What Is Drywall and What Is It Made Of?
Drywall is a cheap, easy-to-work-with construction material that’s widely used across the globe to build walls and ceilings. It takes very little time and effort to install and can last for many decades. Even if you’ve never done any construction, you’ve probably already seen sheets of drywall when trying to repair cracks on the walls or change the wallpaper/paint.
But what is drywall made of, anyway? What are the most common uses for it? Are there different types of drywall out there? What sets them apart? We’ll cover all these questions in this detailed guide, along with the biggest pros, cons, and frequently asked questions. So, if you’re ready to learn everything there is to know about this oh-so-popular material, join us, and let’s get started!
How Does It Work?
In the construction world, drywall is a “workhorse”. It comes at a low price and doesn’t take a degree to cut, shape, and put to good use. That’s why drywall covers the flat surfaces in most modern-day homes (at least in Western countries). Most likely, the framings in your home are covered with it. This is interesting: since the post-WW2 construction boom, drywall has been used to build millions of private homes and apartment buildings in the States.
Today, North American companies manufacture more than 20 billion square feet of drywall per year. It’s not at all fancy, nor does it take long hours to prepare, which is exactly why it’s so popular. This material is also known as plasterboard or wallboard. Gypsum board is another common name for it. So, why gypsum, you might ask? Is that what sheets of drywall are made of? That’s right! Here’s a more detailed look at the individual components that make up a standard drywall panel.
What Is Drywall Made Of?
No matter how big, small, thick, or thin the drywall is, it’s made from gypsum (calcium sulfate dihydrate)—a natural soft sulfate mineral. This is an environmentally-friendly product, and to make it hard and sturdy, gypsum plaster is put through a dehydration process. Next, it’s mixed with hardeners and additives like paper pulp or starch that give it the desired shape and consistency for various projects.
The type of chemicals used and the thickness of the drywall sheets give it certain properties. We’re talking about resistance to fire, humidity/mold, and impact, along with the ability to block outside noises. Now, while gypsum is, indeed, the main “ingredient” in any drywall panels, it’s always wrapped in fiberglass or heavy paper. Here’s how drywall is used in construction:
What Are the Different Types of Drywall?
One of the best things about drywall is that it’s available in different variations, each specifically formulated and manufactured for specific needs. And, they’re very easy to set apart from each other by checking the color (no, drywall isn’t always gray or white) and the cardboard/fiberglass surrounding the gypsum. Here are the most commonly used drywall types on the market:
Where Is It Used?
Drywall is the go-to construction material for walls and ceilings. Once the framing structure is in place, you’re free to nail or screw the drywall sheets onto that frame. Along with that, drywall is also used by designers to create beautiful ornaments, arches, eaves, and other (rather complex) architectural elements. Drywall can be thick or thin, and also large and small. Here’s a quick look at why that’s important:
Different Thickness for Different Tasks
So, for building the walls, 1/2-inch sheets are the golden standard. If you want the drywall to be fire-resistant, use 5/8-inch panels instead. The ceiling will also benefit from slightly thicker sheets as they will last longer. Thinner sheets (1/4 inches) are only good for covering curved walls and masking cracks on thicker panels. The same is true for 3/4-inch drywall: it’s used for patching up old, worn-out, and cracked drywall.
The Size Also Matters
Most drywall sheets you see out there are 4×8 feet. First, these are cheap. Second, since they’re relatively lightweight, they don’t require two sets of hands for transportation. Besides, most framing structures are specifically built to accommodate drywall boards of this size. With that said, to achieve a smooth surface that holds paint really well, you might want to choose 4×10-foot sheets instead. They’ll be 50% heavier and cost more.
Next, we have 4×12-foot and 4×16-foot. These aren’t as common, though, especially when it comes to standard construction or DIY plans. However, for large-scale projects, the bigger the panels, the faster you can cover the frame with drywall. Ultimately, it all comes down to what your current requirements are.
Advantages of Drywall
Disadvantages of Drywall
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What’s the Right Size for Drywall?
To answer this question, you need to first decide what kind of a project you’re working on and what role the drywall will play in that. If you’re not a pro but like to work on some DIY stuff in your garage, go with 4×8-feet sheets. The biggest reason for that is flexibility. These panels can be cut with basic instruments/tools and are fairly lightweight.
At the same time, people that do this for a living (like construction workers) often opt for much bigger sizes. Again, depending on the task at hand, large drywall sheets can get the job done faster and cleaner. Still not sure which size to pick? Go back to our detailed breakdown and comparison of the various sizes, drywall types, and thickness/density. That should help make up your mind!
Is Drywall Better Than Plaster?
This greatly depends on the nature of the project you’re working on. Drywall panels are more stable, don’t need to be sanded, and take a lot less effort and investment to repair compared to plaster. On top of that, they come in different sizes, which, again, can’t be said about plaster. Drywall is not a perfect construction material, though. Plaster is more flexible, long-lasting, and not nearly as heavy. That means no extra set of hands will be required.
Furthermore, with plaster, you won’t have to worry about mold/mildew growth, as it’s practically immune to it. Speaking of that, plaster is also more resistant to fires and outside noises and does a better job of keeping cold air out and warm air in. To match it, you will have to invest in a more expensive type of drywall, like purple, blue, or green. Summing up, each material has its pros and cons.
For a DIY enthusiast, drywall is a go-to material simply because it’s affordable, easy to cut/shape to your liking, and gets the job done fast. Now, depending on how large the sheets are, you might not be able to pull the project off. On the bright side, average-sized panels shouldn’t be that hard to handle. Speaking of that, there are lots of different shapes, sizes, and types of drywall available on the market.
Durable, long-lasting, easy (and quick) to repair, and mostly hassle-free, drywall is an essential element in any construction project, no matter how big or small it is. True, drywall does generate dust and is overall messy. But if you pick the right type, you’ll get a soundproof, water-resistant, or non-combustible material for a very low price!
Featured Image Credit: Zakhar Mar, Shutterstock