Can You Use Plywood Instead of Drywall?
Drywall is usually the material of choice when it comes to facing walls and ceilings.
While the advantages of drywall are abundant, it isn’t the only choice for your construction or home improvement project, though.
In this article, we’ll look at the various advantages and disadvantages of using plywood to face walls and ceilings, helping you figure out if it’s a viable alternative to drywall for your project.
You can use plywood instead of drywall for walls and ceilings. Plywood weighs less, and it’s also stronger and more damage-resistant than drywall. Construction-grade plywood is more expensive, though, and it might not meet local building codes as it isn’t as soundproof or fireproof as drywall.
Read on to find out more about the differences between drywall and plywood, as well as the situations where you wouldn’t or couldn’t use plywood.
- Why Would You Use Plywood Instead of Drywall?
- Why Wouldn’t You Use Plywood Instead of Drywall?
- Can You Use Plywood for Walls?
- Should You Use Plywood or Drywall for Ceilings?
- Can Plywood Be Finished Like Drywall?
- What Else Can Be Used Instead of Drywall?
- Final Remarks
Why Would You Use Plywood Instead of Drywall?
Drywall may well be a popular choice when it comes to building walls in your home, but it’s certainly not the only choice available. From paneling to veneer plaster, you can construct your walls from several different types of material.
Plywood is one of the more popular alternatives to drywall, but before we look into the reasons why you would use plywood instead of drywall, let’s look at both materials in more detail:
What Is Plywood?
There are several varieties of plywood, each of which holds different properties to suit particular situations.
For example, coniferous plywood has high strength and hardness properties, making it more suitable for construction and industry. On the other hand, marine plywood is highly resistant to fungus, delamination, and deformation under the influence of moisture, making it the ideal material in boat manufacturing.
What Is Drywall?
Drywall consists of a layer of gypsum sandwiched between two sheets of thick paperboard. It comes in large sheets or panels that can easily be cut down to size to suit any project.
Gypsum is a non-combustible material that is composed of calcium sulfate dihydrate and has a chalky consistency. It is a popular material used in building construction because it is very fire resistant, provides sound insulation, and has low thermal conductivity.
What Is the Difference Between Plywood and Drywall?
You can use drywall and plywood for walls and ceilings in house construction as an alternative to traditional building methods such as plaster.
They are both cost-effective options that can be easily sourced from DIY stores and builders merchants, making them a popular choice for both home renovators and professional tradespeople.
A mentioned in the previous sections, the main difference between plywood and drywall is the composition of the materials.
In terms of performance and functionality, the most significant difference between the two materials is that drywall is far more fire-resistant than plywood.
However, plywood offers several distinct advantages over drywall, a few of which we have detailed below.
The Benefits of Plywood
Plywood has some significant benefits over drywall, including the fact that:
- It Weighs Less Than Drywall – A 5/8″ sheet of plywood only weighs around 2 pounds per square foot, whereas the same-sized sheet of drywall weighs approximately 2.75 pounds per square foot.
- It Has More Structural Strength – Plywood is more robust than drywall, meaning you can easily hang picture frames, mirrors, shelves to the wall without worrying about damaging it.
- It’s Easier to Install – Plywood can be a great time saver because it doesn’t necessarily require the same level of finishing that drywall needs. Many people don’t bother taping it; instead, they opt to apply a varnish to seal it.
- It’s More Damage-Resistant – Drywall is incredibly easy to break if knocked too hard by a heavy object. On the other hand, plywood is much stronger and less likely to fall victim to general wear and tear over the years.
To conclude this section of the article, there isn’t a stand-alone answer as to why people would use plywood instead of drywall because the choice of material will hugely depend on a whole host of variables.
Generally speaking, though, home renovators may opt for plywood over drywall if they require a lighter, more damage-resistant material with a simple installation process.
An example of a situation where you would use plywood instead of drywall would be the construction of the walls within an external garage. Plywood is far more suited to hang heavy tools, cupboards, and shelves than drywall is.
Why Wouldn’t You Use Plywood Instead of Drywall?
As mentioned in the previous section, one of the main benefits of drywall is that it is more fire-resistant than plywood.
Some local building codes require interior walls to have a one-hour fire resistance, which plywood does not offer on its own. On the other hand, a sheet of 5/8″ drywall does meet building code requirements, making it the obvious choice for those situations.
Another reason people opt for drywall over plywood is cost. Most construction-grade plywoods are significantly more expensive than drywall, which puts many people off using plywood for their projects.
