What Is Drywall? What’s The Difference: Sheetrock vs Drywall

Drywall is so common these days that most people don’t even give it a second thought. It surrounds us in our homes and our workplaces and there are very good reasons for that – it’s cheap, fast to install and easy to repair. It’s also very durable. The perfect stuff to build walls with.

What’s the difference between drywall and Sheetrock?

It’s a question that has been asked thousands of times and probably has received hundreds of different answers. So what’s the real answer? – Nothing.

That’s right. Nothing. They are one and the same. Sheetrock is actually the name of a company that makes drywall sheeting panels. But, seeing as they are the most well-known and prevalent drywall manufacturer (in the United States), their company name has become a generic term used when talking about drywall (also called plasterboard).

In fact, this type of popular renaming happens quite often. Have you ever ridden a Jet Ski before? Well, if it wasn’t made by Kawasaki, you technically haven’t. But you have ridden on a personal watercraft made by another manufacturer. The same goes for using a Band-Aid (adhesive bandage). And even Dumpster is a registered company trademark.

This doesn’t just happen in the US either. In Australia, Drywall is almost exclusively called Gyprock, and in New Zealand, it can be known as Gib or Gibraltar board.

What is Drywall?

Now that we’ve cleared up that little bit of confusion, let’s talk about what drywall actually is. Drywall is a panel (often referred to as a sheet) of calcium sulfate dihydrate – commonly known as gypsum. Its main use is the lining of interior walls and ceilings, so it’s found most prevalently in the building and construction industry. Take a look at any modern house or building and you’re almost certain to find drywall.

It might also be referred to as plasterboard, gypsum board, wallboard or gypsum panel. But here in the US, you’ll most likely hear the terms drywall or Sheetrock being used.

How is Drywall Made?

A panel of drywall is made by combining gypsum with a range of fibers (typically fiberglass, paper or a combination of these materials), foaming agent, and plasticizer. A range of other additives can also be added to change the characteristics of the panels and allow for the manufacturing of specialized sheets that can reduce flammability, mildew, and water absorption.

The gypsum rock is mined, then crushed and heated to remove moisture. Next, it’s combined with the additives and re-hydrated. This slurry is then pressed between two thick sheets of paper, where it hardens in a drying chamber and is then cut into standard sized panels, ready for use.

In the United States, drywall panels are typically manufactured in 96″, 54″ and 48″ widths, 48-inch being the most commonly used. Lengthwise, you can find panels up to 16 feet but the most common length used is 8 feet.

The most common thicknesses in the US are 1/2 inch and 5/8 inch boards but you’ll find other sizes that are used for specific applications.

History Of Drywall

Drywall dates back to the very end of the 19th century – it’s a fairly new invention. And it changed the way we build walls entirely.

Before drywall, the most common technique used to build walls was plastering. Walls were built by plastering layer upon layer of plaster across wooden supports called laths. This technique is still used today but is far less common due to cost and being a very lengthy and labor-intensive process.

The story of drywall starts in 1894 when Augustine Sackett patented his idea for a new type of wall finish called Sackett Board. This was the original drywall gypsum board and was a welcome replacement to the traditional lath and plaster method.

Despite claims that using this new gypsum board improved house production time by around two weeks per house in the early 1900s, this new material didn’t catch on as quickly as it should have. But, by the mid-1950s, half of all new housing constructions were using drywall sheeting and that percentage would dramatically increase from then on.

Unfortunately, up until the 1980s, a common additive in drywall was asbestos, to make the boards stronger and lighter. You won’t find any asbestos in new drywall these days, but it’s important to keep this in mind when repairing or demolishing old homes and buildings.

What Is Drywall Used For?

Drywall is primarily used to construct interior walls and ceilings. It comes in standardized panels that can be fixed to a wall or ceiling as a whole panel or can be easily cut to size and shape with a simple retractable knife.

It is popular because it is fast and easy to install and repair, and also requires much less skill and practice than the traditional lath and plaster method.

