Angie's LIST Guide to
Drywall and Plaster
Plaster vs. Drywall
For hundreds of years dating back to ancient times, interior walls were constructed from laths – narrow strips of wood covered with lime-based plaster. These walls took many days or even weeks to construct, as well as many craftsmen with a high level of expertise. The resulting walls were thick, heavy and difficult to repair.
Drywall came onto the construction scene in 1916. Drywall is made from a gypsum-based plaster and paper. It is much lighter and easier to repair than plaster. It is also much easier and faster to install, and is fire-resistant. Drywall is manufactured in sheets and can be nailed to wooden supports rather than requiring the support of multiple laths as lime-based plaster does. Walls are constructed with drywall in days instead of weeks.
In spite of all these advantages, it took almost a quarter-century for drywall to become a popular construction material. By the end of World War II, it had gained in popularity because of its lower cost and greater efficiency. Drywall is now the dominant material used in construction of interior walls.
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A variety of terms can be used to refer to drywall. Some of these are simply alternative terms for the same construction material. Others, however, refer to different materials or types of drywall. These terms include sheetrock, blueboard and wonderboard.
Sheetrock: Sheetrock is simply a trade name for a specific brand of drywall. It is the most common brand of drywall in the United States.
Blueboard: Blueboard is constructed with a special surface that allows plaster to be placed over it in a process called veneer plastering. Blueboard, unlike standard drywall, should not be painted until after the veneer of plaster has been applied.
Greenboard: Greenboard drywall has a water resistant covering that helps it resist moisture. It is used in bathrooms or basements, where moisture is common, but is not appropriate for interior shower walls as it is only water resistant, not waterproof.
Cement board: Cement board combines cement with reinforcing fibers to form a sheet about the same thickness as drywall but highly water resistant. It is used in showers and other areas where water exposure is common, and is usually covered with tile. Its strong resistance to water keeps it from breaking down in spite of the wet conditions.
Wonderboard: Wonderboard is a specific brand of cement board that is constructed with cement and glass mesh.
Maintenance and Care for Drywall and Plaster
Taking good care of your interior walls will help them last and keep your home sound for many years to come. One common mistake homeowners make with their interior walls involves hanging pictures or other decorations. Proper hanging technique prevents causing unnecessary damage to your drywall.
When hanging a picture, it is important to find the stud that supports the drywall. Otherwise, you will simply put the nail or picture hanger directly into the drywall. Drywall is not strong enough to support a heavy picture, so this is likely to cause damage to the wall.
Instead, find the studs in the wall and place the nails there. Studs are typically two-by-fours that are placed in the walls to support the drywall. They are sturdy and strong enough to support pictures or other decorations you might want to hang on your walls. A stud finder is a quick and easy way to find the studs in your walls. Alternately, you can locate the studs by tapping on the wall and listening to the different tone returned by unsupported and supported sections.
Making Repairs to Drywall and Plaster
Plaster, especially historic plaster in older buildings, is often subject to cracking, chipping or other problems. Some problems with plaster are due to issues with the underlying structure, such as the lath or other support features. Other issues are confined to the surface.
Plaster that is cracked or damaged due to structural problems should not be fixed with superficial repairs. Instead, the structural problems should be remedied to ensure long-term stability. Surface repairs, however, can be fixed with a patching compound designed for use with plaster. Major repairs should be undertaken by craftsmen experienced with plaster, especially if you are trying to preserve plaster work in an older or historic home.
Cracks, holes or other damage in drywall are relatively easy to repair. The average homeowner can manage these repairs on his or her own if desired. Repairs usually involve a joint compound, drywall plaster and/or drywall tape, depending upon the size, location and nature of the damage. These repairs should be primed before painting over them, since patching materials are porous.