Alternatives to Drywall

Drywall Being Installed
© Sherri Camp / Fotolia

When preparing for a home renovation or addition, you may have considered drywall automatically. Often referred to as gypsum board or Sheetrock (the name of a major drywall company), this material is one of the most popular construction options for walls and even ceilings. However, there are several drawbacks to drywall, as well as other options you may wish to consider.

The Drawbacks of Drywall

While cheap, drywall has numerous flaws which make it less than ideal. For some, the hollow sound when you bump it can be unnerving, while others dislike the lack of shape or texture. If you’ve ever worked with drywall, you will know how much dust is created during installation and how frustrating it can be to install. Drywall is also susceptible to water damage, making it a prime breeding ground for mold and bacteria. Even worse, drywall usually ends up in landfills when removed, making it a poor choice for eco-aware consumers.

Perhaps the biggest complaint by both homeowners and professionals is the relative frailty of the material. It dents easily and the damage must be covered with plaster. This makes drywall a poor choice in high-traffic areas or in rooms or homes with children where the risk of damage is higher. Also, if work must be done behind the wall, you cannot simply remove and replace a piece or panel. This means your plumber, exterminator, or other professional may have extra work on their hands when addressing a problem.

Alternatives to Drywall Walls

Drywall is cheap and relatively easy to install, but its drawbacks may make it an unattractive choice. The following alternatives are not always cheap or easily installed, but they lack the many flaws which drywall suffers from.

Brick and Masonry

Brick Kitchen Wall
© Photographee.eu / Fotolia

Stone and brick both lend to the character of the room, and may even increase your home’s value. You may leave them exposed, or might choose to paint over the stone or brickwork. While expensive, these walls will last a long time and the materials used are recyclable.

It’s also possible to make other wall types resemble brick or stone by using facing. These are thin pieces of masonry which may be placed over an existing flat surface using mortar to create the illusion of an actual masonry wall. While still expensive, it is far cheaper than purchasing full bricks or stone.

Cement Board

Stack of Cement Boards
Photo Credit: Michael Holley

Heavier and more expensive than drywall, cement board has a few key advantages. This material is best used in areas with high moisture levels, as it resistant to both mold and water. It’s also more durable than drywall.

Lath and Plaster

Lath and Plaster in Old Home
© Richard Blackwater / Fotolia

The wooden lath system has become quicker and easier to install over the years. Lath is a series of wooden slats running horizontally to form the wall’s backbone. Gypsum plaster is slathered onto the lathe and pushed through the cracks to act as a bonding agent known as a key. A thick layer of plaster is applied to create the wall surface. Additional thin layers of plaster may be applied to refine the look, although each layer must be allowed to fully dry.

This method is sturdy, but is not recommended for a DIY project due to the skill needed to gain a desirable effect. It is still used in commercial and industrial settings, although residential use has become less common. Older homes undergoing restoration or being renovated with a more traditional look in mind will both benefit from a lath and plaster system.

Lath with Woodchip-Clay

This is a variation of the lath system which provides better soundproofing. A lath frame is filled with a thoroughly-mixed combination of bark-free wood chips and clay, and then covered in plaster. You may wish to use this alternative for noise reduction or to create a more solid wall than standard lath and plaster provides.

Veneer Plaster

Colored Plaster Veneer
Photo Credit: Loqi Tamaroon

This type of wall takes half-inch drywall and uses it as a base for a strong plaster wall. The drywall is attached directly to the wall studs and a thin veneer of plaster is applied on top. Unlike a lath and plaster wall, the veneer dries quickly and the difficulty level is greatly reduced. Likewise, this method is more durable than drywall alone, and minor dents or nicks are easier to repair. The Minnesota Lath & Plaster Bureau provides more information on veneer plaster walls, as well as other plaster wall options

Wood

Living Room with Wood Paneling
© SeanPavonePhoto / Fotolia

There are two major uses for wood in walls. Boards may be used in place of drywall to create a durable and attractive wall, although the cost can be prohibitive. A popular use for wood walls is in closets, where cedar creates a pleasant aroma. The type of wood and board size plays a major role in the final cost.

The second use of wood is as a covering for another wall type. You may purchase panels or individual boards, cover the wall or only a portion for contrast, and even create a faux-Tudor appearance with a little planning.

Alternatives to Drywall Ceilings

Drywall brings a whole new group of problems when used for ceilings. Heavy and unwieldy, it takes two people to install a piece of drywall, and the finished appearance is very plain. It also lacks soundproofing, making this a terrible option overall. The following are a few alternatives you might not have considered.

Ceiling Planks

Wood Plank Ceiling
© Iriana Shiyan / Fotolia

While more expensive, ceiling planks are an elegant choice for your new ceiling. These planks are available in a wide array of widths, colors, and wood grain patterns. Planks often give you the option of tongue-and-groove installation and may also be surface mounted on existing ceilings.

Drop Ceilings

Faux Tin Drop Ceiling
Photo Credit: Talissa Decor

When you think of drop ceilings, you might be picturing dull white squares inside metal brackets. However, modern drop ceilings are far more varied. Besides the traditional flat panels, you can now purchase coffered, textured, fluted, or raised tiles in several patterns. Some tiles are available in black, while white remains the standard. The white is easily painted, giving you the ability to match your ceiling and wall colors. In addition, drop ceilings are relatively easy to install, provide easy access to the space above, and individual panels can be replaced at a much cheaper cost than replacing drywall.

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