad sound insulator per se. In fact, if you decide to use thicker sheets of drywall (5/8 of an inch), then you may be surprised at how little sound travels in and out.

Hanging Items

Hanging items on plastered walls is possible, but quite tricky. Nails fired from a nail gun won’t be able to penetrate thick layers plaster, so the only option available is to use iron nails and a hammer. This, of course, increases the risk of damage on the plastered wall, but you can fix the damaged surface by making a small batch of plaster slurry.

Drywall, on the other hand, is thinner and easier to pierce with thin-gauge nails and staples. Hanging soundproofing blankets or sheets on drywall is a lot easier to do on drywall, as is hanging almost every other object like mirrors and picture frames.

Durability

The durability of plaster and drywall depends entirely on how well you treat your walls. However, if you were to run at full speed and collide into a plastered wall or drywall, the former will reflect your bounce and send your butt to the floor, whereas the latter will most likely become dented and damaged by your noggin.

Another thing we’d like to point out is cracking. Plaster, if mixed improperly or applied carelessly, is prone to cracking. There are a number of different reasons that can lead to long cracks running across plastered walls, including water damage, bad filter-to-binder ratio, or a bad foundation.

Water Resistance

Plaster and drywall handle moisture very differently. Plaster is able to withstand higher relative humidity levels without leaving a mark, especially when it’s coated with an anti-moisture paint. However, moisture does ruin the integrity of plaster, and it’ll need to be given touch-ups every couple of years.

Plaster, which has a texture similar to thick sheets of cardboard paper, is a lot more prone to moisture-related damage. There isn’t much you can do to prevent moisture from destroying drywall’s structure over time. However, there are certain drywall brands which have anti-moisture and anti-mold properties, so try and find one of these if you live in a humid part of the globe.

In Conclusion, Plaster or Drywall?

Well, what do you thinkWe can’t decide for you between plaster or drywall being the superior wall material for your home. There are several factors that you need to consider, including humidity, the availability of each material, and the importance of soundproofing. However, we can tell you this: basement partitions should be made of plaster as moisture in underground rooms will not deteriorate the material, and drywall can be used in above-ground floors if humidity is not a huge concern.

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Plaster vs. Drywall

Plaster
Drywall

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