Plywood and drywall also offer significant differences when it comes to surface finish. Drywall provides a smooth, ready-to-paint finish that appeals to many people. Drywall’s paper coating is moisture resistant, making the painting process a lot less painful because you don’t need to worry about varnishes or sealant.
On the other hand, plywood has a natural grain texture finish, as shown below, that isn’t always best suited for internal walls.
To achieve a smoother surface on a plywood wall, you would either have to fill it and sand it down or skim coat it, both of which are incredibly time-consuming and a red flag for many people who want a quicker or more straightforward solution.
Plywood’s surface is also incredibly absorbent, requiring multiple layers of paint and varnish to achieve the desired finished look.
The dried gypsum in drywall also makes the material very sound resistant, which dampens sound more effectively and offers more favorable acoustic conditions.
Plywood, composed of just wood, is a more rigid surface, so it will conduct sound, causing noise to pass between rooms easily.
It wouldn’t be advisable to use plywood as a wall or ceiling material in a room with high moisture content, such as a bathroom, kitchen, or basement.
High humidity levels will cause the plywood to warp, swell and split, which is something you want to avoid at all costs. Also, once plywood gets wet, it is likely to develop mold and bacteria, with this being potentially unsafe and a hassle to repair or replace.
Can You Use Plywood for Walls?
You can buy many different types of plywood, so you can easily tailor your choice of material to the specific requirements of your project.
Whether you are looking for suitable material for walls, structures, furniture, or boats, you’ll find a specific type of plywood for the task.
Looking at interior walls specifically, here is some more guidance on choosing the right type of plywood:
What Type of Plywood Is Used for Interior Walls?
When it comes to interior walls, you want to make sure you are using construction-grade plywood.
Wood spruce plywood is an excellent material to choose because it is suitable for both partition walls and load-bearing walls.
The minimum thickness you want to aim for is around 1/2 inch as a standard requirement, although it’s worth checking building codes and regulations for your local area in case it differs.
Depending on the type of building you are working in, you would probably want to find a construction-grade plywood that is slightly thicker.
If you use plywood as a finish rather than the wall structure itself, your panels would likely only need to be around 1/4 inch.
Should You Use Drywall or Plywood for Garage Walls?
The walls within a garage require a slightly different approach to the rest of the house, predominantly because they’ll likely need to hold heavy tools and materials and withstand a significant amount of wear and tear.
Both plywood and drywall would be suitable materials to use in a garage setting.
When it comes to strength and integrity, plywood can withstand more weight than drywall.
To drill holes for shelves in drywall, you have to find where the wooden struts are behind it because the drywall material is not strong enough to support the weight by itself.
Ease of Installation
An average sheet of drywall weighs around 20-30 pounds more than the same-sized sheet of plywood.
When it comes to fire safety, drywall wins hands down.
Certain local residential building codes state that integrated garages require a one-hour fire rating for internal walls in some areas. Because most types of plywood don’t reach this fire rating standard, it is more than likely you will need to use drywall if your garage is attached to the house.
In a garage where you might be using noisy power tools, you will want as much of the sound to be kept in as possible so you don’t annoy any of your neighbors.
Drywall is more efficient at soundproofing than plywood.
However, you will need to take extra measures – such as adding additional layers of drywall – if you want it to have optimum acoustic performance.
Should You Use Plywood or Drywall for Ceilings?
Either plywood or drywall would be a suitable material for a ceiling. It’s worth noting, however, that the variables we have previously explained (fire-proofing, soundproofing cost, strength etc.) will still apply, so you should consider your options carefully.
Although plywood may not always be the go-to material for ceilings, there are situations where people still opt to use it over drywall.
You can either install plywood directly over the old ceiling material or use it as the base material and fix it directly to the ceiling joists. Installing it over the top of the current ceiling material is quicker and more energy-efficient and will help reduce heating costs.
There are many different ways you can finish a plywood ceiling to tailor it to a specific look or design. For a more polished-looking finish, you could treat it with tape or filler and then paint it in your desired ceiling color. Although it won’t have the same texture as a drywall ceiling, it will give it a similar finished look.
For a more industrial look, you could use wooden trims to cover the seams between each panel, rather than filler or tape, and leave the wood grain texture exposed by sealing it with a clear varnish. The finished look is considerably more ‘rough and ready’ than a fully finished ceiling and is, therefore, an acquired taste that may not appeal to everyone.
Drywall, on the other hand, has a smooth surface texture that appeals more to the masses. After installing the panels and taping the joints (see above image), the surface is ready to paint in the desired finish color without a primer or sealant.
Can Plywood Be Finished Like Drywall?
