Drywall, made largely from paper and gypsum, is cheap to manufacture and purchase so you can cover large areas for little money. Since drywall is dense, it is excellent at slowing the transmission of sound. But drywall isn't the only game in town if you're looking to build or create a new wall. Despite drywall's many benefits, there are reasons why you might want a different type of wall covering.
Drywall comes in flat sheets with straight edges but it does eventually require wet work in the form of drywall compound (mud) and trowels. So, despite its origin as an easier material to work with than plaster and lath, drywall still requires a deft, artistic hand to get right, especially in the finishing stages. There are a few more downsides to drywall:
- Sanding drywall mud is tedious and messy because of the clouds of fine dust it creates.
- Drywall is susceptible to moisture, making it a fertile breeding ground for mold and mildew.
- Drywall has no inherent beauty or texture.
In addition to pricey stone and stone veneers, there are highly durable alternatives to drywall. Some of these alternatives are designed for high-moisture environments such as basements while other options have the visual interest that drywall lacks. Some materials can be installed on top of drywall which means you don't have to remove the old material even if it's unsightly.
Consider cork, pegboard, or corrugated metal for an accent wall or small space. Cork comes in many thicknesses for various types of installations. Pegboard and metal can be directly screwed into wall studs. The materials aren't heavy-duty and can't hold heavy items.
Textured Wall Panels
These panels are called textured or 3D to distinguish them from other wall coverings such as paint, wallpaper, or fabric. The panels are made either of thin plastic or a type of dense, pressed paperboard similar to egg cartons. The panels are typically 3/4 inch to 1 1/2 inches thick and are placed over existing walls with adhesive or installation clips.
Textured wall panels are often found in commercial establishments like restaurants, hotels, and clubs. While textured panels are expensive, they are mostly used only in moderation as accent walls.
Basement Wall Finishing Systems
Basement wall finishing systems are part of a proprietary basement finishing system such as the familiar Owens-Corning system. The clear advantage of basement wall panels is their resistance to moisture. These panels have no organic materials and cannot rot or degrade.
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. Costs for entire systems run between $60 and $90 per square foot. This cost usually includes labor, as well.
Real Wood Wall Paneling
Real wood wall paneling, which differs from the very inexpensive wood look veneer pressboard, has a rich and textured appearance. Easy-to-attach J-channels and other invisible fasteners allow for easy installation on walls.
It is rare to find solid wood paneling anymore because of the prohibitive cost. Modern real wood paneling is crafted with veneers of classic mahogany, zebrawood, wenge, or teak to create the topmost 1/100th of an inch layer, drastically cutting down costs.
Veneer plaster is a thin layer of wet plaster that can goes over anything. Veneer plaster is the ideal combination of drywall and plaster, blending the strengths of each of the two materials. You will also have fewer worries about joints with veneer plaster because the entire surface is skimmed over.
With veneer plaster, 1/2-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
OSB, or oriented strand board is formed by pressing various wood strands together using adhesives. It is used mainly as exterior wall sheathing or as floor underlayment. OSB often has a waxy surface which makes paint difficult to adhere, but if primed and painted, the pattern of the stranded wood may still show through. Half-inch plywood provides 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.
If you are dealing with a nonresidential structure, OSB may work well as an interior wall covering. OSB, particularly 1/2 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 and Fire Ratings
OSB is not always fire-rated or fire treated. But you can order special fire-rated and treated OSB. Check your town's codes to make sure you can install OSB in your structure.
Plaster and Lath
Plaster and lath is a traditional method of creating a finished wall with wood slats and wet plaster. Completely malleable, plaster-and-lath construction is like sculpture for your walls and can be used to create graceful curves that are difficult to achieve with drywall.
The plaster and lath method is labor-intensive and rarely used now because it involves nailing up hundreds of parallel, horizontal slats of wood called lath and then trawling on wet plaster and squeezing it between the gaps of the lath slats so that it forms a bonding element called a key. After drying, the key keeps the finished plaster coat in place. It creates a solid, heavy wall, and if it becomes damaged, you can repair just the problem areas rather than demolishing the entire wall.
More About Lath and Plaster
One good resource about traditional lath and plaster wall covering is the Minnesota Lath & Plaster Bureau, where you will find a wealth of information about current lath/plaster techniques, as well as a substantial history of these building techniques.