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

By Scott Sidler • October 15, 2012

Old DrywallDrywall 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:

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    • 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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116 thoughts on “Why Drywall is Dead (and what I’m doing about it).”

  1. Did you ever make more blog posts or a video on this. We are DYI our basement and drywall mudding and sanding sounds like it sucks hard and the plaster approach sounds great but I need more info.

    1). Does any Veneer plaster work or is there a special type?
    2). Is is a simple 1:1 ratio with join compound.
    3). If I want to color it do I just add normal paint to the mix? Or is their a dye?

    Any other suggestions or help would be great!

  2. Scott, We call this system, veneer or skim coat plaster. I agree 100% with you. I am a plasterer and this is faster and better. My last remodel I thought about just drywall. My wife put her foot down, not way. I want plaster, no dust and she was right. We add pigments to color the plaster. Looks awesome and is extremely durable. When your chair hits the wall, the chair is dinged, not the wall. I write books and article on plaster, let me know if I can help you make your point.

    Mark Fowler

    1. Plaster is the best! So cool to hear that you write books and articles about it. Feel free to backlink to our content from your site whenever you’d like and we can benefit from each others audience reach!
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  3. The contractor doing my bathroom renovation applied sheetrock and then porcelain tile right up to a window edge where there is a simple straight 90 degree angle. There was therefore the cut raw edge of the sheetrock and tile all around the window. He covered that with a layer of plaster and then paint. Several people, including the handyman of my building, another contractor and someone I know who has had training in architecture and materials science, state that the paint and plaster will bubble up from steam from the shower and suggest covering at least the window sill at the bottom with some water impervious solid surface material, e.g. quartz, marble, corium etc. The architecturally trained person states that the sides should also be waterproofed, perhaps with the waterproofing membrane used in the shower / bathtub area. What should be done?

  4. LOVE the concept, Especially the fact that you’re able to use off-cuts, waste!

    I WILL be looking for ways I can use this kind of idea in a new project I’m formulating.

    Thank you for sharing.

  5. In response to those who have asked why not just use bonding agent (extra step!) and a veneer plaster finish coat: this is significantly more convenient and economical. Veneer plaster is about 500% more expensive than joint compound and beyond that it can be difficult to source. Doubling the coverage of the veneer plaster with the easily-obtainable, cheap joint compound is a no-brainer in a remodel situation.

  6. Very happy I found this blog entry. We are just getting ready to begin the drywall on our late 19th century home we have renovated. We will be trying out your modern plaster system. We have to special order our plaster, so I have a couple of quick questions.

    How many square feet of wall coverage do you get with a single 50 pound bag of Diamond finish plaster when mixed with joint compound?

    Also, I know it’s a 1:1 mixing ratio, but how far does that make a standard 4.5 gallon container of joint compound go? How many 50 pound bags of plaster does 4.5 gallons mix into?

    Thanks!!!

  7. We are DIYers in the process of building our own home. The job we hate is sanding and fussing with drywall. However, because we have a limited budget and I’m struggling with the thought of paying thousands to have someone else finish the drywall, I’ve been researching alternatives to taping and floating. I love older homes and hate orange peal and the other drywall finishes. The only finish that I even kind of like is way too expensive for us. Your MP method sounds like a desirable and viable option. I know I can do it based on what you’ve already posted and other comments. I’m willing to do the labor for a finish that I’ll like. I just know from experience that I can’t do the job of a sheetrock finisher doing it their way. It’s way too much work and dust. I HATE it. I’ll “play” with your technique in a closet first. Having never worked in plaster, I’m trying to do the math. How far does say a 50# bag of plaster with your MP ratio go in coverage? And is that based on a desired finish coat of about 1/4″ on the entire surface, walls and ceilings? I really appreciate your feedback. Thanks!

  8. A couple of questions re ‘Modern Plaster’:
    (This, assuming you recommend using MP over new sheetrock. If not, pardon my confusion. And, apologies if these have been answered elsewhere. I did search.)

    1. Why not use straight veneer plaster (over Plasterweld, if on sheetrock)? My guess is that the joint compound adheres better to sheetrock, so you wouldn’t need the bonder?
    2..Why not use blueboard? Cost?
    3. How is MP better than skim coating with joint compound? I once got the idea that joint compound was too ‘sticky’ to trowel, but I’m not sure that’s true.

    Thanks

    1. George, the real advantage of MP is that it can go over existing painted drywall without a bonding agent. I use regular veneer plaster over blueboard for new installs. And yes joint compound is too sticky for a good trowel finish in my opinion.

  9. Slightly off subject but I had a man teach me a drywall trick once that involved being able to patch a doorknob hole using the existing drywall I know it sounds odd but i mean cutting a larger section of drywall out and making cuts that somehow “created” enough Sheetrock to put back in the door hole..I’ve since forgotten the measurements and the specifics.. ever seen or heard of this trick?

