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November 19, 2006



Please, WFMU listeners want to know more! Please continue next with an exposé of garden statuary.


Mark (Kafka) Allen brings us (The Great) Drywall of America. Subtle and informative. Read between the LINES, people.

Personally, I wish we followed the Puerto Rican and D.R. model of building with brick and/or cinderblock (which goes for the floors in multi-level dwellings as well)—weather-resistant as all hell.


As a foreigner I'm constantly amazed at the mendacious nature of American construction materials. PVC siding made to look like wood, cladding made to look like brickwork, hollow aluminium railings made to look like wrought iron but wouldn't stand up to much more than a hefty kick.
One of the first things I saw when first leaving JFK are these flat roofed houses with a fake gables at the front that might give the appearance of a pitched roof if you stood directly opposite and squinted your eyes a bit.

This is why everything goes to shit everytime there's a hurricane.


Another thing is that drywall is pretty shitty to work with. I'm 20 years old and when I was in high school I worked a lot with contractors. Cutting drywall creates a lot of dust, and I remember at the end of the day picking dust boogers out of my nose that had caked up.

Cement board is another new easier-to-use construction material, used primarily as a base for floor tiles. This looks a lot like drywall (come in sheets that are the same size) but is much more tough and is surrounded on each side by a cheese-cloth type of material. It's actually better than using actual cement on top of plywood (if you're working indoors in a house with plywood floors) because while the plywood expands and contracts with temperature and humidity changes throughout the year, the cement board remains stationary which makes for a crack-free longer-lasting tile floor.

Chuck Jones

While drywall is faster and cheaper and much much much easier to repair than lathe walls, it is also a terrible sound barrier. If I ever get the chance to own my own home, I'm going to fill the walls with bags of sand.


I love Levittown PA. And if sheetrock is what made it possible, God bless it.


Sheetrock's not a bad material. I spent three years as a carpenter, and compared with some of the crap we're putting in houses, it's relatively sweet.

Compared to traditional plaster, it's quite cheap. This brings down the cost of building- not a universal plus, in the overbuilt suburbs- but the "dream of home ownership" is a real economic and social benefit for millions of folks looking to make a better life for themselves.

Compared to traditional plaster, it's much healthier to install. Jason pointed out the nastiness of working with it, and cutting and skimming drywall does kick up a lot of dust - OSHA reminds you to wear a respirator when doing it. Compared with mixing and applying real plaster, though, it's nothing.

Compared with other "sheet goods"- particle board, MDF, some grades of plywood- it's got almost no chemical hazards once installed. You've just got to keep that gypsum out of your lungs. Compare that with pressure treated wood, which gets installed everywhere, and is a terrible health hazard.

Lightweight 1/2" drywall isn't a very good sound insulator, but investing in 3/4 (or whatever it's real thickness is... 11/16?) really dampens sound. Of course, it costs more, and is harder to install...

And as for decorative value, I would just like to point out that wooden mouldings are available for those who would like to make use of them. The big, even surface that (properly installed) drywall gives you is an issue of style. There are very beautiful, slick interiors that do without mouldings, and some very beautiful designs that use them. Ugly rooms without mouldings tend to look stark and bare, while ugly rooms with mouldlings look kitchy and overdone. Nothing substitutes for having a good eye.

Finally, as for building with cinderblock, sure- works in the tropics, and is usually ugly as hell, but in cold climates, one wants a better insulator than that. Beautiful stuff can be made from it, if you've got the knack, but...

Dale Hazelton

I redid an old 9 x 5 mudroom in my 1848 farmhouse to be a hall and 1/2 bath, taking down all the plaster to wire and put in plumbing. I loaded my pickup bucketful by bucketful of old horsehair plaster and squirrel poop and went to the dump, where you pay by weight. 1100 POUNDS! And this area had 4 door openings and a window! That's why old houses feel so solid. And some areas of plaster were 1/2 inch thick while some were almost 2 inches thick. That's how they dealt with poor framing (my house was built from old barn beams, old wooden gutters, you name it). But when everything was roughed in, I had it sheetrocked and the first coat of compound on in less than a day. If an unskilled homeowner had to plaster over lath? Forget it. But I agree with Willfro, some beefy "mopboards" with shoe moulding, rout a nice cockbead (sorry) into the door casings, and put some crown up by the ceiling and you're all set. Oh, and NEVER use a paint roller if you live in an old house. Treat your walls to a paint job with a nice 3" brush, brushing vertically. That'll give the walls a nice soft texture that plaster used to give.


Jason is right. Why wasting time with Drywall? It might be good for Third World kleptocrats, but you can afford a good wall, instead an imitation-of-imitation-of-plastic one.

