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Plaster vs Drywall: What's the Difference?
6 minute read
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Tim Forestell
July 18, 2023

Plaster vs. Drywall: Differences Between the Wall Materials

Updated: March 25, 2024

When finishing a home, most homeowners are going to be stuck between options: plaster vs drywall. Found commonly both in commercial and residential properties, picking between the two may not seem like a big deal but there are some long-term implications. To help you pick the right choice, we've created this blog that compares the two choices including their differences and the pros and cons of each.

Plaster vs. Drywall: The Key Differences

There are some fundamental differences to be aware of when comparing plaster to drywall. Understanding these differences will help in making informed decisions in construction projects.

Plaster, for instance, has exceptional durability and resilience. This makes it a preferred choice for historical restorations and projects that prioritize longevity. Additionally, plaster has superior soundproofing and fire resistance, enhancing both safety and comfort within the building.

Drywall is the modern choice between the two materials. Composed of gypsum and two paper layers, drywall is appreciated for its ease of installation and cost-effectiveness. It also allows for adaptability between finishes, from smooth to textured, catering to diverse aesthetic preferences.

Understanding Plaster

While plaster has become more outdated, its history in construction dates back centuries with most homes built before the 1950s using plaster. It was a popular choice because of how it could be used with multiple materials to finish a home, whether that be wood, brick, or stone.

Plaster can be used to finish wood, brick, and even cement walls.

Plaster is a mixture of lime, sand, and water. It can also contain gypsum and concrete. This composition makes it incredibly durable and resistant to wear and tear. Plaster's application involves skilled craftsmanship, meticulously layering the wet material on plasterboards and smoothing it out to create a nice finish.

Understanding Drywall

In the last several years, drywall has largely replaced plaster and become more significant in modern construction. Also known as gypsum board or wallboard, drywall panels are made from gypsum plaster that's been layered between two pieces of thick paper. This composition makes it lightweight, easy to cut to size, and straightforward to install when compared to a traditional plaster wall. Contractors value it for its efficiency, as the installation process requires minimal time and labor.

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Once finished, it has a smooth surface that serves as a blank canvas for various finishes. This allows homeowners to personalize their interiors with paint or wallpaper much more easily. Additionally, it accommodates different textures, making it a popular choice for both new construction and remodeling projects, catering to a wide range of design preferences.

Pros and Cons of Plaster and Drywall

When comparing plaster vs drywall, it's important to understand the pros and cons of both to make the right choice for your interior walls.

Pros of Plaster

Plaster has many features that make it a great choice for various construction projects.

Durability and Longevity: Plaster is often chosen for its exceptional durability. When properly applied, it can last for decades, if not centuries, making it a great investment for residential construction and homeowners aiming for the least amount of wear and tear.

Customization and Aesthetics: A primary attraction for plastered walls is its ability to create custom finishes. Skilled artisans can manipulate it to make intricate textures, decorative patterns, and even sculptural elements, allowing for personalized and unique designs that add character to any space.

Plaster can be finished in many styles, including with intricate textures and details.

Soundproofing Properties: Plaster's composition provides inherent soundproofing capabilities, reducing noise pollution. This feature is particularly beneficial in residential settings, where privacy is an essential consideration.

Fire Resistance: Plaster is incredibly fire resistant, acting as a natural barrier against flames and smoke. This property enhances safety and contributes to compliance with building codes and regulations.

Historical Charm and Prestige: For homeowners looking to create a sense of history and prestige in their home, plaster has more appeal. Its association with grand architectural styles and historical landmarks adds a touch of elegance to any interior space, making it a preferred choice for restoration projects and heritage homes.

Cons of Plaster

While plaster has numerous advantages, it also has several drawbacks.

Cost and Labor Intensiveness: Installing plaster requires skilled craftsmanship which can drive up labor costs significantly. Additionally, the materials involved in installation, such as lime and sand, can be more expensive, further increasing overall project expenses. Lastly, because it isn't as common anymore, it requires more specialized work which could also make it more expensive.

Time-Consuming Application Process: Applying plaster involves a multi-step process, including mixing the plaster, laying multiple layers, and allowing sufficient drying time between coats. This time-consuming process can prolong project timelines, potentially causing delays in completion.

