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Material World – Walls 101

Whether you’re building a brand new home or simply looking to repair or remodel your existing residence, understanding which wall options are available to you–and then choosing one–is important from the jump. This decision will inform many others along the way! Below, we’re giving the basics of the two most common types of wall building materials–drywall and plaster.


Plaster & Lath

Most commonly found in homes built before the 1940s, plaster and lath is hard-wearing, reliable, and can age well, providing an element that well-loved character everyone is after. It’s a sturdy choice for wall building but with the advent of drywall in the 1940s (discussed more below), it fell out of popularity as it requires specialized skill and labor to complete properly.

Because the plaster and lath method requires at least three coatings of plaster and the lath is so strong, this wall option gives added benefits of insulation and soundproofing. 

If you have existing plaster and lath walls, there are products you can buy to fill in cracks or make smaller cosmetic repairs on the walls. That said, installing new plaster and lath does require a professional’s hand which, in turn, increases cost.  These days if you’re doing plaster you will use a metal lath instead of wood lath.

Lath

Thin strips of wood nailed perpendicular to studs to create a foundational base to apply plaster.

Plaster

Modern plaster is made from a mix of clay, lime, acrylics and can also contain dyes or other additions for cosmetic tweaks. Most walls require three coats of plaster which results in about a one inch thick wall that adheres to the lath.


Drywall

Drywall was invented in 1916 but it wasn’t until the 1940s, after the war and during the baby boom, that the building material experienced a boom of its own. As families grew and folks moved from the cities to the suburbs, the need for new homes increased exponentially. Drywall was (and is!) inexpensive, easy to install without specialized skill, and readily available anywhere. 

While plaster must be applied wet onsite, drywall is–well–dry, giving it yet another convenient advantage over its earlier counterpart. Drywall is made of gypsum plaster sandwiched between two sheets of thick facer or backer paper. For specialty drywall options, the gypsum is mixed with fiber and other additives to help strengthen, soundproof, mildew proof and fireproof the walls. 


SIZES + THICKNESSES

Size Options

4×8: The most common size, ready for everyday hanging. Perfect for “regular” sized rooms with common dimensions and ceiling heights. 

4×6: A special size meant for easy transport in elevators for urban renovations in older buildings.

4×10: An in-between option that gives you a nice smooth surface for larger walls and ceilings.

4×12: The longest length available and, not surprisingly, is best used for high ceilings and vast expanses of wall.

Thickness Options

1/4 Inch: Most commonly used to mount over an existing layer of wall for a cosmetic refresh. Since it’s the thinnest option, it’s also best for walls with curves in them, as it can most easily bend. 

3/8 Inch: Used similarly to the quarter inch, also good for curved walls and patching existing drywall. 

1/2 Inch: The most common choice; lightweight, easy to handle, and readily available. There is an “ultra light” version of the half inch thickness that is up to 13 pounds lighter than its traditional counterpart. 

5/8 Inch: The thickest you can buy. As you’d expect, it’s the best thickness for soundproofing walls. Is often fire-resistant as well.

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