Skip to content

How To Tell The Difference Between Plaster And Drywall

People usually think of countertops, square footage, and windows when building or upgrading a home. Yet, one of the most critical aspects of the home is often overlooked: the interior walls. Unless there’s an issue, most people don’t think about the walls in their homes.

Interior walls provided seclusion and separation and were used as acoustic barriers, insulators, and fire retardants. Plaster and drywall are two of the most frequent interior wall materials. Plaster has been around since the dawn of time. They used lime, sand, animal hair, and water to make plaster.

Gypsum-based plasters were a faster drying alternative to lime-based plasters. Because it helped speed up the construction process, this new type of plaster boarding surged in popularity. Drywall became increasingly durable and accessible as technology progressed. As a result, the product currently covers the bulk of the interior walls in today’s homes.

Tips how to know Between Plaster And Drywall

In our guide, you can learn more about what happens when you need to replace plaster walls or those made from a drywall installation. There is a significant difference between drywall and plaster besides making them. Plaster walls tend to be solid, yet standard drywall can be found on a wooden frame structure or steel stud structure. (Learn How To Remove Grease From Granite Backsplash)

By the end, you’ll know enough of drywall vs. plaster; how to tell will take you seconds.

What is the Difference Between Drywall and Plaster?

Drywall is gypsum sandwiched between two layers of paper to a consistent thickness. Drywall thicknesses range from 1/4′′ to 3/4′′, with 3/8′′ and 1/2′′ common in most houses. Old houses, in comparison, would comprise lath and plaster construction.

Paper is used on the front and back of the drywall, with white gypsum in between the sheets.

Drywall comes in conventional sizes such as 3/8′′, 1/2′′, and 3/4′′ inch thick.

Plaster walls are constructed by nailing thin pieces of wood (laths) to the studs of the wall. Then, layers of plaster are applied over the laths to create a flat surface.

Plaster is more challenging to work with and has a less consistent thickness than drywall.

Lath and plaster was a common practice before the discovery and widespread use of drywall. A succession of thin boards known as laths is nailed over the wood studs, usually with a slight gap between them.

Plaster is subsequently applied to the laths, sometimes to a thickness of approximately an inch. When you look inside a plasterboard wall, some plaster flows between the holes in the laths, giving it a unique look of board and plaster.

Gypsum plaster


Gypsum plaster is the most popular type of plaster used for interior walls. A three-coat method is typically used.

To begin, fasten the lath to the framing. Lath was traditionally formed of wood strips, but aluminum has been used more recently. The lath provides a surface for the gooey plaster to adhere to.

The plaster compound must be mixed with water once you install the lath. It appears simple yet needs the skill to achieve the desired consistency.

The first coat of wet plaster is applied, scratched, and dried before continuing. The second coat, or brown coat, is applied next, and the wall is finished with a final layer. (Learn How Long For Caulk To Dry)

A plaster wall is thicker than a drywall wall because of the number of coats and lathing, providing a better air barrier. This thickness also improves the better soundproofing between rooms.

Many steer away from plaster as the application is labor-intensive.



The core ingredient for basic drywall is made from calcined gypsum mixed with water and additives. The fluid material is then dried after being squashed or flattened between two sheets of paper.

When opposed to plastering, drywall installation is a relatively quick process. The boards are shaped to meet the walls’ form.

When you install drywall, you fasten these to the house’s preliminary framing. A corner bead is applied to the corners of the boards after being installed to give them a straight edge.

The wall joints are taped using paper or fiberglass mesh tape. In addition, the wall is sanded after each layer to make the surface smoother.

A final skim coat is frequently applied to make the entire surface unnoticeable as drywall.

Drywall helps reduce noise and offers many fire-resistant properties because of the water content in the gypsum board.

Adding an electric box is far more straightforward as the material can be cut, and you have space between drywall walls and the wall studs where to pass electric cables. In a plaster wall, you’d need to dig out a channel along the last and plaster to do this.

While drywall has a lot of benefits as an interior wall material, it isn’t indestructible. Drywall can be destroyed by a building’s settling or a homeowner’s negligence.

Nail or screw pops are typical when the head of these fasteners bulges or becomes visible through the drywall.

Second, gypsum drywall can be damaged by water if exposed to high quantities of moisture for an extended time. (Learn How To Find Water Pipes In Walls)

How To Tell if Your Walls are Drywall or Plaster

When hanging pictures, planning a makeover, or repairing your walls, drywall and plaster require distinct techniques.

As a result, knowing what material your walls are composed of is critical. Use these simple techniques to see if your property has plaster or drywall surfaces.

Remove Switch Plate

Use a screwdriver to remove a switch plate or electrical socket cover. Once the plastic has been removed, Remove a switch plate or an electrical socket cover with a screwdriver.

