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

  1. Hey Scott. Thanks for taking the time to create this great source for DIYers like myself. I’m restoring an old home built in 1913 and am looking into your modern plaster method. I really like the idea of using less drywall and not having to paint since we are trying to achieve the soft textured look of lime wash. Also, we are dealing with many different wall surfaces (painted wood panels, bare walls, and some a couple rooms of unfinished drywall) and since your 50/50 mix of joint compound and veneer can stick to most surfaces I feel like that’s the ticket. Just wondering a few things. A good majority of our walls are down to the wood lath and I’m curious if you think we should just drywall (or plaster board?) over it and skim coat the “modern plaster” on that or will it be just as easy to do the traditional 3 coat plaster method since the wood lath is already there? Some of the laths would need to be replaced so that’s worth considering as well.
    Secondly, we are going to do a limewash finish on the walls and I’m not too familiar with the process. I see there are ways of pretty much painting it on to already smooth and primed surfaces. Would it be best to apply the limewash layer on top of a skim coat of 50/50 joint compound/gypsum veneer, or would you make your plaster by mixing joint compound with a lime plaster and be able to accomplish the soft “cloud” effect of limewash? Hope this makes sense and thanks for your time!

  2. Scott,
    Love the idea! I’m pulling down drywall and paneling and adding insulation. I’m hoping to avoid putting drywall back up as I’m working alone and am a smaller person, so managing sheets of drywall is not realistic. You wrote MP can “securely adhere to almost any substrate. Brick, concrete, blue or green board, Hardi board, metal and even regular drywall.”

    What about applying to shiplap or other unfinished or reclaimed wood? Prime it first? If so what would be the best primer for unfinished wood? What if the reclaimed wood is finished?

    Or other alternatives to drywall to consider?

    Thanks so much!

  3. I am doing a remodel and also hate dealing with sheetrock. I found your post because I was looking for a way to manage the heavy sheets. I am female, and not very big, although I hold my own. Still, trying to muscle sheet rock into place is really hard. So, if I understand your post, even if I cut the sheets in half so I can manage them easier, the multiple cuts will be covered by the joint compound/veneer plaster mix. And, the whole thing does not have to be sanded???

  4. 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!

  5. 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

  6. 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?

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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!!!

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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?

  13. 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?

  14. 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.

  15. It is a good list but is not new. I want to suggest new drywall companies
    “sky boss”. I provides several features like geo tracking, time logging etc. I am also using “sky boss drywall companies” in my organisation and it reduces my burden of management. It is providing 1 MOTH FREE TRIAL. It is also available on playstore and appstore. Try it once. Here is the link : http://skyboss.com/drywall.html

    Drywall Software for Success
    SkyBoss is business management software with a proven track record. We have already helped thousands of drywall companies improve their business from the ground up, with many built-in features, designed specifically for the drywallindustry.

    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.

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

  17. 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 ??

  18. 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.

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