Drywall vs Plywood Garage Walls? [What You Need to Know]

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I was talking to my best friend recently about his garage renovation. He was deciding between using plywood vs drywall garage walls. 

Although I’ve used drywall in my garage, I recommended he use plywood instead. 

Why?

Although plywood and drywall are both great choices to finish your garage walls, there are specific use cases where you should use one or the other. 

That’s what we’re going to discuss in this article. 


Plywood vs Drywall Garage Walls: Quick Thoughts

Before we get into the specifics, let’s talk briefly about the factors to consider when choosing how to finish your garage walls. 

These factors apply to any type of wall covering, but this article will look specifically at exterior plywood vs. drywall.

They include:

Durability

Durability is obviously important when choosing a wall covering for your garage. You want a wall covering that protects against scratches, dents, and other damage during everyday use. 

Some wall coverings are more resistant to moisture, temperature changes, and other environmental factors that can cause damage to the walls. This may compromise the structural integrity of the garage. 

Finally, renovating your garage is an investment. The right wall covering will help increase the resale value of your property.

Moisture Resistance

Choosing a material with high moisture resistance is essential – especially in a non-conditioned garage. 

Garages are prone to moisture, whether from precipitation or condensation. This can cause various problems, including mold and mildew growth, warping, and decay. 

In addition to ruining your wall’s looks, they can compromise your garage’s structural integrity, leading to expensive repairs.

Cost

Nobody wants to spend more on their garage renovation than they have to. Price is important when selecting a wall covering for your garage. 

However, you want to look at the total cost rather than the initial cost. Consider the cost of the material, installation, and any additional tools required. Then add maintenance costs like cleaning and the future upkeep. 

It is essential to balance affordability with long-term value and durability. While some wall coverings may be more expensive initially, they may offer better long-term value due to their durability and resistance to damage.

Aesthetic appeal

Finally, you want a wall covering that looks good. 

The right wall covering can help create a cohesive look in your garage that reflects your style and goals. 

For instance, if you prefer a sleek and modern aesthetic, you may want to choose a metal or glass wall covering. In contrast, you may choose a wood or stone veneer option if you prefer a more rustic look.

Drywall panels in new garage construction

Cost: Plywood vs. Drywall Walls

Price is usually the primary factor when deciding between plywood and drywall for your garage walls. 

Drywall may initially appear less expensive than plywood. However, some additional installation costs may sneak up on you. 

Drywall is typically sold in large, 4′ x 8′ sheets that are relatively easy to cut and install. Indeed if you aren’t concerned about filling the gaps between drywall panels, the installation costs are usually lower compared to plywood. 

However, if you plan on smoothing out your garage wall, adding layers of drywall tape and mud will quickly raise the cost. Don’t forget about the sanding, too. 

On the other hand, plywood is more expensive than drywall initially. 

Unlike OSB, plywood is made from natural wood materials, which are generally more expensive than the synthetic materials used in drywall. 

There are usually no additional finishing steps when installing plywood walls. Once securely hung, the only thing left is to paint them whatever color you like. 

This can reduce labor costs if you pay a contractor to do the work for you.


Finishing Drywall vs Plywood Garage Walls

Drywall and plywood walls have different finishes, and the process of finishing and painting each material varies. 

Drywall: Drywall has five different finishing levels, ranging from exposed tape and screws to a perfectly smooth wall. Technically there is also a ‘Level 0’ finish, which refers to bare drywall panels hung on the wall. 

Let’s assume you want at least a Level 3 finish, which consists of one coat of mud over the tap and two coats on each fastener. 

This should provide a smooth enough surface to paint, although primer is highly recommended. Drywall can be painted using a roller or brush, usually requiring two coats of paint to achieve a smooth finish. 

Plywood: Plywood has a rougher texture than drywall, which usually shows through, even after painting. Before painting plywood, any knots, cracks, or other imperfections must be filled with wood filler or putty, then sanded to create a smooth surface. 

Once the plywood is sanded and filled, it’s ready to be primed and painted. Like drywall, plywood usually requires two coats of paint to achieve the desired finish.


Drywall vs Plywood Walls: Fire Resistance

When it comes to fire safety, drywall is generally considered safer than plywood for use in interior walls, including garage walls. 

Drywall is made of gypsum, which is a naturally fire-resistant material. When ignited, the water molecules that help make up gypsum release moisture, making drywall slow to burn. 

In contrast, plywood is made of wood, a combustible material that can easily catch fire and spread flames. Additionally, plywood is often treated with chemicals to enhance its durability and resistance to moisture. Unfortunately, this can make it more flammable.

When exposed to fire, plywood produces significantly more smoke than drywall. Smoke inhalation is one of the leading causes of death in house fires. Reducing the amount of smoke produced during a fire is an important factor to consider.

Finally, building codes require that interior walls meet specific fire-resistance standards. This includes the wall where your attached garage connects to the rest of the house. 

Drywall is a common material used in construction because it is designed to meet these standards.

Plywood wall panels

When to Use Drywall for Garage Walls

Drywall may be the right choice for your garage walls in certain circumstances. Here are some reasons why you’d want to choose drywall over plywood for your garage walls:

  1. Lower upfront cost: Drywall is generally less expensive than plywood in terms of materials. If you have a tight budget, drywall may be the better option.
  2. Fire Resistance: Drywall is naturally fire-resistant. If fire safety is a priority for you, drywall is the better option.
  3. Smoother Surface: Drywall can be finished to create a completely smooth wall. This makes it ideal for painting or finishing. If you’re creating your dream garage or plan to use your garage as a home gym or studio, drywall may be the better choice.

When to Use Plywood for Garage Walls

However, plywood has its advantages as well. Here are a few scenarios where you might choose plywood over drywall:

  1. Damage Resistance: If your garage is used for heavy-duty activities like woodworking, metalworking, or auto repair, plywood may be the better choice. Plywood is generally more durable than drywall and can withstand greater impact without getting damaged.
  2. Moisture Resistance: Plywood is more moisture-resistant than drywall, making it less prone to mold and rot.
  3. Looks Aren’t Everything: Plywood is the better option if you prefer function over form. Alternatively, plywood provides a more rustic, textured look, which may be more appealing than drywall’s smooth, clean surface.

Wrapping It Up

Generally speaking, finishing your garage walls with drywall will make it look like the rest of your house. In contrast, plywood will look like the typical garage. 

While drywall is cheaper up-front, it is more prone to impact and moisture damage, making it less ideal for working garages. 

Plywood is slightly more expensive initially, but it can be finished to make it almost as smooth as drywall. Plywood is the best choice for your garage walls if you prefer function over form. 

Either way, consider your specific needs and preferences when deciding between plywood and drywall for your garage walls.

Plywood isn’t the only alternative to drywall for your garage walls. Check out my other recommendations here!

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Tim Wells

Tim Wells, the founder of Garage Transformed, has been featured in dozens of home renovation publications, including BobVila.com, Home Stratosphere, House Digest, Livingetc, and SFGate. Since 2018, he has helped over two million people transform their everyday garages into something they can be proud of. He lives in Central Florida with his wife and bulldog.