Dale Hazelton

Mr. Improver, Jason is correct to a point, but drywall is not part of the structural fabric of a house. All those antebellum mansions that got wiped out during Katrina had no drywall in them, I'm sure, and were probably built like a brick outhouse. "Everything goes to shit" in Hurricane Alley because we shouldn't be building there (and in flood plains) to begin with, let alone think we can live there in a freakin' trailer or shotgun shack. The problem is modern framing techniques, fastening 2x material with 3 inch nails, not using hurricane ties, no wind bracing, poor choice of site, poor design etc. This we can rightfully blame on contractors cutting corners and hiring subs who don't give a crap about what happens to the house after they're paid. Engineeered materials can improve life for people who can't afford a 3-coat plaster job or slate shingles on the roof . Vinyl siding is a recyclable product that allows not having to pay someone to scrape, sand, prime, caulk, paint every 7-10 years with the resultant waste disposal and consumption of plastic binders and pigments. Sheetrock means alot less gypsum has to be mined and shipped and stocked. Engineered flooring means less timbering for new material and more recycling of paper and wood waste. Concrete siding (ie Hardiboard) is impervious to water and holds paint better than cedar ever will. So if you know how to use this stuff and realize its strengths and limitations, I say go for it.


My folks had a house built for themselves in North Carolina a few years back, and one thing they learned is that building codes in hurricane-prone areas are a LOT stricter than they used to be. I'm sure a house built today would stand a much better chance of withstanding a hurricane than one dating from 15-20 years ago or so, provided it's up to code.


I wasn't trying to be disparaging about American housing or American construction, I was just surprised at the lengths people go to to make one thing appear like another.
I'll take easy and cheap anyday.
Incidentally I'd always been led to believe that MDF was illegal in the US but have now found out that is not the case. Is there a good place around Jersey City to buy it? Preferably one that cuts it down for you.

Dale Hazelton

I agree that it's ridiculous to try to make fake brick cladding, wood grained vinyl, and why America went ga-ga for fake wood paneling in the 60's and 70's is beyond me. But that's the great democratizer about this junk...anybody can afford a "brick" home if they want one or have the warmth of "real" wood in their rumpus room. Home Depot or Lowes stocks MDF in 4x8 sheets (bring a kidney belt!) or various widths and lengths for shelving. It's dirt cheap and holds paint well, but won't hold a screw worth a darn. I've used glue and biscuits with success. It's great for shelves, but I put a bit of one by material under the shelfs front edge for strength if it's a long shelf and will hold a lot of weight, ie books. Cheaper than real wood, and will never warp on you. Just heavy as hell. Who knew a post on drywall would spur such controversy? Anyone wanna talk carpet padding?


I think talking about carpet padding will be a bloodbath! Remember previous posts about gore German safety videos, it's the same.

Excuse me too, the subject matter was other, but let me expose my point of view. In my town in 1997 a flood killed 22. The reason was bad constructions for poor people in the middle of the river basin. I think everyone's free to live in any place they like -I don't mean banning those materials, but people must know that other constructions are better in places with risk of suffering hurricanes, or any other disasters. I've read the Wikipedia article too, and I'm not sure of using Drywall if I wanted better fire protection and a greater security. Even I can use an ecologic painting to protect the environment. How good is Drywall as a noise isolator? Is there any campaign promoting 'good' materials?

If I go to America some day I'll buy some Drywall as a souvenir as valuable as Berlin Wall parts for tourists in Germany.


Is there any campaign among people living in old houses built before building codes, promoting **** materials?

J. Cesar A.

Well, you guys did a lot of good reasoning. I have but one question: MDF as Drywall for WALLS ??? How about that? Would you use MDF for walls rather than "sheetrock" ?? How would you join the sheets? (Drywall sheets are beveled for joining compound and tape.)

San Diego Drywall

Great blog dry wall for 20 years and im just learning the internet. You have great infomation here. Tahnks


Any suggestions on how to drywall between exposed beams? I would prefer not to use wood trim that would take away from the old rafters. My concerns are mud on the beams which I could use painter's tape (but might have trouble removing) and the mud up against the wood rafters cracking or gaping over time.

Drywall Repair

Thanks for this Beautiful article about Drywall and Plaster Demaged!


hi ppl, I am looking to buy a sheetrocked house built in 1952. But my wife feels its not safe to buy such an old house. Moreover it has stucco in walls too. What do you ppl guess about the strngth of a sheetrocked structure?.Compared to normal houses or concrete. Thanks so much.


Whats a "ppl"??


Thanks for sharing the blog.I used drywall for my wall.I am satisfied with it and i have no problem with it.Now also it look good.

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