Discovering the Fascinating History of Wall Coverings in Old Homes

Before drywall became a common building material, homes used a variety of materials for interior walls. Here are some materials that old houses used instead of drywall:
  • Plaster: This is a common material used in older homes. A mixture of gypsum, sand, and water, applied in layers over a wooden framework. Plaster had a long curing time but produced a solid and sound-absorbing finish.
  • Lath and plaster: This system comprises narrow wooden strips (laths) nailed to wall studs or ceiling joists and then covered with several coats of plaster to create a textured interior finish.
  • Wood paneling: Homes with a rustic or vintage feel may have used wood panels like tongue and groove, shiplap and beadboard instead of drywall. These were fit together and fastened directly to the wall studs.
  • Masonry: Stone or brick walls that were built as a structural element of the house were sometimes left exposed. They can add character and charm to any living space. Overall, while drywall has become the most popular interior wall covering in modern design, there are still plenty of alternatives to achieving that rustic, classic interior look in older homes.

    The Origins of Drywall

    Drywall, also known as gypsum board or wallboard, was first invented in the early 20th century as a more convenient and affordable alternative to traditional plaster walls. It consists of a layer of gypsum sandwiched between two layers of paper, and is produced in large sheets that can be easily transported and installed.
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    The invention of drywall revolutionized the construction industry, as it allowed for faster and more efficient building of homes and other structures. In addition, it was highly fire-resistant and could help prevent the spread of flames in the event of a house fire. Today, drywall is the most commonly used wall covering material in new construction, and can be found in homes and buildings all around the world.

    The Advantages of Plaster

    Although drywall is now the standard for most new construction, there are still many homes – particularly older ones – that use plaster instead. Plaster is a mixture of gypsum, sand, and water that is applied in layers over a framework of wooden strips called lath. One of the major advantages of plaster over drywall is its durability. Plaster walls are much thicker and more solid than drywall, and can withstand the wear and tear of daily life without denting or cracking. In addition, plaster is a much superior insulator than drywall, providing better soundproofing and insulation for the home. Because plaster is typically applied by hand, it can also be molded and shaped into intricate patterns and designs, making it popular in older homes with more ornate architectural details.

    Plaster vs. Drywall: Which is Better?

    Despite the advantages of plaster, many homeowners and builders today still prefer drywall for a number of reasons. Some of the key factors include:
    • Drywall is much cheaper and easier to install than plaster, making it a more cost-effective option for many
    • Drywall can be painted and finished more easily than plaster, giving it a smooth and seamless appearance
    • Drywall is much lighter than plaster, making it easier to transport, install, and handle
    • Drywall can be easily replaced or repaired if damaged, whereas repairing plaster walls can be a more difficult and time-consuming process
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    Ultimately, the decision between plaster vs. drywall comes down to personal preference, budget, and the specific needs of the home or building.

    Differences in Installation Between Materials

    The installation processes for plaster and drywall are vastly different. Plaster is typically installed by hand, with wet plaster being applied to the lath in multiple coats. This process can take several days or even weeks to complete, and requires a skilled professional to get the job done right. Drywall, on the other hand, is much easier and faster to install. It can usually be hung and screwed into place in a matter of hours, and requires less skill and expertise to get a satisfactory result.

    Repairing Plaster vs. Drywall

    One of the major downsides of plaster walls is that they can be difficult to repair if they become damaged. If a plaster wall is cracked or gouged, it typically needs to be patched using new layers of plaster, which can be time-consuming and labor-intensive. Drywall, on the other hand, is much easier to repair. Small holes and cracks can be filled with joint compound and sanded down to create a smooth surface, while larger damage can be easily patched with a piece of new drywall.

    Restoring and Maintaining Older Plaster Walls

    If you have an older home with plaster walls, it’s important to take good care of them to ensure their longevity. Here are some tips for restoring and maintaining older plaster walls:
    • Keep the walls clean and free of dust and debris
    • Regularly inspect the walls for cracks, holes, or signs of damage
    • Make any necessary repairs promptly to prevent further damage
    • Consider hiring a professional plasterer to help restore damaged or deteriorating walls
    • Apply a coat of sealant to the walls to help protect them from moisture and damage
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    Finding and Sourcing Alternative Wall Coverings

    If you’re looking for an alternative to plaster or drywall, there are a number of other wall covering materials available. Some popular options include:
    • Beadboard – a type of paneling that features narrow, vertical planks
    • Paneling – a type of wood or synthetic material that covers the walls and ceiling
    • Tin – stamped metal tiles that are often used in kitchens and other areas with high humidity
    • Fabric – fabric wall coverings can add texture and warmth to a room, and can be updated or changed easily
    Ultimately, the decision of which wall covering material to use comes down to personal preference, budget, and the overall design aesthetic of the home. Whether you opt for plaster, drywall, or an alternative material, ensuring that your walls are sturdy, well-maintained, and attractive is key to creating a comfortable and appealing living environment.

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