Thursday, 23 June 2011

Drywall Alternatives

Daily, practically 24/7, we are encased in drywall, and we don't even know why. Here's why.

Drywall's name is appropriate. In years past, plaster and lath was the predominant building method. But the "dry-out time" for plaster was forever.

Plaster is applied on-site. A thick layer of plaster takes a long time to dry as opposed to something thin like multiple layers of paint.

Then the great idea--and it was a great idea--that plaster could be applied off-site, in a factory, and in a nice flat form and sized to four feet by eight or ten feet. In essence, that's what drywall is: factory-made plaster, shipped to the site ready-made.

But drywall has been around for decades, and it is not a perfect building material. Bump it and it breaks. Get it wet and it turns soppy. Mold loves to live in drywall's paper covering (though there are mold-resistant drywall materials now).

Drywall is a miserable stuff. Granted, the innovation of drywall and its influence from the 1950s and 1960s onward was a vast improvement over the former method of building interior walls, which was plaster and lath.

The plaster and lath method involves nailing up hundreds of parallel, horizontal slats of wood called lath and then trawling on wet plaster and squeezing it between the gaps between the lath so that it forms a bonding element called a key. After drying, the key keeps the finished plaster coat in place.

Yet drywall is still difficult to work with, and it is not entirely dry because it doe involve the application of joint compound, followed by sanding of the dried compound. Because it creates clouds of fine dust, drywall sanding is one of the most dreaded jobs of all in home remodeling.

And that is just the installation aspect of drywall. Once it has been installed, drywall is very fragile and easily damaged; it is heavy; moisture can easily ruin it; it can develop mold and mildew; and as anyone who has ever tried to hang a picture on drywall knows, it's devilishly difficult to attach items without the use of special wall anchors.

Because of these reasons, many people are interested in finding alternatives to drywall. Below I have listed some drywall alternatives. But the fact remains that drywall is still--for all its strengths and evils--the best and often only material available for closing up interior walls. These drywall alternatives listed are to be used at your own discretion: building codes vary from place to place, and usually do dictate the usage of some type of gypsum board (drywall) due to the material's ability to retard fire.


N-Wall comes from National Wall Systems, Inc., and is styled and advertised expressly by the company as a green and alternative material. It is 3.5" inches thick (so it is comparably sized to regular walls), made of fiberboard, framed in metal, and each panel is movable and interchangeable. N-Wall system wall panels reach from the floor to the ceiling and will accept electrical service and window punch outs.


Veneer plaster is like the love child of drywall and plaster. It combines the strengths of each of those two materials. With regular lath and plaster construction, a monolithic (i.e., one solid layer) of plaster is applied to the wood lath strips. One problem with this is that this thick coat of plaster takes a long time to dry out. But with veneer plaster, half-inch gypsum drywall is applied to the studs and then a thin, veneer coat of plaster is applied to the entire surface of the drywall. One marked advantage is that plaster has a greater strength rating than drywall, so it is more resistant to the everyday knocks and scrapes that walls may encounter.


OSB stands for oriented strand board and is used mainly as exterior wall sheathing or as floor underlayment. If you are dealing with a nonresidential structure, OSB may work well as an interior wall covering. While it is not fire rated, OSB, particularly half-inch or thicker, provides a solid interior wall covering for structures like sheds and workshops--places where walls will get scuffed and bumped quite often. OSB can be painted but the "dazzle" pattern of the stranded wood underneath usually will show underneath paint layers. Note, too, that OSB often has a waxy surface which makes it difficult for the paint to adhere.

Half-inch plywood will provide a similar wall covering, the main difference being that plywood is easier to paint (but still will show wood grain) and is easier to handle than OSB as it is slightly lighter.


"Plaster and lath" is not only the two words plaster and lath, but combined defines a method of finishing interior walls that rarely is used anymore except to repair existing plaster and lath walls. Precedes the use of drywall as a means of covering up studs on the interior of a house.

First, a substrate in the form of a grid of lath is nailed perpendicular to the open house studs roughly a finger-width apart from each other. Then a thick layer of wet plaster is hand-troweled onto the lath and allowed to dry, before finish surfaces such as paint or wallpaper are applied.

Although few houses are built from scratch with the lath and plaster technique, countless houses remain with this type of building material. Homeowners can repair plaster walls by themselves quite easily. Also, companies which specialize in finishing drywall may be able to repair plaster walls, as well. Of course, urban areas that have a large quantity of older houses may have tradesmen who specialize only in plaster application and repairs.

Source: Lee Wallender at

No comments:

Post a Comment