Drywall vs Plywood: What’s the Difference?

As a homeowner, you are constantly faced with important decisions to make. Some are simple, but others need some deep thought before deciding.

Of course, everyone would love their house to look appealing and remain functional. And for this to happen, you need to be careful with the choice of materials. The material used can break or make your project.

When it comes to walls, homeowners are often confused about the material to choose between plywood or drywall. These materials are versatile and can be used on various projects. However, they aren’t the same.

Today, we look at what they are, their differences, and the right one for you, depending on your case.

Let’s get started.

What is Drywall?

Drywall is a building material mainly used for interior finishing. It is usually large and smooth and consists of gypsum. Gypsum comes from calcium sulfate, which occurs naturally on the earth.

drywall installation

While gypsum is the main material used to make drywall, different manufacturers add other ingredients to make its construction worth it.

Manufacturers mix drywall when it is still wet, then wrap it in a piece of paper. After, they fire it in a kiln and leave it to dry.

The result is a semi-flexible, semi-water permeable, and firm board. Drywall boards mostly measure 4 by 8 feet with a thickness of ½ inch. However, some ceiling boards have a 5/8 thickness.

Drywall is used as a final layer during wall construction. People love it because it is smooth, large, and easy to install. Plus, it offers an excellent finish for smooth paint and wall hangings.

Drywalls also act as a fire barrier. Although it doesn’t serve as a firewall, it can absorb flames and contain a fire, preventing it from spreading to some extent.

Drywall comes in various forms like any other construction material, including humid-resistant, fire-resistant, soundproof, sound-rated, and recycled drywall. But you can also find other specialized types in the market.

What is Plywood?

Plywood is an umbrella term for engineered lumber, which includes multiple wood species.

softwood plywood

Plywood sheet layers, ‘ply’ are stuck together with a grain that runs perpendicular to each layer. As a result, the overall sheet becomes sturdy and durable.

You may find several labeling of plywood sheets. For instance, it may be labeled as “fir plywood”, meaning outer ply species with less grade wood inner plies. Fir plywood is often used for walls, enclosures, and sheeting on interior floors.

There is also pine plywood. But this isn’t considered plywood most times because pine is mainly found in solid sheets. However, it can still be called “plywood” to indicate a large pine sheet.

This type is affordable and soft. However, it is recommended for general construction and places often exposed to water.

You can also get other plywood varieties with great hardwood veneers. Such is suitable for staining and painting, making them valuable for constructing furniture and cabinets.

Drywall vs Plywood: Similarities

One of the things these materials share is that they both have a rich history. Drywall and plywood are popular materials for wall construction.

They have developed over time and have become prominent as more and more people resort to using them.

Initially, American companies sold these materials in regular sizes during the late 19th and 20th centuries. After that, they became widespread, and even today, many people still use them on their projects.

Additionally, they have some resemblance in their appearance. Both their surfaces are flat and smooth, making them a top choice for customers who want to decorate or customize their walls as per their preferences and budgets.

Drywall vs Plywood; Differences

As mentioned earlier, plywood and drywall are not the same material. The main differences lie in their:

Safety

Drywall is mostly favored because of its fire resistance property. In case of a fire, drywall takes 30-180 minutes.

It can also resist moisture and absorb sound. Since it is humid resistant, you can install it in the bathroom or kitchen without risking damage.

On the other hand, plywood is water-resistant. It can stay for a long time immersed in water without delamination. Unfortunately, it doesn’t resist fire.

For this reason, it is not advisable to install it in a dry environment unless you take extreme care.

Durability

Plywood comes from wood which is a durable material. It makes up a sturdy structure that can hold large items like clocks and mirrors.

The wood can also withstand impact and is water-resistant. We should also mention that it is easy to clean and maintain. The only problem is that the wood tends to bend or split with sun exposure and can be easily attacked by termites.

Drywall is also durable but not as sturdy as plywood. It can be used for more than 20 years with excellent care. This period is way more than that of a brick wall.

Usage

Individuals can cut and transport plywood and drywall easily as they are lightweight.

For this reason, the builder will not spend too much time cutting wall panels according to the available space. Some drywall types come with holes, meaning you can quickly fix it with another piece.

Installing both materials is easy. Therefore, clients save time and labor charges by opting for any of these two instead of brick walls. As a matter of fact, it’s easier to install plywood than drywall.

Most builders start by caulking the joints in the board to install, eliminating the need for taping or compounding the joint.

However, when using drywall, the process involves tapping, compounding joints, and sanding them to leave a smooth finish.

So, it takes more time and effort for the constructor to finish their work. But, plywood is a rigid material. So, it’s more complex to repair than drywall.

Price

Plywood, compared to drywall, is pricier, especially if you opt for the cabinet-grade hardwood type.

Let’s look at an example.

Drywall averagely costs $1.50 for a square foot, meaning if you use it to complete a room with the help of a builder, you’ll spend approximately $40-$60 for a panel.

But since an average room requires 10-13 panels, the total cost will be $400-$780. This is way more affordable than if you decide to use plywood.

Remember that wood is generally expensive. And some types are costlier than others, depending on the type and thickness of the wood. Therefore, if your budget is limited, you may opt for drywall.

Weight

While both materials are lightweight, plywood is lighter. Plywood weighs less than 2.1 pounds per sq. ft., while drywall weighs 2.75 pounds per sq. ft.