Here’s a quick run-down on the typical installation method:

  1. Sheets are cut to size or put into position to be lifted whole against the wall or ceiling.
  2. An adhesive glue is applied in large globs to the wall frame where the sheet will be fixed.
  3. The sheet is lifted into position, then fixed into place using a screw gun to fix the board to the studs or frame.
  4. Once the drywall panels are in place, the joins and screw holes are finished with a plaster compound, sanded and made ready for painting.

And that’s basically it. A simple but highly efficient technique.

What Are The Different Types Of Drywall?

Since the time drywall was first manufactured, it has been improved and innovated upon to make it a better and stronger product, making it the efficient and popular building material we know today.

Nowadays, there are four main types of drywall, each one designed to suit a specific task. These are:

  1. Regular Drywall – This is the most common and cheapest type of drywall. It’s the standard gypsum board that is used to build a basic wall or ceiling.
  2. Moisture Resistant – A popular choice for lining walls and ceilings in bathrooms, kitchens, laundries and other wet areas. These sheets are water resistant, not waterproof, so they are used in areas where infrequent splashes of water may occur but aren’t common. You’ll recognize the sheets by their green color and more expensive price tag.
  3. Mold Resistant – The main feature of this type of drywall is that it is walled with fiberglass instead of paper, making it resistant to mildew and mold. It is increasing in popularity as an alternative to regular drywall sheeting. It is still easy to work with, just like regular panels, but some extra safety precautions must be adhered to when using this mold resistant drywall because of the fiberglass exterior.
  4. Fire Resistant – Also known as Type X. While regular drywall does have some fire-resistant qualities, Type X or fire resistant plasterboard has some special additives that bring it up to a fire resistance standard approved by the building code. It must pass strict tests to gain the Type X rating and is made from noncombustible fibers.

Aside from these main four types of drywall, there is now also drywall on the market which offers higher soundproofing qualities that regular drywall. I didn’t add it above because it still isn’t commonly used and there is some debate around the effectiveness of it. It’s worth looking into though as an additional soundproofing option.

The Pros And Cons of Drywall vs Plastering

Before drywall took the building industry by storm, there was really only one option that was commonly used – plastering. I’ve mentioned the lath and plaster technique a bit in this article already but here is a quick run-down on how it works:

  1. Small pieces of material – generally wood but can be metal or plasterboard – are fixed horizontally across the wall frame by nailing them to the studs.
  2. Plaster – made from gypsum – is then smoothed across the laths to smooth the area into a flat plaster surface.
  3. This process is repeated a number of times until the correct finish and thickness is achieved.

That’s a very basic run-down. So let’s talk about the pros and cons of these two techniques when it comes to modern wall and ceiling building.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Drywall?

Drywall Pros:

  • Much faster installation and finishing
  • Easy to repair
  • Fairly DIY friendly
  • Technique is fast to learn
  • Cheaper than plaster if paying a professional to do the work for you
  • Better temperature insulation
  • Wider variety of options
  • Easier to hang decorations, i.e hanging pictures on drywall
  • Easier to install fixings

Drywall Cons

  • Mostly suited for flat surfaces
  • Less textured finish than using plaster
  • May be difficult for one-person installation if not using a panel hoist
  • Added cost of panel hoists, especially on buildings with high ceilings

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Plaster?

The Pros

  • Creates a much harder and more durable finish
  • More suitable for curved and irregular walls
  • Lasts much longer than drywall – centuries even
  • Looks more prestigious when done well
  • Better soundproofing
  • Great for matching with existing plaster in old houses for a seamless finish

The Cons

  • More difficult to install and finish
  • Takes more time
  • More labor intensive means more labor costs
  • Large scale repairs are more difficult
  • Harder to learn for DIY projects
  • More difficult to hang items or install fixings

As you can see from above. In the modern context, the speed and ease at which drywall can be installed in modern houses and buildings make it the obvious choice when constructing walls and ceilings. Unless there is an obvious need for plaster, it’s drywall all the way.

Do any of you still plaster the old-fashioned way? Let us know about it in the comments below.


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