Vulnerability to Cracking and Settling: Despite its durability, it is susceptible to cracking over time, especially in areas prone to structural movement or settling. Damaged plaster can ruin the aesthetic appeal of a space and may require periodic maintenance or repair to maintain the integrity of the finish.

Limited Design Flexibility: While plaster has a variety of finishes, it may have limitations in accommodating certain design preferences. Achieving intricate designs with plaster will require highly skilled and specialized techniques.

By being aware of these potential drawbacks, contractors and homeowners can weigh the pros and cons of plaster against their project requirements and preferences, ensuring that their choice of construction material aligns with their goals for durability, aesthetics, and budget considerations.

Pros of Drywall

Drywall also has several advantages that make it a popular choice in construction.

Cost-Effectiveness: Drywall panels are typically more affordable than plaster, making it a cost-effective option for both new construction and remodeling projects. Its lower material and labor costs can significantly contribute to overall project savings, especially in large-scale endeavors.

Ease of Installation: One of the most significant advantages of drywall is its ease of installation. Unlike plaster, installing drywall can be done quickly by contractors with basic carpentry skills because sheets can be easily cut and shaped, reducing labor time and project timelines.

Drywall sheets can be easily placed and cut, reducing the need for specialized labor.

Versatility in Design: Drywall's smooth surface provides various finishing and treatment options, allowing homeowners to achieve their desired aesthetic preferences. Whether painting, wallpapering, or adding texture, its finishing provides a wide range of design possibilities.

Fire Resistance: Gypsum, the primary component of drywall, has inherent fire-resistant properties. This contributes greatly to the safety of occupants in residential and commercial buildings. It can also help contain flames and prevent the rapid spread of fire.

Sound Insulation: It also has acoustic benefits, helping to reduce noise transmission between rooms and floors. By dampening sound vibrations, it creates more privacy and comfort, making it particularly suitable for residential applications.

Sustainability: Many manufacturers create eco-friendly options made from recycled materials or produced using sustainable practices. Additionally, its lightweight nature reduces transportation costs and energy consumption during installation, further contributing to its environmental credentials.

Overall, the cost-effectiveness, ease of installation, design versatility, fire resistance, sound insulation, and sustainability make it a practical and preferred choice for contractors and homeowners.

Cons of Drywall

Despite its numerous advantages, it also has some limitations to consider.

Prone to Damage: Drywall is relatively fragile and susceptible to dents, scratches, and punctures, especially in high-traffic areas or during construction activities. Accidental impacts from furniture, equipment, or sharp objects can result in visible damage to the surface, requiring repairs or replacements.

Moisture Sensitivity: Exposure to moisture from leaks, humidity, or flooding can cause drywall to swell, warp, or develop mold, compromising its structural integrity and aesthetics. In areas prone to moisture, such as bathrooms and basements, additional precautions or moisture-resistant sheets may be necessary.

Limited Load-Bearing Capacity: Drywall sheets are not structurally load-bearing and require support from framing or wall studs. While it provides a finished surface for walls and ceilings, it cannot bear significant weight on its own. Heavy fixtures, shelves, or equipment must be securely anchored to prevent damage to the wall.

Difficulty Repairing Large Damages: While you can easily patch holes, minor dents, and scratches in it, significant damage, such as large holes or extensive water damage, may require more extensive repairs or even replacement.

Limited Insulation Properties: While it offers some degree of sound insulation, it may not provide sufficient thermal insulation, particularly in exterior walls or spaces requiring higher energy efficiency. Additional insulation materials may be necessary to achieve desired levels of thermal comfort and energy efficiency, adding to the overall project cost and complexity.

By considering these limitations, contractors and homeowners can make informed decisions about the suitability of drywall for their specific project requirements and environmental conditions.

How To Tell Drywall and Plaster Walls Apart

Distinguishing between drywall and plaster requires attention to certain characteristics and visual cues. Here's how to tell them apart:

1. Texture and Appearance (Wall Finish):

Drywall: On unfinished walls, drywall typically has a smooth and uniform surface with visible seams between panels. The joints between sheets are often covered with joint compound and tape, leaving a slightly raised line.

Plaster: Often exhibits a more textured and irregular surface, especially in older homes or buildings. Plaster walls may display subtle variations in texture, such as swirls, ridges, or trowel marks, depending on the application technique.