You’ll see a cross-section of your wall material in the hole cut for the receptacle. For example, a drywall wall has a layer of paper on both sides of crumbly white gypsum.

Inspect the sides of the switch hole that has been cut. Drywall is distinguished by the paper on both sides of chalky gypsum.

Layers of solid plaster will be used instead of paper in the plaster. As a result, thin wood strips may be visible beneath the plaster.

There will be no layer of paper on each side of your wall cross-section if it is composed of plaster. Instead, over the wood laths, there will be rock-hard plaster. If you use a flashlight, you might even see plaster “keys” where the first coat of plaster flowed between the laths.

Check Inside The Attic

The bare studs and the wall material used on any internal walls and ceilings may be seen in most unfinished attics. If you observe consistent, rectangular sheets with brown paper backing and strips of joint compound, you have drywall.

Plaster can be identified by thin strips of wood with solidified white substance in the crevices between the strips.

Remember to inspect the attic’s floor and walls. The ceilings of the rooms below make up the attic floor.

Exterior walls will not assist you in determining the substance of your wall. This is due to the fact that outside walls are typically not completed with drywall or plaster and are normally insulated.

Hardness Test

Attempting to push thumbtacks into your wall in an inconspicuous place is a simple test to detect if you have plaster or drywall. Because drywall is relatively soft, a push pin can usually be driven into the wall using only your thumb.

Plaster is far more challenging to work with than drywall. In most circumstances, you won’t be able to get a thumbtack in with its flimsy point.

Try pounding a small nail into your wall instead. A nail will readily penetrate the drywall and produce fine white dust. However, nails have a hard time penetrating plaster walls.

Once the nail is started, it may feel like the wall tries to “bounce” it out. The flexing of the wall laths causes this. In addition, when a nail is inserted into plaster, the hole created is sometimes wider than the nail, resulting in a loose nail prone to falling out.


Plaster frequently develops hairline cracks as it ages, whereas drywall does not. Cracks in plaster appear as spiderweb-like threads that spread over walls and ceilings.

Any drywall cracking is limited to small, isolated areas where joint compound was used to seal seams or patch holes in the drywall. The drywall paper surface will not fracture.

Hollow Sound

If you tap along your wall in a horizontal direction, you’ll hear hollow and solid sounds from the wall. You’ll find is the studding and the drywall. A lath and plaster wall has the same sound all the way along.

Hammer Test

If you are decorating, this tip isn’t recommended. Instead, take a hammer and hit your wall in an inconspicuous spot with a medium-hard swing. If you have a hole, you have drywall; if you have a dent and the hammer bounces off, you have a plaster wall.

Age of Your Walls

Age of Your Home

You might be wondering what do plaster walls look like because it was gradually phased out of building projects in the years following World War II.

  • With age, hairline cracks appear in most plaster surfaces, making plaster simple to spot.
  • Although drywall was invented before WWII, it was not widely used in the home building until after the war.
  • It wasn’t until 1960 that drywall residential construction became the industry standard.
  • Based on this information and the year they built your house, you can tell if your walls are plaster or drywall.
  • Plaster or drywall may have been used in homes built between 1945 and 1960.
  • If your home was built after 1960, the walls are almost certainly drywall.
  • The plaster walls may have been renovated and replaced with drywall by previous owners.
  • When evaluating whether your walls are drywall or plaster, keep in mind that any recent improvements should be considered.
  • Some or all of the original plaster may have been renovated with drywall.

If the walls are painted, you can also use this as a sign.

Many home decorators covered oil paint with latex paint on the original plaster walls without using the correct primer, thus causing flaking paint after a time.

Even if you do this on both plaster and drywall, you can end up with flaking paint.

Should You Replace Lath and Plaster with Drywall?

If your walls are functional and you like how they look, there’s no need to pull them out and replace them with drywall. Plaster walls may be kept in good shape with regular care and painting. If you’re doing a renovation project that requires you to change, add, or remove a wall, drywall is far easier to work with than plaster.

A good-condition plaster wall does not require replacement. It is easier and less expensive to renovate plaster walls with drywall rather than building new plaster walls.

Drywall is simple to cut and install for beginners, whereas a plaster wall is a multi-step process.

Drywall is preferred over plaster because of its fire resistance, ease of installation, and lower material prices. (Learn How Long Does It Take Tile To Set)

Installing drywall rather than plastering walls because it leads to a cleaner result.

Finally, plaster walls need the installation of laths and furring strips and the application of several coats of plaster. In conclusion, plaster walls are harder to install, especially in newer homes that lack solid walls like the older brick homes.

How To Tell The Difference Between Plaster And Drywall

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *