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

  1. Hi, Scott! I discovered your website this week and am finding your work an incredible resource. Thanks so much! I’m 1 year into working on the walls in my 1924 colonial revival (Upstate NY). It appears that in the 60s many of the plaster walls were replaced with drywall. It’s old and not holding up well, but we don’t know quite what to do with it. Worst, it’s got 3 year old paint (prior owner) over a few layers of wall paper in many rooms. What has your experience in the last few years been doing this over old dry wall and do we need to remove the wall paper or can we go over it? If we did need to remove, at least we could worry about damage a little less, I suppose. It’s pulling away and bubbling under the paint in spots (big temp and humidity swings here). Any advice greatly appreciated!! Thanks in advance!

  2. Hi. A question on saving money. You said plaster will “adhere to almost any substrate”? Can some type of subtrate be used that is less expensive than 5/8″ drywall? Could a mesh of chicken wire be put over studs and form your substrate? With recent drywall price increase on large areas drywall is very expensive.

    1. Isaiah for a solid base for modern plaster you can’t beat plasterboard or drywall for the price or ease of install. At $7-12 per 8×4 sheet it’s as cheap as you could need.

  3. Hi Scott,

    Thanks for putting up this website! I’m looking into buying my first old home and this blog has been a wealth of information! As far as modern plaster goes, would you be able to put this directly over interior shiplap walls? All the wallpaper has been torn down in an 1900-ish victorian and I would rather paint.


  4. I’m trying to figure out what’s so new about this product. In 1965 my dad started a plaster restoration business and we advertised what you have, plus resurfacing over painted and even wallpaper surfaces. the problem is when you add 1 product with another you void any warrenty of each product. that’s why we always used just veneer plaster. the finish is the same but much stronger! as for bonding to other surfaces a quick painting of a bonding agent you can plaster or resurface over almost anything. Please explain why this product would be superior.

    1. Del, nothing new about it, it’s just something a lot of people don’t know about. You’re right about using a bonding agent but some people are intimidated by that and adding joint compound is a simple and readily available solution. I realize that the addition of the materials voids the warranty, but I’m worried more about performance than warranty.

  5. Your method sounds great. I am repairing plaster with Plaster Magic $$$$. I will stick with my old plaster. But I was wondering why the nails don’t eventually pop in the sheet rock under the thin coat of plaster?

    1. Mimi, the nails can still pop but since the veneer plaster is several times thicker than the mud used to cover screws in drywall. That combined with it’s extra strength help keep nail pops to a minimum though they can still happen.

      1. I have been using this technique ever since I read about it in Scott’s post. It does in my experience live up to the hype, especially in time savings for myself as a professional whom works primarily on old houses. I have used both veneer plaster and plaster of Paris (by DAP) as the 50% additive at different times to 50% all purpose joint compound and water with equal success. Make sure your veneer plaster (I have been using Uni-Kal by the National Gypsum Company) is not past the one year shelf life and use the blue “FibaTape” specifically for veneer plaster are the only things I would add at this point.

  6. Scott, you have no idea how excited I am to hear about this plaster technique!!! I HATE drywall and all the issues and mess that comes with it.

  7. While the plaster was setting up, I smoothed out the trowel marks with my hands and got a great organic finish. Thanks for posting this, my life is changed.

  8. What if I told you there was a 40 color line based on one 3.5 gal box of joint compound? There are a ton of videos on YouTube. We’re very much on the same page friend.

  9. scott, i totally love the idea, because it tackles the aesthetic issue. but what about the thermal and acoustic issues?