2. Sound when Tapped

Drywall: Produces a hollow sound when tapped due to its hollow core construction. Tapping on it may result in a higher-pitched and less resonant sound compared to plaster.

Plaster: Typically produces a denser and more solid sound when tapped, indicating its thicker and denser composition. Plaster walls tend to resonate with a deeper, more substantial tone.

3. Visual Inspection of Edges

Drywall: Look for visible seams or joints between panels, especially at corners and edges. Seams are typically covered with joint compound and may have a slight indentation or raised line.

Plaster: Check for irregularities or imperfections in the surface, such as hairline cracks or areas of uneven texture. Plaster edges may blend seamlessly into adjacent sections without distinct seams or joints.

4. Age and Style of Construction

Drywall: Commonly used in modern construction, particularly in buildings constructed after the mid-20th century. It became increasingly popular due to its affordability and ease of installation.

Drywall has become the primary building material in many modern homes.

Plaster: Often found in older homes and historic buildings predating the widespread adoption of drywall. Plaster was the predominant wall material for much of architectural history, especially in ornate or high-end construction.

5. Conduct a Scratch Test:

Drywall: Scratch the surface lightly with your fingernail or a small tool. It will typically show indentation or scratches relatively easily due to its softer composition.

Plaster: Plaster walls tend to be harder and more resistant to scratches compared to drywall panels. You may notice less indentation or marking on the surface when conducting a scratch test.

By paying attention to these key characteristics, homeowners and contractors can identify whether a wall is constructed with drywall or plaster, helping inform decisions regarding repairs, renovations, or maintenance.

Plaster Vs. Drywall: DIY and Construction Methods

Comparing the construction methods of both materials sheds light on the distinct approaches required for each material.

Plaster Construction Method

Plaster installation demands skill and precision. First, a wood lath is connected to the wall or ceiling to provide a base for the plaster application. Next, multiple coats of plaster are applied by hand. Each coat must dry thoroughly before the next layer is added, a process that can take a while.

Skilled craftsmen adept at plastering techniques can manipulate the material to achieve desired textures and finishes, often incorporating decorative elements for added aesthetic appeal. While the application process is labor-intensive and time-consuming, the result is a custom finish that can last for decades.

Drywall Construction Method

Drywall construction offers a more modern and efficient approach. To install drywall, begin by attaching the drywall panels to the wall or ceiling studs using screws or nails. Once secured, joints between panels are filled with joint compound and covered with tape to create a smooth, seamless surface.

Unlike plaster, which requires multiple coats and drying time between applications, drywall installation is relatively quick, allowing for rapid progress in construction projects. Its simplicity and ease of installation make it a preferred choice for projects prioritizing cost-effectiveness and efficiency. Sheets also come readily available in standardized sizes and thicknesses, making them easier to work with.

By understanding the ways they are installed, contractors and homeowners can make informed decisions based on project requirements, timelines, and desired outcomes.

Drywall vs. Plaster: Comparison by Attribute

We've talked about both building materials on their own, but now it's time to compare them side by side.


Drywall: Generally more cost-effective due to lower material and labor costs. According to Forbes, the cost per square foot of drywall is $1.50 to $4.00 or $15 to $60 per panel. Panels also are available in standardized sizes and can be installed quickly, reducing overall project expenses.

Plaster: Typically more expensive due to the skilled labor and time-intensive application process involved with reports showing that plasterwork can cost between $2 to $10 per square foot. Texturing and other factors only add to the price. Plaster also needs multiple coats and meticulous finishing, contributing to higher labor costs and longer project timelines.

Winner: Drywall


Drywall: Drywall is decently durable but prone to damage from impacts, moisture, and wear over time. While it can withstand typical usage, it may require repairs or replacements more frequently compared to plaster.

Plaster: Exceptionally durable with proper application, capable of lasting for decades or even centuries. Plaster's dense composition and seamless finish make it resistant to cracks, dents, and general wear, enhancing its longevity.

Winner: Plaster


Drywall: Drywall has a quick and straightforward installation process, suitable for both DIY enthusiasts and professional contractors. Panels and sheets are lightweight and easily set in place, making it a preferred building material.