  10. I am looking at restoring a 1927 Craftsman. I would like to veneer plaster my walls, but am having a hard time finding materials. If I use green board would you recommend me to use plaster-weld before using the Diamond veneer plaster? Also, would it be fine to veneer plaster directly onto Durock Cement board without plaster-weld? What I have read about veneer plaster is that it usually calls for a base-coat before using the veneer finish. Why are you not using a Diamond veneer base-coat before your finish?

  11. No mention of limewash here? As a finish it helps seal the plaster. Scott, do you not enjoy the limewash look or performance? Seems a shame for folks to either mix in paint or seal the breathability with paint later on…

    Also, so sad the name of your company is Austin But you’re not in Austin, Texas. I had my hopes up the entire article and the whole thread! All the plaster folks here want to charge $8/ft for this – doesn’t seem cheaper than drywall!

    1. Lisa, I get the Austin thing a lot. It’s my middle name, but if I every decide to move to Austin I won’t have to change the business name! Anyway, I like a lime wash. Great protection and easy to apply. This post mostly covers gypsum plasters, but like are my favorite. They just aren’t as homeowner friendly.

    2. Hi Scott,

      -When you refer to “modern plaster” are your referring to plaster veneer?
      -Why only one coat?
      -I’m doing a bathroom remodel… and am going to plaster over new blueboard. If I want to achieve a light sand texture (to simulate the light sand texture that is on the drywall in the rest of the house), is it better to add in the silica to the plaster, or have it mixed into the paint?
      -Are there standards for levels of smoothness for your plastering method…ie – do the five levels of finishing gypsum board apply to the plaster method you describe?
      -will your method result in a smooth wall, so that if painted with a satin/eggshell finish paint, the surface will be substantially free of defects and have the desired smooth surface?
      Thanks!!

      1. Steve, great questions!
        1. By modern plaster I am referring to my mixture of 1:1 gypsum veneer plaster and joint compound
        2. I can successfully get good coverage with 1 coat though occasionally I need 2 coats to get the proper look.
        3. For the sand texture it depends on what appearance you are trying to match. Sometimes adding the sand to the plaster gets the right looks and sometimes it’s best to add it to the paint.
        4. There aren’t standards for smoothness. Usually I am matching an existing texture. Hand troweled plaster will never be perfectly smooth as the application technique creates tool marks. Depending on the style the marks may be extremely minimal but it will always have a slightly irregular surface and that is part of the charm.

  12. It is a good list but is not new. I want to suggest new drywall companies
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    Drywall Software for Success
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    From recurring contracts, to every-day tasks and one-time jobs, our features make it easy to manage your workload and improve the efficiency of your business and field technicians. Save time with our intuitive features so you can handle quotes, billing, scheduling, job tracking and more, all from your computer, laptop or tablet! Our goal is to give you more time to grow your business.

  13. Do you have any additional posts/videos of this method for instructional purposes? I will be using it soon on my interior walls. Thanks!

  14. Scott,
    I applied the modern plaster mix to my ceiling bare drywall and left it with a heavy textured look. I like the matte look of the white plaster and want to keep it that way and not apply paint if possible. Is it necessary to apply paint to reduce dust or ensure vapor barrier? There is an uninsulated attic above the room. The ceiling is fully insulated above the dry wall, but I just want to see if the drywall with plaster is an effective vapor barrier.

    Thanks!

    1. The paper on the drywall will be a good start toward a vapor barrier, but I don’t think paint will make or break it. If you want it bare leave it that way, I’d say.

      1. Hi sorry to bother you ,i have plasterboard in my bedroom its been painted , my room gets so dusty ,could plasterboard cause it ??

  15. You really need to research further….look into the XP extreme board that is now available, no paper for mold growth and impact resistance….requires a level 5 finish or you could veneer with plaster if you choose…..mean stuff and much better than the papered board and really tough…there is also some with embedded mat that will make putting a hole in the wall about all but bullet resistant when it comes down to it.

  16. Hi Scott! We just bought a 1927 cottage and I’ve been spending a lot of time on your site, it’s a great resource. I’m really looking forward to trying this method! Would you recommend modern plaster for a bathroom?

  17. This is really cool. I love the aesthetic of plaster, although I hate when I need to cut a hole in it. Especially a hole above my head.

    One thing I’m wondering about is the finishing of it. My ill-advised attempts with veneer plaster, I ran into issues because I laid it on with the intention of being able to trowel it through it’s set. It ended up setting faster than I could get back to it.

