Drywall Vs. Sheetrock: What’s the Difference?


When it comes to finishing your garage or basement, one of the most visible choices you have to make is what type of finishing material you’ll use to cover your bare wall studs. Builders and homeowners often go with drywall or Sheetrock for their interior walls and ceilings, though other options are available.

This article will compare drywall and Sheetrock, as well as other possible finishes for your garage or basement walls.

You’ve likely heard a builder or realtor refer to “drywall” or “Sheetrock” while talking about the walls of your home. Unless you’re experienced in construction or home improvement, you may not know the difference. To make matters even more confusing, you’ll often hear the two terms used interchangeably, sometimes even in the same sentence.

So what’s the difference when it comes to drywall vs. Sheetrock? To find out, let’s start with an in-depth look at drywall, where it comes from, and how it’s made.


What’s the Difference Between Drywall and Sheetrock?

As it turns out, this is a bit of a trick question.

Practically speaking, there is no functional difference between drywall and Sheetrock.

Drywall, in general, is a building material made from gypsum and paper. Sheetrock is the brand name of the drywall manufactured by the U.S. Gypsum Company to this day. Sheetrock may be the most commonly recognized brand name in the world of drywall, but it’s still just a name.

Sheetrock is a brand of drywall in the same way that Kleenex is a brand of facial tissue, and Band-Aid is a brand of adhesive bandage.

Brand names and trademarks are sometimes so well-used that they that eventually become the generic term for a product. Examples of this are Chapstick, Q-Tip, Velcro, and Xerox. 

Another way to think of the relationship between drywall and Sheetrock is that Sheetrock is a subtype of drywall. Just as a square is a type of rectangle that has four equal sides, Sheetrock is a type of drywall that a particular manufacturer produces. As the saying goes, Sheetrock is always drywall, but drywall isn’t always necessarily Sheetrock.

If you walk into a hardware store and ask them where to find Sheetrock, they’ll point you toward the drywall section. Chances are, they won’t even bother showing you which particular drywall goes by the brand name Sheetrock. If they even carry it at all.

Because builders and homeowners received drywall poorly when it first became available, the U.S. Gypsum Company rebranded the product as Sheetrock.

While the rebranding itself made no difference in the popularity of drywall at the time, the new name stuck in the minds of builders and homeowners. When it comes to construction, though, there’s no difference between the two.


Everything You Need To Know About Drywall

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s go into a bit more detail.

Here we’ll cover some of the different drywall upgrades. Then you can choose for your project and alternatives to choose from should you decide drywall isn’t the right fit for your space.

Different Types of Drywall

While there is no functional difference between drywall and Sheetrock, there are different types of drywall (and likewise, different types of Sheetrock) better suited for specific applications.

Standard Drywall: This drywall is the most common form of drywall and is used often in residential walls and ceilings. Versatile enough for most applications, including finishing basements, standard drywall is suitable for typical residential conditions.

Mold-Resistant Drywall: For walls in areas prone to moisture and humidity, mold-resistant drywall can stop the accumulation of mold on and in the walls to keep them looking newer for longer. These are perfect for use in kitchens or bathrooms.

Moisture-Resistant Drywall: Moisture-resistant drywall provides added protection for even wetter environments, such as laundry and utility rooms, bathrooms, and basements. This type of drywall features added protection in the form of a mold and moisture-resistant coating to minimize damage even under long-term moisture exposure.

Fire-Resistant Drywall: Before gypsum became the core ingredient of drywall, one of its most common uses was fireproofing material. The molecular structure of gypsum traps water inside the mineral itself. The gypsum in even standard drywall can slow the spread of fire for a short time, but fire-resistant drywall is thicker. It also includes glass fibers for added fire protection, which is great for utility rooms and garages.

Soundproof Drywall: Thicker than standard drywall, soundproof drywall is made with a noise-dampening core between the layers of gypsum and paper to prevent noise from traveling through walls and ceilings. 


How Is Drywall Made?

The building material known as drywall is composed of a thin layer of gypsum paste held together by two sheets of Manila paper. Gypsum, a common mineral, is most often used in construction to make cement, plaster of Paris, and wallboard such as drywall. Its availability makes it an inexpensive and versatile mineral for building materials.

To transform raw gypsum into a workable building material, manufacturers pulverize the mineral and combine it with additives, emulsifiers, and water to make a paste. A thin layer of this paste is sandwiched between two pieces of manila paper to form what is essentially a self-contained sheet of wet plaster.