Plaster: Plaster has a labor-intensive installation process requiring skilled craftsmanship. Plaster application involves multiple coats, drying time between layers, and meticulous finishing techniques, making it more time-consuming and complex.

Winner: Drywall

Sound Proofing

Drywall: Provides moderate sound insulation, reducing noise transmission between rooms. However, its effectiveness may be limited compared to plaster, particularly in blocking low-frequency sounds.

Plaster: Has excellent soundproofing properties due to its dense composition. Plaster effectively dampens noise transmission, enhancing acoustic comfort within interior spaces.

Winner: Plaster

Fire Resistance

Drywall: Exhibits inherent fire resistance due to its gypsum core, helping to slow the spread of flames and smoke in the event of a fire. However, when exposed to high heat, drywall can quickly lose its structural integrity. Some fire-rated drywalls can provide additional protection in high-risk areas.

Plaster: Offers superior fire resistance because of the gypsum which has a high water content. This acts as a natural barrier against fire and smoke, allowing plaster buildings to contain flames and limit their spread more than drywall.

Winner: Plaster


Drywall: Drywall repairs normally involve patching small areas and sanding the surface until it's smooth. Repair kits can be bought at most local hardware stores. Replacing an entire wall of drywall, while being a larger cost, is also easier than repairing an entire wall of plaster.

Plaster: Small repairs can be easy to patch up but large repairs can be more challenging and time-consuming, particularly for larger damages or cracks. Restoring plaster walls will require skilled craftsmanship to match textures and finishes seamlessly.

Winner: Drywall


Drywall: Finishing drywall provides a smooth, uniform surface suitable for various finishes such as paint, wallpaper, or texture. Its versatility allows for customization to match desired aesthetics.

Plaster: Offers a seamless, custom finish with unique textures and decorative elements. Plaster walls can be sculpted and manipulated to achieve intricate designs, adding character and elegance to interior spaces.

Winner: Plaster

In summary, both building materials have distinct advantages and considerations across different attributes. The choice between the two materials depends on factors such as project requirements, budget constraints, aesthetic preferences, and desired performance characteristics.

FAQ About Plaster and Drywall

Why Would I Use Plaster?

Plaster has several advantages, including durability, soundproofing, and fire resistance. Additionally, plaster allows for customizable finishes with unique textures and decorative elements. For homeowners seeking a timeless and durable home, plaster remains a preferred choice, especially in historical restorations.

Is Plaster Harder to Install Than Drywall?

Plaster is generally more challenging to install. Plaster application involves a labor-intensive process and multiple coats of plaster applied by hand, followed by smoothing and finishing techniques to achieve desired textures and finishes. In contrast, drywall installation is relatively quick and straightforward, making it more accessible to DIY enthusiasts and less skilled labor.

Can I Paint Plaster and Drywall?

Both plaster and drywall can be painted to achieve the desired colors and finishes. Before painting, prepare the surface by filling any imperfections and small holes, sanding rough spots, and applying a primer to promote adhesion and uniformity. Once prepared, you can paint plaster and drywall using suitable paint products. Whether you prefer matte, satin, or glossy finishes, painting allows you to customize the appearance of your walls to match your aesthetic preferences.

Can I Hang Artwork or a TV on Plaster?

You can hang artwork, mirrors, and even TVs on plaster walls with the proper hardware and installation techniques. To ensure secure mounting, use anchors, screws, or picture hangers designed for plaster walls. It's essential to locate wall studs or use toggle bolts for heavier items to distribute weight evenly and prevent damage to the plaster surface.

Can You Plaster Over Drywall?

It is possible to plaster over drywall, but it is not the most practical or cost-effective option. The success of plastering over drywall depends on the condition of the wall and surface preparation. It's essential to address any issues such as cracks, holes, or moisture damage before applying plaster to ensure a durable and long-lasting finish. Additionally, consider consulting a professional plasterer for advice on the feasibility and best practices for plastering over drywall.

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Tim Forestell
Tim Forestell is one of DOZR’s co-founders and CCO. Tim got started in the industry as VP Operations for Forestell Landscaping before founding DOZR with Kevin and Erin. Aside from the amazing team at DOZR, his favourite thing about DOZR are the customers. Working with DOZR renters every day gives him a peek at the evolution of different projects and hearing stories about projects being developed from start to finish.
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