    i know from personal experience that a drafty lime-plaster-walled old house stays far cooler much later into the day than a tight-building-envelope drywall-and-batting-walled modern house. drywall seems to invite heat in and trap it there, and insulation fails just seems to help to trap it, too. but lime plaster has this magic to it, where it behaves like a large cold mass, radiating coolness into the room despite the blaring hot sun outside. a non-air-conditioned interior of a modern building is intolerable, but an old building without A/C is usually very tolerable up to a certain point, so insulation is not the answer to making a space comfortable. why does everyone focus on how insulative things are without considering the thermal mass part of the equation, or the breathability of the air inside the walls? clearly old homes are outperforming newer homes, so someone, somewhere is really confused and messing up the whole entire world of modern domestic architecture, and it’s a shame. (not nearly the only thing that’s a shame about modern building practices. sigh…)

    i’ve been thinking for a while that maybe the way to go for modern construction (or additions) is to use 1/2″ hardiebacker instead of drywall, and then do the “skim” coat (thicker than a typical skim coat) with a lime-based plaster, about 1/4″ to 3/8″ thick. aside from a lengthier curing time, what’s the down side? it won’t gouge as easily, and sound will bounce off it better. hardiebacker isn’t crumbly, and it’s easy enough to put screws into for adding shelving and hanging pictures, but you’ll never accidentally puncture it or rip big holes, and it’s much stronger for holding heavy shelving. and you can still do all those ideas with aggregates or pigmentation with the lime plaster surface coat.

    are there any things i’m not thinking of that would actually make this NOT work? i’m thinking when we build the little guest house in our backyard one of these days, this is the technique i’ll employ. unless i’m really good at my plastering technique by then, and then maybe i’ll go full-on old-world and do wood lath & three coats of plaster. we’ll see how i feel when the time rolls around ;), but drywall is OUT!

    1. Hey Jamie: you probably have built by now but you are on the right track. There’s building going on around the world using natural fiber mixed with lime and clay that form masonry walls. The result is homes that don’t need a/c or heat if built correctly. Also, the reason lime walls are comfortable is they naturally regulate humidity. Most of this lime and fiber masonry is made with hemp but builders are using coconut and bagasse from sugar cane. You can find out more at the International Hemp Building Association or see a new product at . Your idea of the building being more more efficient and in this case having a positive impact on the environment instead of damaging it is spot on… Good luck.

  10. A lot of unproven claims on this page.

    It’s easy to talk the talk. Drywall is a good system when done properly. If you are having a problem with it it might be because your work is substandard. I don’t know if that’s the case because I haven’t seen your work but I’ve seen what you have written her and it has some serious errors.

    1. i think that the exact opposite is true: the more perfect and professional the install, the more cold and flat and perfect the walls, and therefore, the less character, and the less they appear like the old, imperfect walls made of plaster. it’s a style preference, not an installation error. it’s like saying you don’t like modern window glass (i don’t) because it’s perfectly flat. it’s not a manufacturing error, it’s an “improvement” in the manufacturing technology that allows them to make flatter, clearer glass. but i still prefer the old glass that’s ripply and imperfect. he’s saying the same thing about plaster. it’s like you didn’t actually read the post at all. šŸ˜›

    2. “Drywall is a good system when done properly”…
      That’s the problem. It is only a GOOD system.
      If you grew up in a house with real plaster walls, you know drywall is crap. How many modern houses have you seen with shrunken joint compound showing every seam. Don’t tell me it wasn’t done right. The problem was you were smearing something full of liquid (alcohol) that had to eventually dry out. Drywall is also too soft. Period. Unless you have no children no pets, and no visitors you will eventually have nicks and dents all over. And of course hanging something on the walls means you need anchors, unless the project lines up with the studs. As for unproven… exactly what is unproven. If you have been in business long enough, empiricism is all you need.
      I did something similar 25 years ago, restoring a brownstone owned by my mentor in Harlem, NY. He was old enough to be my father, and had known the process for decades. The only difference is he mixed Plaster of Paris with the joint compound instead of with veneering plaster which (USG brand) has a crap load of sand added to it.

