Drywall Alternatives to Choose From

wood wall panels

Trinette Reed/Stocksy United

Is drywall the only wall covering? Despite its origin as an easier material to work with than plaster and lath, it still requires a deft, artistic hand to get right, especially in the finishing stages. Sanding drywall mud is one of the most dreaded jobs in interior home remodeling due to the clouds of fine dust it creates.

Once installed, drywall is fragile, easily damaged. Moisture can ruin it, making it a fertile breeding ground for mold and mildew. Want to add an outlet or fix a pipe? Good luck: drywall cannot be removed and replaced.

But there are alternatives.

Wahoo Walls

It Is A do-it-yourself foam wall product.
Pro Great R-Value.
Con Expensive.

Wahoo Walls are typically used for basements, but they can be used anywhere. These wall panels have an expanded polystyrene core. On both sides is a 1/4" thick layer of mineral board.

Just like drywall, each panel is 4' x 8'. Unlike drywall, Wahoo Wall panels are considered a thermal break. A sheet of 1/2" thick drywall offers a measly 0.45 R-Value. By contrast, each 4" thick Wahoo Wall panel has a total R-value of 13. Each panel weighs 95 lbs.

Textured Wall Panels

It Is 3D textured panels that go over existing walls.
Pro Highly modern and stylish.
Con You still need a base for the textured panels.

From 3/4" to 1 1/2" thick, these panels are called "textured" or "3D" to distinguish them from other wall coverings such as paint, wallpaper, fabric, etc. which are flat and hug the wall.

Basement Wall Finishing Systems

It Is A complete wall system.
Pro Nothing is left to chance.
Con You have to buy into the whole system to get the panels.

These are wall panels sold as part of a proprietary basement finishing system, such as the familiar and heavily marketed Owens-Corning Basement Finishing System.

Unfortunately, these wall panels are not sold separately and must be purchased as part of an entire finishing system, which must be built by certified installers.

However, if you think you want to purchase an entire system just to get the wall panels, think again: costs for entire systems waver between $50 and $70 per square foot.

Real Wood Wall Paneling

It Is Real wood veneer paneling.
Pro Lush, rich appearance that defies trends.
Con Expensive.

Commonly associated with cheap wood-look veneer pressboard, wood wall paneling has come of age in recent years.

Easy-to-attach J-channels and other "invisible fasteners" allow for easy installation on walls. Veneers of exotic mahogany, zebrawood, wenge, or teak create the topmost 1/100th of an inch layer, drastically cutting down costs.

Veneer Plaster

It Is A thin layer of wet plaster that goes over everything.
Pro Fewer worries about joints because the entire surface is skimmed.
Con Drywall is still involved.

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 or Plywood

It Is Plain OSB or plywood, painted or clear-coated.
Pro Simple, easy, and cheap.
Con Poor texture.

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

It Is A traditional method of creating a finished wall with wood slats and wet plaster.
Pro Completely malleable, plaster-and-lath is like sculpture for your walls.
Con Steep learning curve; difficult for the do-it-yourselfer to get right.

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.

There is no need to replace lath and plaster simply because it is old. If you have areas of plaster that are cracked and/or falling down in places, it is recommended that you repair these areas rather than tear down the entire plaster wall. Plaster wall demolition is not easy, and it will fill up a roll off dumpster quickly due to its weight.

One of the best resources about traditional lath and plaster wall covering is the Minnesota Lath & Plaster Bureau. Here you will find a wealth of information about current lath/plaster techniques, as well as a substantial history of these building techniques.