    I had the same thing happen this weekend resurfacing a closet with hot mud. I left it on heavy so that there would be some fat to water trowel with. Most of it was too far gone before I could hit it with water. Fortunately, it was ez-sand, so the worst of it was knocked back with a knife. Lots of cat faces to fill.

    Would this set up slower since there is so much joint compound involved? How long would you wait before smoothing it out?

    1. The joint compound slows the setting time down a bit, but not much. Try an extended set veneer plaster like X-Kali-bur. Or try using ice cold water to mix the plaster which will slow the setting time down significantly.

  18. Thank you for this wonderful resource! We just skim/trowel coated and sanded a room that had heavy orange peel texture, and now we have very smooth mudded walls. We used plain drywall compound in the bucket, mixed with water. The initial plan was to prime and paint, but now we like the bare mud effect. It was a ton of hard work and we have more rooms to do – your modern plaster method will save us time in the future. So, how would you finish this room and proceed? Would a top skim coat of the plaster mix work? Would the color look similar? Is there another way to seal the mud surface? Or should we just stick to the original plan and switch to your method in the new rooms? This is in a midcentury modern house with lots of indirect natural light. Thanks for any help you can provide!

    1. I love the way the bare plaster looks and could be convinced to leave it that way too. Try a test room or closet of the modern plaster since it is very different to work with than the joint compound and see what you think. Ultimately, I think it comes down to personal preference.

      1. Thanks Scott – we’ll give it a go! If we decide to tint, what’s a rough estimate for the paint-to-mixture ratio?

  19. Your article says that a modern plaster finish is faster, cheaper, and has less env impact than regular drywall. But the first step is ‘hang regular 5/8″ drywall. I get that you’re saying it’s faster and cheaper than finishing drywall fully with tape and mud, but I don’t see this taking much less time than a normal finish because you’re still taping the seams and applying multiple coats of plaster. And how is that cheaper or more environmentally friendly? You’re using the exact same sheet rock, and far more modern plaster than you would use if you just put mud on the seams. I don’t know how much mud you waste when doing drywall, but this seems like just as much money and almost as much work, even though it ends up looking more handmade. Am I missing something?

    1. Ralph, the savings come in a couple places. 1. We can use smaller cut offs of the plasterboard since we are skimming the whole wall and therefore I end up with less waste Sheetrock than when I drywall where we try to keep the seams to a minimum and use only big pieces.
      2. The seams are taped and bed just like with regular drywall, but there is no waiting or sanding. We can come back after 1 hour and put our one and only skim coat on the wall. The whole process is done in one day with no drying time and sanding between steps.
      We can finish a room in about 2/3 the time as we can with regular drywall methods and we leave the homeowner and ourselves safe from any silica dust. Which considering the inevitable silica dust work rules due out from OSHA, protects everyone involved including the environment.

  20. Ok, in the absence of any knowledge and my local stores not having veneer plaster, I attempted to perform the above technique using plaster of paris. Well, I can only hope there is a marked difference between veneer plaster and POP. That stuff turned hard INSTANTLY. And by instantly, I mean INSTANTLY. Two small batches lumped up with in 3 minutes, the whole mess Rick hard in under 10. I did mess with a tiny bit before making the bigger batches and I really liked the test piece. I only hope veneer plaster is slower hardening than the powdered POP? disregard my previous questions, I have kind of figured alot of it out. I just want to make sure it is feasible to do a whole room like this, because plaster of paris is no joke and not possible

    1. Frank, plaster of Paris does harden almost instantly and it’s not a good choice for this as you discovered. Veneer plaster has some of the characteristics of POP but used extenders and other additives to make it more workable and give a much longer open time.

      1. Thanks for the reply, Scott. I am picking up the Diamond Veneer plaster(finish) tonight. I plan on mixing in a very small amount of tan paint to give the walls a very light tan color and leaving it skip troweled or heavily textured to mimic and adobe wall.

        Another quick question:
        I have about 300 sqft of some reclaimed 150 yr old heart pine flooring. The nail holes are still present through the tongue in groove flooring, but the nails themselves removed. I want to keep as much of the natural color and appearance as possible. After testing a number of different polys, I realized that the oil based poly inevitably darkens the wood and takes away character significantly. I tried some water based poly and loved how it came out. I was think of using a water based poly that is rated for floor use but wanted your thoughts. The matte version of this stuff is crystal clear and seems to keep the wood condition pristine.

        Thanks again for all of the knowledge!

        1. Frank, water based polys work fine if you like the look. You’ll need at least 4 coats of water based on floors for adequate protection though since they don’t cover as well as oil based.

  21. If you could,
    – What sort of working time does ‘modern plaster’ get?

    – Do you apply it like veneer – corner-to-corner in one batch (AIUI), or can it be joined mid-wall?

