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Why Drywall is Dead (and what I’m doing about it).

Why Drywall is Dead (and what I'm doing about it).

Drywall is dead. Long live drywall. I can’t say that I’ll miss him (I’m assuming drywall is a him), but he seemed nice enough. Faster than a three-coat old-fashioned plaster job, and less expensive to boot. But there has always been something about him I just couldn’t put my finger on. Something about drywall that made me a little nuts. And it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I figured it out . . .

It’s Too Perfect

Drywall is too perfect! As my plaster teacher said, “It is monolithic splendor.” A rather dubious description of both its perfection and inhuman feel. That what’s been driving me nuts all these years. And while it may not sound like a problem, let me explain.

The problem with drywall’s perfectly flat and smooth surface it that it is rather cold and lifeless. And inevitably it will be marred at some point. That mark, whether it is the inevitable nail pops as the house settles, the rogue door knob, or the multitude of screw and nail holes that accumulate very quickly from our family photos will stand out like a sore thumb. You can patch it, but if your drywall is textured (and most is) you’ll never get it to match.

Not to mention drywall’s other problems:

  • Creates massive waste (off-cuts are almost always thrown out in order to have the fewest seams).
  • Makes a terrible mess of unhealthy sanding dust that is difficult to clean.
  • Takes too long to install and finish.
  • Most homes use 1/2″ drywall which is not nearly thick enough for sufficient sound proofing.
  • Surface is soft and very easy to mar.

Put all that together and you have a system that is ripe for disruption. And I plan to disrupt it indeed!

My Mission

Starting today, my company Austin Historical, will no longer install standard drywall. Even if you want it, I won’t install it anymore. For too long, I have installed what I feel is a subpar product. And by installing something that is not of the quality our company demands, I have dropped the ball. So, I plan to use whatever clout I have to promote a much better solution and to encourage my friends and colleagues to do the same.

The Plan

So here is what we will be doing, and I think the rest of the historic renovation industry needs to stand with us. If you disagree, I’d love to hear why in the comments below.

We will be using a hybrid modern plaster wall that, in most cases, is:

  • Faster than standard drywall
  • Cheaper than standard drywall
  • Stronger than standard drywall
  • Has less environmental impact than drywall
  • More attractive than standard drywall

How does that sound? I thought it might interest you. This is nothing I created (I wish!). It is a tried and tested technique that has been used is different forms for decades. I’ve just been studying and practicing the technique for a while now, and we are just tweaking and presenting it in a new way.

If we can offer a better product at a better price with less environmental impact, why on earth are we still using the inferior option??

Below is the outline of the plan we are going to follow and I hope you’ll join us. I’ll also be releasing a step-by-step video training series in the coming months to help you implement this solution in your business or in your own home.

Modern Plaster My Way

Our modern plaster is essentially a mix of 50% joint compound and 50% veneer plaster. The combination of the two allows modern plaster to securely adhere to almost any substrate. Brick, concrete, blue or green board, Hardi board, metal and even regular drywall. The joint compound provides the excellent adhesion, and the veneer plaster provides the quick setting and hard finish. I’ll go into much more detail in future posts and the videos, but here is a brief overview of the process.

  1. Hang 5/8″ Drywall – Hang 5/8″ drywall as usual, except this time, we use our off-cuts instead of trashing them. The amount of seams doesn’t matter because the whole wall will get a skim coat of plaster.
  2. Tape & Plank – Mesh tape the seams and then coat the seams with the modern plaster mix, much like when finishing drywall. Then, come back after the plaster begins setting up, and knock down to smooth out high spots.
  3. Plaster the Wall – After the seams have setup we coat the entire wall with a thin 1/16″ to 1/8″ coat of modern plaster.
  4. Knock Down and Finish – Once the plaster begins to setup we knock down the surface if the client wants it smooth if not we leave it alone.

And that’s it. No sanding, less trash, and because the plaster sets up so much faster than joint compound, we don’t have to wait a day between applications. We can apply multiple coats in one day if we are fast enough.

