What we've decided in our own home, how we decided, and why you might do something differently...
We generated lots of comments and ideas from our recent post on this subject. We've decided to write this entry in a 'review' format because we made a decision based on our own circumstances, but figured we'd lay it all out for others who may face similar choices in their own homes.
The first thing I'll acknowledge up front is that, when there was some debate and confusion during the decision-making process, Jeannie was right on all of this stuff much earlier than I was or anyone else involved (including some contractors) were. I'm learning I should trust her intuition (and her research!) much more than I probably do...something regular readers of this site probably could have told me a long time ago. ;-)
The second thing to get out there is that we went with regular drywall and we hired the work out. It isn't the original plan we had and it isn't what we'd do under normal circumstances, but it was right for us based on what we needed to do at this time given the fact that we've been living without a "clean space" for almost two years now, along with health and financial issues.
You may or may not do the same thing we did, but hopefully our experience can prove to be helpful regardless...
Plaster is a much older approach to the construction of interior walls than drywall, but both have evolved over the years. There are multiple ways to apply each approach, but their benefits are pretty much the same today as they've always been.
|More common, faster to install, less labor intensive, less expensive||Less common, considered higher end, stronger finish, more labor and cost|
You can debate and add to these points, but the overall pro's and con's that we saw most often distinguished the two options in this way.
Levels of Quality
Where things begin to get complicated is in the way that each of the two materials are installed. Decisions about technique can have as much or MORE of an influence on the finished quality, feel and cost of either approach. From our experience, few people actually understand all these factors well...this is where my aformentioned respect for Jeannie comes into play.
For plaster, the options today include ways that new plaster walls can be built but also ways deterioriated walls can be salvaged. While we'd already decided our walls had to come down because of extensive damage to the lathe, don't jump too quickly to that conclusion if your own walls just look bad--alternatives for repairing plaster are worth researching and can be less expensive than replacing entire walls.
If you're creating new walls, the most common modern plaster system is "veneer plaster"--drywall-like gypsum panels commonly called blue board. It goes up like drywall panels at first but is finished with a two-coat veneer plaster that ends up looking more like plaster than drywall.
For drywall, there are actually more choices than I hear most people (except Jeannie!) talk about. The first and more commonly discussed choice is in wall board size--sheetrock is available in either 1/2" or 5/8" thickness. The benefit of the 5/8" is added strength, less sagging, and extra sound deadening. On the other hand, 1/2" is definitely easier to work with and less expensive.
You can hang drywall with nails and screws...many contractors hang drywall with nailguns in order to put it up quickly. We are fans of drywall screws because it is more difficult for them to "pop", break the tape and show through the finish.
The next consideration is the level of finishing--I was surprised when J's research turned up an industry standard for five levels of finishing. None of our contractors or the books we'd read mentioned these options. The fifth level seems to go beyond the average installation--mudding all joints and screws--and describes a 'joint compound skim coat' not that different from the plaster veneer technique.
So, beyond choosing between materials, it is important to get specific about the finishing techniques to be used and the level of finish that you want--especially if you're hiring a contractor.
There seems to be at least as much debate about the real cost differences between options as there is about the merits of each material and technique. While the bottom line is that drywall is cheaper than plaster, the range of material and finishing choices can provide a number of price points between the two extremes.
Regional Influence on Costs
In our own case, the costs also seem to be influenced by geography. While in a previous post Sully6 quoted a 25% price premium for plaster according to a This Old House article, we haven't seen the two price points to be that close here in Chicago. Checking around with contractors and our architect friends, they confirmed the quotes we had. I'm guessing that it has something to do with a shortage of skilled plasterer labor (and lots of old houses), a boom in restoration work going on in Chicago (especially in bungalows), as well as an abundance of semi-skilled drywall labor.
However, if you're looking yourself, don't take our word for it. On top of regional differences, on any given day a contractor's slow or busy schedule can push prices in either direction.
Contractors vs. DIY
A surprise to us was the (relatively) minor premium to have drywall professionally hung for us. While we went into the decision expecting to do it ourselves, the quotes and advice we received led us to conclude that hiring it out was worth it.
According to a contractor friend, drywall work breaks pretty cleanly into thirds--1/3 for materials, 1/3 for hanging, and 1/3 for finishing. When we asked for our bids to be broken out, that was pretty close to the truth. So, when we got a drywall bid that was surprisingly reasonable (and from a contractor we trusted), it didn't seem to make sense to take on lots of labor ourselves for a relatively minor savings.
Put another way, I could see myself doing other things on our own that would save us a lot more--with only so many weekends to "spend" we decided we should spend them other ways that will get us a higher ROHI (return on hours invested)!
A Bit More on Our Decision
So after all that, it's also worth mentioning other factors that definitely influenced what we did. If these aren't your issues, you could certainly end up with a different choice than we did (and hopefully also not criticize us for ours!)
As previously mentioned, the second floor project will tap-out most of our equity reserves. As we prioritized our overall restoration, we put some things low on the list that we can wait on but will save up for to do very well--replacing the fireplace, for example. Other things, however, have to be sooner for our own quality of life--a clean and finished master bedroom and bathroom definitely count there. So, we didn't have the luxury of waiting for more funds to trickle in until we put up walls.
Second, the upstairs rooms have a combined total perimeter of (approximately) 235 feet of width and 8 feet of height. The ceiling spaces alone for the second floor add up to (approximately) 685 square feet. A LOT of surface area. Half of that ceiling space is made up of very funky angles. Not your typical boxy rooms. Combine that with 5/8" drywall--enormously heavy--and you have a long, hard road if you are only working weekends.
Last, as Jeannie has written from time to time, she's been working through some tough health issues. She is frustrated by the effect on her ability to get things done. And this also fuels our interest in getting a nice, bright, clean living space upstairs.
We're both very eager to have somewhat "normal" living arrangements again...and getting the walls up is a major barrier to that. Two years of 'camping with a mortgage' is certainly an incentive sometimes to do what we can to move things along! Given all this, we decided that going with a high-quality drywall job, hired out, was the right choice for us.