    – Can it just be applied by trowel, or are there particular tools that would be helpful?

    Thanks

    1. George, same working time as veneer plaster very little difference. Also applies exactly the same and works best when applied corner to corner. Joints mid wall are always imperfect. I’m sure there are other ways to apply but troweling works fastest and best in my experience.

  22. Scott-
    Awesome blog and self help site. I am wondering about doing the paste over drywall for my new sunroom. I built a 300 sf room with cathedral ceilings and used some 175 yr old hand hewn chestnut beams I bought from the Amish up here for a very cheap price. The post and beams border and traverse the room as a cosmetic. However, I am now piecing drywall on the exposed framing and insulation and have been searching for a period authentic finish. I researched just simply skip troweling joint compound, but then found your blog. Question: when doing the plaster and joint compound coat, can I skip trowel this or heavily texture it to appear more like adobe walls or something that would match old hand hewn beams. By the way, thanks to the blog, I bora cared the beams to rid the powder post borers and it seems to have worked. Thanks!

    1. Also, you mentioned a video or more detailed post about this method and I can’t locate it. If you could point me in the right direction, I would greatly appreciate it.

  23. Questions:
    1. Do you use a particular joint compound?

    2. Diamond Finish plaster? (As opposed to Diamond base coat.)

    3. 50-50 mix by weight? volume?
    … is that before or after mixing the plaster to “sour-cream” consistency?

    4. Over old paint, you recommend priming. Do you have any thoughts on the primer – shellac-type (BIN), PVA, oil-base, ‘bonding’-type? Or, plaster bonder?

    Thanks

    1. George, Answers:
      1. Regular premixed joint compound not the lightweight stuff and not the powdered stuff you mix yourself.
      2. Diamond Finish Plaster yes
      3. 50/50 by volume, mix the plaster to sour cream and if you have 1/4 bucket of plaster add 1/4 bucket of joint compound. It doesn’t have to be exact.
      4. Oil based primer over old paint (unless it’s flat paint) for even adhesion or use a bonding agent.
      Good luck!

  24. Also it is a terrible idea to use scrap peaces to complete your walls they will crack out guaranteed , if you want to use the scrap peaces then you had better be doing the old brown scratch coat white coat finishing , but then I still don’t recommend it . Just keeping everyone in check here. I have been around drywall , several types of plaster, old stucco and e.f.i.s. I know a little something about a little something!!! Lol

  25. This is nothing more than just plastering , nothing new here, the real reason he is trying make this sound different is because he can’t finish drywall and have it come out like it should . Drywall is the best way to go and if u want thicker walls just use 5/8 . Then call a professional to finish it , there u have . 30 yrs in the drywall business. Have a good day

    1. Thanks for commenting Dunzy and you’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re wrong. I know how to get a quality level 5 finish on drywall if need be. I have done orange peels and knockdowns of all sorts, but none of it is attractive to me. And applying plaster vs joint compound is not at all the same. I’m sure I haven’t done as much joint compound as you in your years, but I can assure you that learning to work with plaster is a different experience. You may not like my methods or ideas and your welcome to ignore them, but it’s drywall guys like you that have been putting anachronistic walks into these old houses that I end up coming in to fix. So what I guess I’m saying thanks for the extra work!

    2. seriously, dunzy, did you even bother to read the post, or any of the comments from real homeowners of antique houses, to understand why we don’t like drywall? there’s a very real need for folks who understand the aesthetic and other factors involved in repairing antique homes, and being so dismissive like you are being, shows you aren’t one of those people. you know how on antique roadshow sometimes people bring something in and it’s lost all its value because someone cleaned or polished it? there are certain qualities to genuinely old things that both appeal to people and lend things real worth. it’s just the way things are. and if i walked in to an old victorian or craftsman house to discover that it was missing all the original woodwork and had the plaster replaced with drywall, i’d consider it worthless, and so would anyone else who loves historic architecture for what it is. if the walls absolutely needed replacing in such a house, or someone chooses to put an addition on, in both of those cases, you really appreciate folks like scott sidler who maybe can’t go back in time and create walls that are actually historic, but at least understands how to create walls that look and feel appropriate to the house. call it an artform if you will, and then we all can recognize there’s a big difference between people who are merely skilled construction workers, or technicians, versus those for whom their work is truly an art. the world needs both, but the latter is always preferred in historic preservation and adaptive reuse. if you don’t *quite* get it, just ask yourself why everyone thinks Europe is so beautiful compared to the US. it’s mostly that they have an abundance of historic architecture. our country will not be beautiful like Europe except to the extent that we value architecture as an at form, both when we preserve existing buildings, and when it’s time to build new ones. we have sadly been really lacking in the latter. attitudes like yours won’t help with either.

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