Finish Options of Modern Plaster

Also, with this system, there are a huge variety of texture options compared to drywall. You can:

  • Burnish the wall for a super-smooth, almost shiny Venetian plaster look.
  • Use brushes and other tools to create innumerable textures and patterns.
  • Add sand or other aggregates for a rougher texture.

No More Painting

And one of my favorite things is that we can add pigments, or even ordinary paint to the plaster! Save the expense and trouble of painting! Your wall gets plastered and painted in one step with only the cost of the paint itself. Adding paint to the plaster creates no more labor for the installer and therefore, only a minimal up charge in materials.

This also creates a wall with the paint color throughout the body of the wall. No more nicks and marks that scrape the paint off. On the bad side, you likely wont be able to ever match the color again, but the wall can always be painted like usual when a color change is desired.

The Most Important Thing

And if all the benefits listed above were not enough, there is one more reason we’re changing to modern plaster. A plaster wall is handmade and it shows. It carries the mark of its maker. It’s hard to describe exactly what that looks and feels like. The closest description I can come up with is that while drywall is cold and rather lifeless, a plaster wall shares the warmth of the human touch that created it. And that is something I would be proud to build in anyone’s house.

Especially for those of you who think I’m crazy, let me hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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139 thoughts on “Why Drywall is Dead (and what I’m doing about it).

  1. can this be applied over old cracked plaster walls? have a 1904 queen anne that has some thin wood paneling over the existing plaster. exposed plaster in closets leads me to believe the covered in panels vs. pointing. up.

  2. Hi. A friend forwarded your article and I am very intrigued. We have a few customers with particular interests and love new ways of remodeling specific rooms in their houses. We also see a decline in drywall usage and more people wanting something extra. Drywall today is like what popcorn ceilings were in the 70s and 80s. Drywall is one part of the home and like all things they go through phases, go in and out of fashion. Thanks for sharing this article and we’re looking forward to hearing your updates.

  3. Thanks for sharing this. How exciting. Also appreciate your journey and even hiring a plaster teacher. Times change and we as professionals in the trade need to evolve too. I’m sharing this with buddies of mine in the industry. Very excited to hear updates on this.

  4. I hate drywall, and am trying to avoid it for a very-soon project. We have an old farmhouse that never had plaster walls (they were all wood, and some will remain as such), but it truly needed to be gutted.

    What sort of board is best? You mention several, including regular drywall, but is there a strong preference?

    I can find many people to hang board, and there is one local plasterer, but he is very expensive.We are handy and artistic. Is this something that you think takes a great deal of practice, or could/should a homeowner with good skill but no plaster experience do the plastering part successfully? Everyone I’ve met here says NOT to attempt this ourselves, due to the mess and skill required. I have used plaster for sculpture purposes, but never something that requires the smoothness and thin layer, nor the scale, of a wall.

  5. Definitely looking forward to seeing this idea grow – the solution laid out relies LESS on drywall, but still uses it at its core.

    We don’t see ourselves solely as drywall contractors – first and foremost, we make walls that separate rooms, provide privacy and protection, etc. It’s our job to stay up to date with the industry trends and changes and adapt to them as we see fit, which is why I’m very excited – not scared – about the prospect of this line of thinking evolving.

  6. You still have to have a base of the wretched drywall! Please develop a whole new system that eliminates the need for drywall completely.

  7. I’m not in construction and know very little about drywall but, I was helping a friend move when a trolley barely touched a wall but left a big old chip. I felt terrible (new building). Then I thought about every house I ever grew up in and, as kids, we never left marks like that. Dry wall isn’t just cheap, it’s getting cheaper and softer and progressively more like a curtain than a wall. So, I googled “why is drywall so cheap? (not inexpensive- cheap)” That led me here. I am hoping to buy a house this year and will definitely be following this blog.

  8. Please keep me in the loop, I would to see a video demonstration on this new Modern Plaster. Sounds very interesting.

  9. You left off the step where you nail up hundreds of linear feet of lath. And the horsehair.
    I watched the process when my parents built a house in the 60s (probably the last house ever with real plaster walls). It was pretty impressive
    But how do you expect your plaster to hold together unless there’s horsehair in your browncoat.

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