Drywall vs Plaster: How to Tell the Difference and Choose the Right Option for Your Home

Drywall vs Plaster: How to Tell the Difference and Choose the Right Option for Your Home

Introduction: Understanding the Difference Between Drywall and Plaster

In the realm of home construction and renovation, the choice between drywall and plaster for wall coverings remains a topic of considerable debate.

This decision impacts not only the aesthetics and historical authenticity of a home but also factors into cost, installation time, and long-term maintenance.

Understanding the nuances between drywall and plaster is crucial for homeowners who are evaluating the best option for their living spaces.

It is not merely a matter of personal preference; rather, it involves a careful assessment of the characteristics and benefits each material offers.

Historically, plaster was the go-to choice for creating smooth walls and ornate features in homes.

It has been around for centuries, favored for its durability and the seamless finish it provides.

However, the mid-20th century saw a shift with the introduction of drywall, also known as sheetrock or plasterboard, which promised a quicker and more cost-effective solution for building interior walls.

Each material has distinct methods of application: drywall comes in panels that are fastened to the structure of a building, whereas plaster is applied over lath and built up in layers.

Distinguishing between drywall and plaster walls is not always straightforward, especially since both can be painted or textured to the homeowner’s taste.

The cost considerations, from the initial installation to long-term repairs, also vary significantly between the two, influencing the choice for homeowners.

In this exploration, we will delve into the practicalities of drywall versus plaster, comparing their costs, the telltale signs to identify them, and the situations where one might be preferred over the other.

This comparative analysis aims to arm homeowners with the knowledge to make an informed decision, whether they are restoring an old house or constructing a new one.

What is Drywall?

Defining Drywall for Everyday Understanding

  1. Basic Composition and Appearance:
    • Drywall, commonly known as sheetrock, is a building material used to create walls and ceilings.
    • It consists of a gypsum plaster core pressed between two thick sheets of paper.
    • The material is known for its flat, smooth surface, which is ideal for painting or wallpapering.
  2. Installation and Practicality:
    • This material comes in large panels, which are cut to fit the specific dimensions of a room.
    • It is installed by attaching the panels to the wooden or metal framework of a building.
    • The joints where drywall panels meet are then taped and covered with a joint compound (often referred to as ‘mud’), creating a seamless look.
  3. Advantages of Drywall:
    • Drywall is favored for its quick and easy installation compared to traditional methods like plaster.
    • It is relatively inexpensive and widely available, which contributes to its popularity.
    • Drywall also offers some insulation and fire resistance due to the gypsum core.

In essence, drywall is a modern, cost-effective solution for constructing smooth walls and ceilings.

It’s a ubiquitous material in homes and buildings today, valued for its ease of installation and the clean, blank canvas it provides for interior decoration.

What is Plaster?

Understanding Plaster in Basic Terms

  1. Historical and Material Context:
    • Plaster has been used for centuries as a method for creating sturdy, durable walls and decorative features in buildings.
    • It is a mixture of lime or gypsum, water, and sand that forms a paste-like substance.
    • This paste is then applied in layers over strips of wood called lath or directly onto brick or stone surfaces.
  2. Application and Characteristics:
    • The application of plaster is more labor-intensive and requires skilled craftsmanship.
    • It starts with a wet mix that hardens to a solid form as it dries, creating a strong and seamless surface.
    • The process of applying plaster can create a variety of textures, from smooth to stucco-like finishes.
  3. Advantages and Considerations:
    • Plaster walls are appreciated for their solid feel and sound-dampening qualities.
    • They can last for many decades, often becoming harder over time.
    • Although plaster is more expensive and time-consuming to install and repair, many value it for its aesthetic and long-lasting nature.

Plaster, in a nutshell, is a time-honored technique for wall construction that offers a sense of permanence and craftsmanship.

Despite being overshadowed by the convenience of drywall, plaster remains a choice for those who prefer its classic look and substantial feel.

Difference between plaster and drywall? Read below.

Differences Between Drywall and Plaster

The differences between drywall and plaster can be understood through various aspects such as composition, installation, appearance, cost, and upkeep.