      1. Gary, R. Packer: No need to make a holy war out of this. If I saw a new house with sagging seams at every joint, I’d say it was installed incorrectly; probably 2 coat rush job. And I’ve seen plenty of old lime-plastered houses that were not only dinged up but prone to damage every time furniture came or went. I’ve also seen 1940s or ’50s rock-lath plaster that could have been mistaken for concrete and was almost impossible to ding, but houses with that system don’t handle uneven settling, earthquakes or the rumblings from nearby train tracks anywhere near as well as a modern cardboard-like drywall suburban box. The point should be to use whatever fits the purpose at hand; if an area gets a lot of abuse or needs more soundproofing, the case for some kind of plaster, or cement board, or double-layered drywall or even plywood backed drywall is stronger. If you can’t stand the look of that 4 x 8 grid pattern of ridges, no matter how well hidden it might be, plaster away. Scott’s suggestion of plastering to avoid throwing away off cuts sounds like a excellent one. But as long as it doesn’t completely fall apart (as an inappropriate plastering job sometimes can) or get destroyed (as an inappropriate drywall jobs sometimes do) and it’s properly maintained, no one will know or care if it was originally plaster or drywall (or some hybrid) 100 years from now, the better each is installed and maintained, the harder it is to tell the difference.

  11. Just wondering if you use 5/8″ blueboard or does using 1/2 joint compound allow you to use standard sheetrock?

    Also, is there a possible video instructional video coming anytime soon?

    1. Bryant, I prefer 5/8″ but 1/2″ works just as we’ll. you can actually use standard drywall with the modern plaster without any issue. The video is like many things on my to do list. I’m hoping to have one out by the end of the year.

  12. Would this technique be useful in a newer home that is built to look very old world European? We have a townhouse that is stone, with vaulted ceilings in the master. We are putting in timber accents but haven’t put the walls back up yet. Thanks

    1. Absolutely! For even more of an old world feel you might want to look at clay plasters as well as standard veneer plaster. Any of these hand troweled wall coverings will really contribute to the ‘old world” feel.

  13. Where can I learn more about this method? Sounds like exactly what I’m looking for. Any pictures, or video resources? Thanks!

  14. Thankyou so much for this post it has totally changed my mind about replacing the plaster in the farm house we are buying lord willing

    1. Yay! So glad to hear it! Hope the farmhouse purchase comes through. Let me know if you get in there and have anymore questions. If it’s your first “old house” it can be daunting.

  15. I’m a new subscriber & think this is a great idea. My husband & I are in the process of restoring a 160 yr-old house, where most of the plaster is in much better condition than in our first home (a early 1900’s Victorian). This house’s plaster does not seem to have any animal hair in the base coat & the top coat is as smooth as glass. Rather than tear out one room’s sagging ceiling (old water damage caused keys to break from the back of the lathe) we were able to repair it ourselves with Big Wally’s Plaster Magic. I’d checked out a similar product to the one you’re now using in case we had to recoat any areas. I plan to read your previous posts soon & will probably have some questions from time to time. I appreicate what you do–both historic restoration & taking time to blog so others can take advantage of your skills as we work on our own projects!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post. I think there is a big need for quality wall coverings in houses today. It’s been too long that we’ve settled for something as inferior as drywall.

  16. I wish this post had existed a few years ago, when my husband and I bought our house.

    Drywall versus plaster is the argument that we had when we bought this house, and the debate continued for about a year. The too-perfect finish, which is also usually matte compared to the sheen of old plaster, was my biggest reason for wanting to avoid drywall as much as I could. Another was the idea that tearing out something that had already lasted more than 100 years (just to install something new) seemed kind of ridiculous. Kind of like replacing 100-year-old windows with new ones which will, themselves, require replacement within 20-30 years. I was raised in a home with beautiful plaster, but my husband wasn’t. He just didn’t get it. Luckily cost became a factor, so we kept most of the plaster.

    When we invariably ran into spots where the plaster couldn’t be saved, I decided to try to finish drywall to mimic plaster as much as I could. It isn’t a perfect match by any means, but it looks pretty good. After the normal taping and mudding, I skim coated the whole wall with about 1/4 inch of mud. One it reached a firm state, but still felt cold, I misted the wall with water and pressed a wide taping knife flat against the mud, then I pulled the knife across the surface. I’d never used plastering tools, so I used what I had. The result was a bit more character than drywall, and the water combined with pulling the blade across the wall gave the mud a bit of a sheen. After priming, it was a reasonably pleasing finish.

    Kudus to you for reviving the look of plaster. In my opinion, it can’t be beat.

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