Drywall vs. Plaster: Compared on Every Category [Guide]

Researched & Written by Craig

Are you taking on a wall construction project? Whether you’re renovating or building a home from the ground up, you may be asking yourself:

Should I go with traditional plaster or opt for the more popular and affordable drywall? 

When weighing the pros and cons of drywall vs. plaster, durability, price, and aesthetics are all essential components in your decision. In this article, we’ll explore everything there is to know about installing drywall and plaster before you kick off your wall construction project.

Plaster

With origins in Ancient Egypt, plaster has long been a decadent wall material and building technique. Because of its beauty, luster, durability, and ornamental qualities, plaster was the wall material of choice for wealthy homeowners in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The layout of a standard plaster wall.

Compared to its drywall counterpart, and despite its fine quality, plaster today is no longer a popular, go-to choice. However, the technique of plastering still lives on, and depending on your budget and home remodeling vision, plaster may be the perfect choice for you!

Looks

When it comes to aesthetics, plaster takes the win.

Traditionally, plaster has a smooth and glossy finish. Because it’s applied by hand, it’s possible to customize, decorate, and add texture to plaster walls. You can also install plasterwork on stairs, above fireplaces, ceilings, trimming ‒ and the possibilities are endless.

One of the drawbacks of plaster is that it’s harder to hang items on the wall. Because it’s so durable, hammering in nails or installing screws in a plaster wall can cause cracks and damage. 

However, it is not impossible to hang items on a plaster wall. You can easily hang lightweight items with an adhesive hook or attachment. You can also carefully drill a small hole in a plaster wall and install a stable anchor into the wall without causing significant damage.

Durability

Plaster comes from water and a combination of lime or gypsum and sand or cement. Some forms of plaster can also contain marble.

Because of its high-quality makeup, plaster has a strong finish, making it resistant to water damage and fire. It also has excellent soundproofing and insulating power. Additionally, plaster is more environmentally friendly.

Breathable and free of toxins and chemicals, many homeowners with plaster walls experience better air quality.

Price

Plaster is more expensive than drywall, not just for its high quality but for its prep work and required labor. On average, plastering 100 square feet typically costs a little over $500. This equates to roughly $5-$6 per square foot.

On the higher end of the spectrum, plastering 100 square feet can exceed $1,000. For easily accessible areas that require little prep work, plastering 100 square feet can cost less than $500. (These figures do not include labor costs.)

Effort to Install

If you’re looking for an easy and quick wall construction project, we don’t recommend plaster. Plastering is more labor-intensive than installing drywall and it requires the help of a plaster craftsman. 

Because plastering requires layering and intricacy, it fizzled out as a popular wall material in the 20th century. In fact, plaster’s downward trend occurred during World War II when there weren’t enough laborers back home to complete plastering jobs, resulting in the rise of drywall.

However, once installed, plaster is generally lower maintenance. It’s easy to clean with a simple microfiber dust cloth. It requires no maintenance work, apart from the occasional repair of a nail hole or crack, which a plaster craftsman should handle.

Drywall

Affordable. Highly fire resistant. Easy to install. 

These are just some of the benefits of installing drywall in a home. By the mid 20th century, drywall had eclipsed plaster as a popular wall material, and today, it is still widely used in homes and buildings worldwide. 

Super fast, simple construction – that’s drywall.

If you’re trying to decide between drywall vs. plaster, here are the basics you need to know about drywall.

Looks

On its own, drywall is not aesthetically pleasing to the eye. That’s why painting drywall or covering it with wallpaper is essential after installing it. 

With drywall, it is possible to change the wall color multiple times without causing any damage. Because it is so easy to paint and flexible to change, drywall may be the right choice for you if you enjoy redecorating your home every couple of years.

Durability

Compared to plaster, drywall is nowhere near as durable. Without a plaster finish, it is easy to damage drywall with high-impact forces. (It’s quite common for door handles to punch holes in drywall when they’re swung open with quick and heavy force.)

Drywall is also not as resistant to leaks and water damage. Mold growth is more common in drywalled homes. Drywall is, however, highly flame-resistant and can prevent the spread of fire.

Price

Drywall is a friendlier option for the budget-conscious homeowner. Drywall typically costs $1-$3 per square foot. 

On average, installing drywall typically costs around $1,800 – which is far cheaper than plaster. You can also expect to pay less in installation costs because drywall requires less time and labor.

If you’re trying to cut down on your energy bills, drywall is a great choice. Drywall can help maintain a steady indoor temperature by keeping cold and hot air out during the summer and winter. It’s also a flexible wall material that works well with all types of insulation, including fiberglass and spray foam insulation.

Effort to Install

Drywall is by far easier to install than plaster, and if you’re a DIY homeowner, this is the wall material for you. 

Installing drywall doesn’t require the work of a specialized expert, and most general contractors know how to install drywall. (If you do decide to do-it-yourself, having an extra set of hands can help get the job done quicker.)

Not only is installing drywall fast ‒ but it’s also simple and cheap to repair. You can easily repair specific areas of drywall without having to remove an entire drywall sheet. 

Understanding & Choosing between Drywall vs. Plaster

When choosing between drywall vs. plaster, consider your long-term home maintenance goals and budget. 

If you’re working with a lower budget, are looking for a DIY option, or want to change the color of your walls more than once, then drywall may be the right option for you. 

On the other hand, if you have a bigger budget to work with, are looking for something that’s low maintenance, or wish to give your home the elegant touch of fine, high-quality materials, we recommend plaster.

No matter what you decide, we hope your upcoming wall construction project goes off without a hitch! Stay tuned to our blog for more home improvement tips.