  1. Composition:
    • Drywall is a manufactured panel made from gypsum plaster encased in paper. It is typically available in standardized sizes.
    • Plaster, on the other hand, is a mix of gypsum, lime, or cement with water and sand, applied in a wet form and dried to a very hard finish.
  2. Installation:
    • Installing drywall is faster and less labor-intensive. Panels are cut to size and attached to the building frame, and the seams are taped and mudded.
    • Plaster installation requires skilled labor to apply several coats over lath (a series of wooden strips), and it takes longer to dry and settle.
  3. Appearance:
    • Drywall has a smooth, consistent appearance and serves as a flat canvas for paint or wallpaper.
    • Plaster can be textured or smooth, and it can create a variety of decorative finishes, which can add character to a room.
  4. Cost:
    • Drywall is generally less expensive both in terms of material and labor costs. It is also quicker to install, which can reduce overall project costs.
    • Plaster is more costly due to the materials and the skilled labor required for its application, which can take more time.
  5. Upkeep:
    • Drywall is easier to repair if damaged; however, it is less durable than plaster and more prone to dents and holes.
    • Plaster is more durable and can last for many decades without needing repair, but fixing it is more challenging and often requires a professional.

In summary, drywall offers a modern, cost-efficient, and quicker solution for building interiors, while plaster provides a more durable and high-quality finish at a higher cost.

The choice between the two will often depend on budget, desired aesthetic, and the specific requirements of the building project.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Drywall

The adoption of drywall in modern construction is widespread due to its significant advantages, although there are some disadvantages to consider as well.


  1. Ease of Installation:
    • Drywall panels are quick and easy to install, which can significantly decrease labor costs and construction time.
  2. Cost-Effectiveness:
    • It is generally less expensive than other wall-building materials like plaster, both in terms of the material itself and the associated labor.
  3. Repair and Modification:
    • Drywall is relatively simple to repair if it gets damaged. Cutting, patching, and refinishing can be done with minimal tools and expertise.
    • Modifications like adding or moving electrical outlets are also easier with drywall.
  4. Versatility:
    • It can be cut to fit any space and is suitable for painting or wallpapering, making it a versatile choice for interior design.
  5. Fire Resistance:
    • The gypsum in drywall is naturally fire-resistant, which adds a layer of fire protection to homes and buildings.


  1. Durability Issues:
    • Drywall is more susceptible to damage from impacts, moisture, and mold compared to plaster.
  2. Less Soundproof:
    • It does not insulate sound as effectively as plaster, which can be a disadvantage in multi-family homes or in rooms where noise reduction is desired.
  3. Environmental Impact:
    • The production process of drywall can have a higher environmental impact due to the energy used in manufacturing and the potential for waste in cut-offs.
  4. Finishing Requirements:
    • The seams and screws need to be taped and covered with joint compound, which requires some skill to achieve a smooth finish that is ready for decoration.
  5. Potential for Poor Installation:
    • If not installed correctly, drywall can show seams, screw heads, and may not provide a perfectly flat surface.

To conclude, while drywall presents a practical and budget-friendly option for constructing interior walls, it is important to weigh these advantages against the potential drawbacks, particularly if durability and sound insulation are top priorities.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Plaster

Plaster, as a traditional wall and ceiling covering, carries its own set of advantages and disadvantages.


  1. Durability:
    • Plaster is very durable and can withstand wear and tear over many years, often outlasting drywall.
  2. Soundproofing:
    • It has superior sound-dampening properties, providing better sound insulation compared to drywall.
  3. Aesthetic Quality:
    • It offers a higher-end finish with the potential for ornamental design and a smoother surface that can be crafted into a variety of textures.
  4. Fire Resistance:
    • Similar to drywall, plaster materials are fire-resistant, offering an additional layer of safety.
  5. Resistance to Settling and Shrinking:
    • Unlike drywall, plaster does not shrink or settle over time, which can prevent cracks and structural issues.


  1. Cost and Installation:
    • Plaster is more expensive due to the labor-intensive application process and the need for skilled artisans.
  2. Time-Consuming Application:
    • The process of applying and curing plaster is time-consuming, making it less ideal for quick turnaround projects.
  3. Repair Complexity:
    • Repairing plaster is more complex than fixing drywall and typically requires a professional, making minor fixes less convenient.
  4. Weight:
    • Plaster is heavier than drywall, which can put more strain on the structural elements of a building.
  5. Inflexibility:
    • Plaster does not lend itself well to alterations or installations that require cutting into the wall, such as electrical work or plumbing updates.

In summation, plaster offers a high-quality, durable, and acoustically superior wall finish but comes with higher costs and complexity in both installation and repairs.

The choice between plaster and drywall often hinges on the specific needs of the project, budget considerations, and the desired longevity and aesthetic of the finished space.