These 4-foot wide sheets are then heated in an oven to dry out the excess moisture and cut into 8-, 10-, or 12-foot sections. Once dried and cut, these sheets are stackable and easy to transport from the manufacturer to wholesale, retail, and residential destinations. 

History of Drywall

As far back as the ancient Egyptians, humans used gypsum to make plaster, a popular construction material across many cultures for centuries. When you consider how much of the ancient world’s architecture is still standing, you see how durable plaster construction can be. Why go through all that trouble to turn plaster into plastered paper? How did drywall become so prominent in modern construction?

Building with Plaster

Drywall didn’t become nearly as commonplace as it is today until the 1940s. Before that, lath and plaster was the preferred construction material for interior walls. To make these smooth, finished plaster walls, you must begin by nailing thin strips of wood, called lath, to the studs, forming a structure to which the plaster can adhere.

After installing the lath, you cover it with a thin coat of plaster, smushing the paste through small gaps between the wood strips. As this first base layer of plaster dries, it sticks between the boards, forming “keys” that adhere the plaster to the wall. On top of this foundation, up to ¾ inches of additional plaster forms a smooth, durable surface that’s ready to be finished. 

The Invention of Drywall

While drywall isn’t the only option at your disposal when finishing your garage or basement, it’s undoubtedly one of the most commonly chosen finishes. Once considered a cheap fix, drywall is now simply seen as a versatile, inexpensive construction material for shaping walls and ceilings.

The Sacket Plaster Board company was the original inventor of the earliest forms of drywall, called SacketBoard. Originally, SacketBoard was cut into square tiles and sold as a fireproofing material. The United States Gypsum Company, which had invented another fireproofing construction material called Pyrobar, purchased Sacket in 1909.

Eventually, the square fireproof tiles became large sheets of gypsum and paper which could be cut to fit and transported easily. At first, drywall acted as a replacement for wood lath. Rather than strips of wood, builders could install drywall sheets, spreading plaster over the entire surface. 

While this helpful material shortcut saved tons of time, builders and homeowners viewed the use of drywall as a cheap construction shortcut, and it took some time to catch on. For a while, at least, consumers continued to demand the artistry and luxury of handmade plaster construction.

The Introduction of Sheetrock

In an attempt to get away from drywall’s cheap reputation, U.S. Gypsum underwent a rebranding effort and began producing the same product under the brand name Sheetrock in 1916. Sheetrock, a particular brand of drywall, isn’t any different from the drywall itself.

This marketing gimmick wasn’t much success at first because homeowners were attached to the tradition and luxury of plaster construction, and drywall kept its reputation.

Ultimately, World War II and the associated manufacturing boom led to drywall’s rise in popularity. The labor shortage resulting from the war effort meant that construction needed to be quick, easy, and inexpensive, and drywall was the material to make that possible. Compared to plaster, drywall construction only takes about one-quarter as much time and labor.

The rest, as they say, is history. Once builders and homeowners became accustomed to the use of drywall in their homes, its former reputation faded away. While you can find plaster in new construction even today, drywall is the king of building materials to this day. Its simplicity, ease of installation, and low cost make it hard to beat for wall finishes.


Drywall Alternatives

Plaster and drywall aren’t the only options at your disposal to finish your garage or basement. Drywall’s ease of use and versatility makes it one of the most common finishing options in residential construction, but some alternative finishes offer distinct advantages over drywall. If you’re looking for something a little more unique, you can consider these alternatives.

Wood Paneling

This once-ubiquitous wall finish has earned a reputation for being dated and old-fashioned and fallen out of favor until recently. However, wood paneling is not the same material you know from years past. There are many more attractive wood paneling options to choose from today, and while this option is often more expensive than drywall, it’s also more durable.

Plywood

If you like the idea of wood paneling but aren’t up for the cost, plywood is an excellent alternative. By itself, it’s not as attractive as finished wood paneling, but you have pretty much unlimited finishing options for plywood walls. Plywood won’t hold as much weight as wood paneling, but it’s an excellent DIY option to finish your space on a budget.

Metal Paneling

If I can be candid here, metal panels are just plain sexy. It doesn’t get much more industrial than metal paneling, and this look is perfect for a garage or basement. If you’re buying the panels new, this option will be expensive, but there are plenty of reclaimed options available if you’re willing to look for them.

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