What is Drywall? What’s the Difference: Drywall vs Sheetrock

Drywall is everywhere, but what exactly is it?

The simple explanation is it’s a construction material used to create walls and ceilings. It’s literally all around you. In your home, office, school, even the grocery store.

One of the main reasons that it’s so prevalent is that it’s so easy to install. It’s also really durable and, in the off chance it does get damaged, easy to repair.

Before the invention of drywall, building walls was much more difficult. It was done by adding layer upon layer of plaster over supporting wooden strips called laths. Once the plaster hardened, the wall was complete. As you can imagine, this was a very long, inefficient process.

The History

It was invented in the early 1900’s and is also referred to as wallboard, or plasterboard, or gypsum board.

Gypsum board developed from an earlier product known as Sackett Board, for which Augustine Sackett received the patent in 1894.

Later, due to improvements unfolding in the manufacturing process, the board was made stronger.

A search for efficiency grew over the following years, to replace the lath and plaster techniques of the day. This led gypsum board to take on the moniker of drywall as it gradually worked its way into the market as a ‘dry’ alternative to the ‘lath’.

Without a doubt, manually nailing the countless lath strips on for backing and then following with three successive wet plaster coats was a serious driver behind the success of drywall, combined with the mounting need to bring in fire-resistance.

The level of plastering skills would no longer be required.

The standardized sheets were modular, and, drywall could be installed and finished in a fraction of the time of lath and plaster.

How is Drywall Made?

To produce drywall, gypsum rock is mined and crushed. It’s water soluble but demonstrates what is called retrograde solubility (see the technical details here).

All that means is that it’s not as soluble at higher temperatures. So, when heated, it actually loses its water and becomes plaster. That’s what happens next…

It is next heated to remove much of the naturally occuring water, and then mixed with additives and hydrated. The slurry of gypsum is then placed in a drying chamber within paper bound layers, that you see on the front and back of a sheet of standard drywall.

Gypsum has a lot of properties that make it the perfect ingredient for drywall. One huge thing is that it doesn’t have the same health hazards as asbestos but can be used in much the same way. It’s also abundant and inexpensive to mine. It’s not soundproof but it does dampen outside noise quite a bit. Plus, it’s fireproof.

Are There Different Types of Drywall Available?

Yes, there are actually four different types of drywall and each one is tailored to a specific type of project.

  1. Regular Drywall. This is the standard gypsum board wall with cellulose paper on either side that we described earlier. It’s the least expensive drywall and is available in multiple different sizes and thicknesses.
  2. Mold Resistant Drywall. This type of drywall has been becoming more and more popular and is replacing standard drywall as the building material of choice. It’s covered with fiberglass instead of paper. This gives it resistance to mold and mildew. This kind of drywall is easy to work with but extra safety precautions need to be used during installation because of the fiberglass.
  3. Moisture Resistant. Moisture resistant drywall is a little pricey. It has a green covering that makes it water resistant but not waterproof. It’s a good choice for bathrooms, basements, kitchens, and laundry rooms.
  4. Fire resistant, or Type X. This type of drywall is often used in layers to get a higher fire rating and is required by some building codes. It’s made with non-combustible fibers and has to pass strict tests to achieve a Type X Rating.

What’s the Difference between Drywall and Sheetrock?

Basically, Sheetrock is a brand name drywall that’s become synonymous with the product because of its popularity, like Kleenex and facial tissue or Q-Tip and cotton swab.

Sheetrock is manufactured by the U.S. Gypsum Company. It comes in different thicknesses and a few different varieties. They make three different grades of fire-resistant panels and have mold and moisture resistant products, too. Some of their products are resistant to penetration and abrasion plus they have a weather-resistant exterior ceiling board for outdoor use.

Sheetrock is manufactured the same way as drywall and consists primarily of gypsum. The only differences are in the extra chemicals added to make brand’sands special products mentioned above.

What is Drywall Used for?

Drywall’s main use is to build interior walls and ceilings. It’s cut to size so it can be installed anywhere, usually with screws using a recommended screw gun. See our guide on screw guns vs drills on why.

Drywall comes in many finishes, including some decorative options if you want to add interesting textures to your room.

Generally, installation is simple.

Sheets of drywall are lifted (using drywall stilts help to reach in higher areas) and screwed into wall studs or ceiling joists then joint tape or joint compound are used on the seams and screw holes and the surface is sanded using a high quality drywall sander for a smooth finish. Sometimes, a finishing compound or veneer is painted on. Then, all that’s left to do it prime and paint.

Pros & Cons of Drywall vs Plastering

Before the invention of drywall, plastering was the most commonly used material for making interior walls. To wrap up, let’s demonstrate the key differences between drywall and plaster. Here’s a list of the pros and cons of each.

Drywall Pros:

  • Less expensive
  • Easier to install
  • Job can be completed significantly faster

Drywall Cons:

  • Doesn’t block sound as well as plaster
  • Large sheets can be difficult manoeuvre with one person and may require a drywall panel lift.

Plaster Pros:

  • Now considered a high end, custom wall finish
  • Adds textures and personalization that drywall cannot
  • Sound resistant

Plaster Cons:

  • Minimal insulation for heat and cold
  • Labor intensive
  • Process is long
  • Expensive

As you can see, drywall is a much easier material to work with and makes the job go faster.


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