Cost Comparison: Drywall vs Plaster

A detailed cost comparison between drywall and plaster involves examining labor, materials, and the cleanup process.

  1. Labor Costs:
    • Drywall: The labor cost for installing drywall is generally lower due to the ease and speed of installation. A crew can hang and finish drywall in a fraction of the time it takes to apply plaster.
    • Plaster: Plaster requires skilled artisans, especially for ornate or smooth finishes, and the process is much more time-intensive. This increases labor costs significantly.
  2. Material Costs:
    • Drywall: Panels are mass-produced and widely available, making them relatively inexpensive. The associated materials, such as joint compound and tape, are also moderately priced.
    • Plaster: The materials for plaster may not be as costly as the labor, but when combined with the need for lath (in older plaster methods), the costs can add up more than drywall.
  3. Cleanup Process:
    • Drywall: The cleanup process is generally straightforward, involving the disposal of cut-off pieces and sanding dust from finishing the joints.
    • Plaster: Plastering can be messier, with the cleanup involving the removal of excess plaster, dust from sanding, and more thorough cleaning to remove plaster splatter.

Conclusively, drywall is the more cost-effective option both in terms of labor and materials. It also tends to be less complex when it comes to cleanup after installation.

Plaster, while offering a higher-end finish, represents a more substantial investment and requires a more intensive cleanup effort.

Homeowners must consider these factors alongside the desired outcome for their walls when deciding between drywall and plaster.

How to Tell if You Have Drywall or Plaster Walls

Determining whether you have drywall or plaster walls can be done through a few simple observations and tests.

  1. Age of the Building:
    • Older homes, typically those built before the 1950s, are more likely to have plaster walls.
    • Homes constructed after the 1950s are more apt to contain drywall, as it became the standard material.
  2. Wall Texture and Sound:
    • Tap the wall: Plaster walls sound solid and dull, while drywall produces a hollow sound.
    • Check the texture: Plaster walls may have a more varied texture, and you may notice slight irregularities or a smoother finish compared to drywall.
  3. Wall Temperature and Feel:
    • Plaster tends to feel colder and harder than drywall.
  4. Physical Inspection:
    • Look at any exposed areas on the wall, like around outlets or in unfinished spaces; plaster layers over the lath will be evident, whereas drywall will show the edge of the panel.
  5. Check for Cracks:
    • Plaster is more prone to small cracks due to its rigidity and the settling of the house over time.
    • Drywall may have larger but fewer cracks, and it’s more likely to have dents or holes.
  6. Magnetic Attraction:
    • Since plaster is applied over a series of wood strips or metal mesh, a magnet may not stick to the wall due to the distance to the metallic elements.
    • A magnet will stick to the drywall if it has metal screws near the surface.

By using these methods, you can usually identify whether your walls are made of drywall or plaster.

Each material has distinct characteristics, and knowing what you have is essential for proper maintenance or when planning renovations.

Interior wall covering is pretty much a matter of taste. Pick what you like.

How to Choose the Right Option for Your Home

When deciding between drywall and plaster for your home, there are several factors to consider. Firstly, consider your budget.

Drywall is generally more affordable, especially when considering installation costs. If you have a limited budget, drywall may be the better option.

Secondly, think about the desired aesthetic for your home. Drywall offers a clean and uniform look, while plaster provides a more textured and organic appearance.

Consider the architectural style of your home and the atmosphere you want to create.

Lastly, consider the practical aspects. Drywall is easier to repair and maintain, making it a suitable choice for high-traffic areas or homes with children.

Plaster, on the other hand, excels in durability and sound insulation, making it ideal for bedrooms or quiet spaces.

Considerations for Historic Homes: Lath and Plaster vs Drywall

When deciding whether drywall or plaster is the right choice for your home, consider several factors that align with your priorities and circumstances.

