Walls: By Popular Demand

May 31, 2005
Plaster is back, but drywall still dominates

Once considered antiquated and impractical, plaster walls have enjoyed a rebirth.

Cory Nevins, product marketing manager at Chicago-based USG Corp., says traditional full-coat, as well as one- and two-coat, veneer plaster wall systems are hot. He says the renaissance is two-fold: It comes down to aesthetics and durability.

“There’s definitely a resurgence in plaster. Many designers like the monolithic look they can achieve with it,” Nevins explains, noting that most one-coat plaster finishes also can yield smooth or textured finishes.

The term plaster, when it comes to wall systems, focuses on gypsum-based plasters. This robust material resists abuse and gives designers a bit of artistic leverage. While it is not a revolutionary material, it is beautiful and lasting.

The best levels of plaster walls are conventional, full-thickness systems. These abuse-resistant walls boast a highly desirable monolithic surface - a look revived by modern designers’ specs. Traditional plaster walls can be finished smooth or textured, and provide long-term beauty and performance.

Traditional plaster is expensive, however. Depending upon the application, plaster systems can cost up to four-times more than drywall. In many cases, it can be at least double the cost.

Veneer Plasters
If a high-quality, conventional plaster look fits the bill, but not the budget, another option is a veneer plaster system.

Two-coat veneer plasters - which are composed of a gypsum plaster baseboard, a 1/16- to 1/32-inch basecoat, and a veneer finishing material - provide monolithic finishes and good-to-excellent wear resistance.

High-strength veneer plasters provide abuse resistance and are being specified for high-profile, high-traffic areas such as the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The museum specified a wall system that would withstand abuse from visitors over a 100-year expected life-span.

High-strength, one-coat veneer plaster finishes rank a step above drywall and a step down from two-coat veneer systems. These finishes offer up to 100-times the abrasion resistance of drywall and at least four-times more indentation resistance than drywall, according to USG.

Given favorable drying conditions, one-coat plaster systems are ready for finishing in as little as 48 hours. Drywall joint treatments normally require multiple drying cycles, spanning 4 or 5 days. With plaster, work can be completed several days sooner, depending upon the application.

Drywall Reigns
Despite a renewed interest in plaster walls, drywall fans have nothing to fear. Nevins estimates that 95 percent of all specified wall applications still are drywall in both commercial and residential settings.

Today’s drywall systems have advanced to a point where the systems provide a smooth, serviceable finish at the lowest possible initial installed cost, according to USG.

Robin Suttell ([email protected]), based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.

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