Plywood is one of the most versatile wood materials on the market, so it’s no wonder why it is a popular choice for all different types of projects.
One of the most significant things to let plywood down, however, is the finish. It is super important to research the different finishing methods because you will not be pleased with the results if poorly executed.
As we already know that drywall has a more attractive finish than plywood, we will look into whether it is possible to achieve the same drywall finish for plywood.
To start, you should tape the plywood seams, just like you would with drywall. The tape will help fill any joints so that the individual plywood panels will look more like one continuous surface.
After that, you will need to skim coat the entire plywood surface with drywall mud (otherwise known as joint compound).
Drywall mud is a powdery paste made of gypsum, and you can use it to finish drywall joints, fill corners, and repair holes and cracks in existing drywall. By applying a thin layer to the plywood, the surface will resemble a similar texture to an actual drywall panel.
After applying the skim coat to the plywood surface, you may wish to sand it smooth for a softer finish. To avoid the drywall mud layer soaking up all of the finished coat of paint, make sure you prime the surface beforehand.
What Else Can Be Used Instead of Drywall?
Plywood isn’t the only material that you can use as an alternative to drywall.
While drywall may be a popular choice of material for both construction professionals and DIYers, the installation process can be time-consuming, which is one reason why people are sometimes looking for alternative material options.
If you’re looking for the closest alternative to drywall, veneer plaster could be the choice of material you’re searching for.
You don’t need to be necessarily skilled to apply veneer plaster, which is why it appeals to some people. Saying that, it does take considerably more time to install compared with drywall.
Veneer plaster is also much more resistant than drywall, making it less likely to get damaged or scratched over time.
You also apply veneer plaster as a continuous layer over the entire wall (and ceiling if applicable), so you don’t need to worry about going around taping the joints afterward.
Veneer plaster is a natural off-white color, so if you were happy with that color, you wouldn’t necessarily have to paint it. Alternatively, you could even add color to the plaster mixture, effectively combining two steps into one and saving you a vast amount of time in the process.
Lath & Plaster
Lath and plaster is a traditional technique that involves installing narrow horizontal strips of wood between wall studs or ceiling joists and then coating them in plaster.
Lath and plaster was the construction method of choice from the 1700s until the 1940s when drywall panels appeared on the scene.
Though it may be a conventional technique, lath and plaster does have some advantages over drywall.
Lath and plaster walls tend to be thick, which helps to provide a measure of temperature insulation and sound insulation, making it even more fire-resistant than drywall.
The lath and plaster finish is also textured, adding character and a rustic feel to a home.
Drywall panels are also more limited to flat surfaces, whereas lath and plaster can be used to create curves and arches within the home, making it slightly more versatile in this respect.
A traditional consultation material that is still very popular today, wood planks are a cost-effective alternative that helps create a rustic feel in the home.
With a variety of wood types to choose from, for example, birch, oak, and pine to name just a few, there are wood planks to suit almost every taste.
Textured Wall Panels
If you are looking for a more unique or bespoke aesthetic in your home, it may be worth doing some research into textured wall panels.
The 3D wall panels come in various finishes, so there are countless styles from which to choose.
Once a traditional style for buildings worldwide, exposed brick and stone internal walls have since made a comeback as a feature within homes.
An exposed brick or stone wall is a great way to create a unique feature wall within your home. It is best suited to traditional or older properties rather than a minimalist modern home.
Although it is a more expensive option than drywall, brick or stone walls will stand the test of time and require minimum maintenance levels. They are also tough enough to withstand general wear and tear over considerable periods.
Exposed concrete walls make a great statement design feature that can look incredibly attractive in the right setting.
Primarily used as a raw construction material, exposed concrete has become a highly desirable design feature within homes. The raw and unfinished texture has an industrial feel to it and is best suited for modern properties.
Concrete comes in a whole host of colors and textures. You could opt for something very smooth and shiny for a sleek and modern finish. On the other hand, if you wanted something more textured and rough, plenty of concrete options would also meet those requirements.
Concrete is a hardwearing material and is also non-combustible, making it popular for fireplace surrounds. It is also one of the most energy-efficient construction materials to produce, making it more carbon-neutral than glass, timber, and brick.
You should remember that exposed concrete will not be to everybody’s taste, which could be something to consider if you don’t want your property’s resale value to take a hit.
To summarize, you can use plywood instead of drywall for your construction project.
Both materials come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages, so you must weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of both so you can pick a material that is suitable for you.
Factors such as cost, fireproofing, acoustic qualities, energy efficiency, and local building codes and regulations will all come into play for your specific project, so make sure you consider all of these to get the finished look you want.
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