  1. Budget:
    • If cost is a significant concern, drywall is generally the more affordable option both in terms of materials and labor.
  2. Time Frame:
    • For projects requiring quick turnaround, drywall is advantageous due to its ease and speed of installation.
  3. Aesthetic Preference:
    • If the aesthetic appeal and classic look of plaster are important, and the budget allows, plaster may be the preferred choice.
  4. Acoustic Performance:
    • For better sound insulation, plaster walls are superior due to their density and thickness.
  5. Historical Integrity:
    • In historical homes, maintaining the original plaster can preserve the authenticity and may even be a requirement in historic districts.
  6. Durability and Repair:
    • Plaster is more durable and can provide a longer-lasting wall surface, but it is more difficult and expensive to repair.
    • Drywall is easier to repair but is more prone to damage.
  7. Environmental Considerations:
    • Consider the environmental impact of your choice. Drywall manufacturing is energy-intensive, and waste material is a concern. Plaster can also have environmental impacts, depending on the type of lath used and the extent of transportation required for materials.
  8. Installation Expertise:
    • If you are considering DIY, drywall is more manageable for non-professionals. Plastering typically requires skilled tradespeople.
  9. Long-Term Value:
    • Evaluate whether the initial investment in plaster will add to the long-term value of your home compared to the lower cost of drywall.
  10. Personal Lifestyle:
    • Consider your lifestyle; if you anticipate needing to make future changes or repairs, drywall offers more flexibility.

After weighing these considerations, homeowners should also consult with professionals to discuss the specifics of their home and the intended outcome of their project.

Making an informed choice ensures that the finished walls will meet your needs for aesthetics, budget, functionality, and maintenance.

Drywall Mud vs Plaster: Which is Better for Repairs?

When it comes to repairs, the choice between using drywall mud and plaster depends on several factors, including the type of wall you’re repairing, the size of the repair, and the desired finish quality.

Both materials have their advantages and scenarios where they excel.

  1. Drywall Mud (Joint Compound):
    • Best for Small to medium repairs on drywall surfaces, especially where a smooth finish is desired.
    • Advantages:
      • Easier to work with for DIYers.
      • Dries relatively quickly.
      • Sandable, allowing for a very smooth finish.
      • It is good for filling cracks and holes in drywall.
    • Considerations:
      • Not as durable as plaster.
      • It may shrink when drying, requiring multiple applications.
  2. Plaster:
    • Best for: Repairs on plaster walls, larger holes, or where more durability is required.
    • Advantages:
      • It is very durable and has a hard finish.
      • It is better for matching with existing plaster textures and finishes.
      • It can be applied in thicker layers than drywall mud.
    • Considerations:
      • Requires more skill to apply and finish properly.
      • Longer drying time compared to drywall mud.
      • It’s not as easy to sand as drywall mud.

Which is Better for Repairs?

  • For Drywall: Drywall mud is the recommended choice for repairing drywall. It’s designed for this material, providing a finish that blends seamlessly with the surrounding area after painting.
  • For Plaster Walls: If repairing plaster walls, using plaster for the repair is advisable to maintain the integrity and aesthetic of the wall. Plaster repairs offer a density and thermal resistance similar to the original plaster, making it the better option for consistency.
  • For Mixed Surfaces or Large Repairs: Plaster might be preferred for its durability and versatility in repairs that require a thicker application or for areas subjected to more wear and tear.

Ultimately, the “better” option depends on the context of the repair. For simplicity and ease of use, drywall mud is excellent, especially for those less experienced in wall repairs.

For durability and matching existing plasterwork, traditional plaster is the superior choice, albeit with a steeper learning curve and longer processing time.

Conclusion: Making an Informed Decision for Your Home

In conclusion, the debate between drywall and plaster is not just about choosing a wall material; it’s about weighing the considerations of cost, installation time, durability, and aesthetic preferences.

Drywall offers an economical and practical solution for modern construction, prized for its ease of installation and repair. Its versatility makes it a favorable choice for both new constructions and renovations where time and budget constraints are paramount.

On the other hand, plaster, with its superior durability, soundproofing qualities, and aesthetic versatility, appeals to those prioritizing craftsmanship and the classic appeal of a home.

While it comes at a higher cost and requires more skill to install and repair, its longevity and finish quality can significantly enhance a property’s value and character.

The choice between using drywall mud and plaster for repairs further underscores the need to consider the material’s compatibility with existing structures, the required durability of the repair, and the individual’s skill level in performing such repairs.

Drywall mud serves well for quick, easy fixes in drywall. At the same time, plaster remains the go-to for more substantial, lasting repairs on plaster walls, offering coherence in material properties and finish.

Ultimately, whether opting for drywall or plaster in construction or repairs, the decision should align with the specific needs and goals of the project.

Homeowners and builders alike must balance the practicalities of installation and maintenance with the desired outcome in terms of performance and aesthetics.

By carefully considering each material’s advantages and limitations, one can make an informed choice that best suits the unique character and requirements of their home.