The weight is usually not a problem. But it can be during the installation. It’s hard to hold a heavy material while mounting it on the wall. So in most cases, drywall installation needs two people for the job.

Ease of Manipulation, Decoration, and Repair

It’s not easy to saw apart plywood due to its construction. So most times, you’ll end up with uneven cuts and lots of tear-out. This makes it hard to saw plywood sheets.

On the other hand, drywall doesn’t have these issues. You can quickly cut it with a saw. Sure, it is heavier than plywood. But in terms of workability, drywall is the best choice.

When it comes to decoration, drywall is usually better since it has a flat and smooth surface.

Therefore, it is simple to sand, paint, and decorate. Plywood has a rough finish that isn’t appealing. Therefore, sanding is hard, and painting it is almost impossible.

Additionally, repairing drywall is much easier than plywood. You only need to cut the damaged or broken sections, replace them with new ones, and that’s it.

If your plywood has many roots and cracks, repairing it may be impossible. You can’t replace small sections as with drywall. In that case, you may need to replace the whole sheet.

Moisture

Both materials have their challenges with water. Plywood manufacturers don’t treat indoor plywood with any additives for mold prevention.

Plus, they don’t include waterproof glues in them. So, it may not be wise to use plywood in bathrooms or other areas prone to water.

If you do, you risk mold formation or delamination as the glue layers will loosen and the plies begin to separate.

On the other hand, drywall paper includes gypsum and additives. If gypsum soaks in water for a long time, the core can turn into paste, weakening the drywall paper.

Normal moisture levels in the atmosphere are okay. But if you use drywall in areas that receive too much water, like bathrooms and kitchens, remember to take proper protection.

Why Use Drywall Instead of Plywood?

Drywall and plywood are used in wall constructions. However, for some reason, drywall is popular compared to plywood.

Here are some reasons to choose drywall over plywood;

  • It’s easier to install- cut drywall is simple, and it’s not hard to hang. It is much easier to work with it than plywood.
  • It’s easier to fix- damages are unavoidable. But when they occur, you’d want a material that you can quickly fix without replacing the entire panel. Thankfully, drywall is that material. You can fix holes and patches quickly on the sections they occur without replacing the whole board, unlike with plywood.
  • It is cheaper- drywall is recommended for people with a small budget. It is more affordable to fix and less time-consuming. Remember that wood, regardless of the type, is generally expensive. So add the cost factor when weighing your options.
  • Decorating drywall is easier- the surface is flat and smooth, allowing users to cover it with paint or wallpaper. While plywood is also smooth, it doesn’t hold paint that well. Plus, it has more texture, making it hard to decorate your wall.
  • It’s more fire-resistant- fire is a common worry among homeowners. It is why many people opt for drywall since it has fire resistance properties. It doesn’t burn or catch fire easily. Therefore, it can buy you some time to contain the fire, unlike if your walls are made of plywood.

Why Choose Plywood Instead of Drywall?

Although plywood has various drawbacks, it also has some advantages that you need to consider.

For instance, plywood would be your best choice if you want a durable material. Wood is expensive mainly because it is durable. Therefore, you can expect sturdy boards when you opt for plywood.

Plywood also provides extra strength that allows it to resist dents and damage. The impact of sharp objects, tools, and reckless movements can easily damage your drywall. But this doesn’t happen when using heavy-duty plywood.

Additionally, plywood may actually be easier to install than drywall. Plywood is generally lighter compared to drywall.

Therefore, it can be installed by one person quickly. Plus, it doesn’t need any taping or compounding in the joint. Thus, the project won’t take as much time as installing drywall.

Drywall vs Plywood for Garage and Ceiling

You can use both plywood and drywall for interior walls. But when constructing garage walls, please remember that it requires a different approach than other parts of the house.

Note that garages are designed to hold heavy objects and materials. So it needs to be constructed in a way that can handle wear and tear.

Both these materials are suitable for a garage setting. But, you need to evaluate them in terms of strength, fireproofing, ease of installation, and soundproofing when choosing one.

For instance, plywood is generally stronger and more durable than drywall. Thus it can hold more weight, and you don’t have to worry about the integrity of your garage walls.

But it is not fireproof, and that’s where drywall wins. Drywall has gypsum, which helps minimize the rate the fire spreads. Therefore, making the material more fire resistant and safer.

However, in terms of installation, plywood excels because it is much lighter. But when it comes to soundproofing, drywalls contain more sound compared to plywood.

So it is up to you to weigh the two options and choose based on what is important to you.

For instance, if soundproofing, affordability, and fireproofing matter to you, opt for drywall. But if ease of installation and durability are your concerns, plywood would be the best option.

You can also use any of these materials on the ceiling. But remember that the above variables (fireproofing, ease of installation, cost, and durability, still apply.

Some people argue that plywood isn’t the best material for ceilings. However, in some situations, it may be the best to use.

You can install it over the old ceiling or use it as the base material to fix ceiling joists. But installing over the existing ceiling material is more time and energy-efficient, and it will also reduce heating costs.

Final Thoughts

Both plywood and drywall are versatile building materials. The only issue is that their properties aren’t the same. So, the choice is yours on which material to choose.

But we advise you to do a lot of research to ensure that you make the best decision. Read various articles, talk with several contractors and get different estimates.

Remember that fixing your walls is a huge decision, and you shouldn’t take it lightly.

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