Is plywood the new shiplap? Maybe it should be. Can you install plywood in place of drywall for the interior walls? Yes, but there might be more cons than pros. Maybe that is the reason that I rarely witness contractors installing plywood in place of drywall during my site visits.
While plywood gets a bad rap for not being visually appealing, which I do not 100% agree with, it does have some redeeming qualities. I am here to break down the good and the bad of it from a designer’s perspective.
Some of you may be asking, what is plywood or drywall? Plywood is a wooden material made up of several sheets of thin wood. It is easily accessible in most hardware stores and considered an affordable option to most other wood. Drywall is a material known as gypsum, a mineral formed in sedentary rocks.
This material is squished between two sheets of very thick paper and is the modern alternative to using plaster. The panels come in large sizes that are easy to cut into smaller pieces to fit your walls. It is easier to manipulate the size of the drywall as opposed to plywood. Because plywood is a harder material, it is more difficult to cut or manipulate it into whatever size is needed for a project.
Before we do a deep dive into the cons of plywood, we should consider the pros.
One of the great benefits is it is lighter in weight than sheetrock (aka drywall), and installing it can be a one-man job. Whereas if you install drywall, it’s roughly 20% heavier, which makes it more of a two-man job.
Plywood installation does not require finishing work like spackling and sanding, or taping and joint compound to look great. If you look at it from a time-consuming standpoint, then plywood is more efficient.
According to Eric Reinholdt, contributing editor for Houzz, “Architects and designers in search of novel uses for humble materials, are now using plywood for a higher aesthetic purpose, as a finished surface in living spaces. It’s become a handy means of modernizing and warming an interior for a relatively inexpensive cost.”
Installing plywood eliminates the need to find a stud or two by four, to hang art or mirrors on the wall. You can drill right into the wall without pulling the drywall out with the weight of an oversized mirror. Some contractors might install plywood first, then drywall over it so you can drill straight into the wall without using anchors.
This gorgeous home in Australia takes the interior walls to the next level. Clad in plywood, it showcases a minimal Scandinavian feel, which is the epitome of bare beauty.
Aesthetically, it looks gorgeous when installed and properly sealed. If you keep it in a natural state and give it a durable clear sealer, then you’ve created beautiful walls. According to an article written by Emily Beach, she states that “In living spaces, a cabinet– or furniture-grade hardwood plywood (or even MDF-plywood with a hardwood veneer) finished with a clear topcoat offers a sleek and modern yet warm decorative effect.”
This picture of a modern recording studio is a perfect example of installing bare plywood as an accent. I would much rather see designers use this idea rather than the shiplap craze everywhere. Your home will feel very connected to nature with bare wood exposed walls.
Now we can move on to the cons.
When comparing costs, plywood is more expensive to purchase than drywall. Once you add in labor and materials, it adds up. It’s important to be mindful of the safety aspect of the two materials. Drywall would be more fire-resistant because it burns much slower. A wood-based element like plywood would go up in flames much faster.
This is an important fact to consider when building or remodeling a home. There is also a health issue when or if it burns. “According to Phillip Etter of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, burning manufactured wood products is based on concern that low-temperature combustion of these products may release high levels of formaldehyde and, possibly, more dangerous compounds.
He says the ammonium chloride used as a catalyst in some manufactured wood-product resins may result in hydrochloric acid or dioxin emissions under certain conditions.”
Ultimately, what goes on behind the decorative paint and wallpaper applied to your walls is an equally important factor. Most builders, contractors, and homeowners choose to hang drywall instead of plywood. There are many reasons why drywall is the superior choice for interior walls.
However, if you consider plywood as an option, you now have an arsenal of information to make an educated decision. Personally, I would enjoy seeing more interiors displaying the perfect marriage between plywood and drywall. The more textures and variety, the better your.