Though drywall is an incredibly convenient building material, it was actually very slow to catch on. The material was first invented in 1916 but was widely applied in construction only in late 1960.
Before Drywall Became Popular
That was mainly because of bias in the industry. Many expert builders viewed drywall as a cheap and easy fix lacking the finesse that went into making plaster walls. So, they preferred to stick with the traditional method of using plaster and wooden strips called laths. They would layer the wet plaster over the laths and wait for it to harden to form walls.
The process was labor intensive and very time-consuming. The builders would have to wait for each layer of plaster to harden before applying a fresh one. The procedure could sometimes take weeks and require a lot of manpower. In addition, any damage to plaster walls was very difficult to repair since layering the plaster again to get it in the same shape required considerable expertise.
Plaster dominated the industry for decades until late 1960, when the demand for construction skyrocketed. Builders needed to put up buildings in record time to meet fast-approaching deadlines — something they couldn’t do using plaster.
So, they turned to drywall as an alternative. Using this material, they could complete construction jobs in just a few days, which otherwise took weeks using plaster. What’s more, they quickly realized that drywall wasn’t some cheap, flimsy alternative. In fact, it was actually considerably more durable than its competitor. Plus, its fire-resistant properties made it a hot commodity for anyone who prioritized safety in their dwelling.
Lastly, it was just cheaper. To build plaster walls, you must invest in thousands of laths and a wet plaster mix. You also need to pay an expert to mold the walls since layering plaster is hard to get right. In contrast, you can put up some drywall all on your own. A single 4-foot-by-12-foot panel costs between $15‒$24,depending on the type and thickness. If you’re planning to outfit the walls and ceilings of, say, a 200-square-foot room, that comes out to $300‒500.
In light of such benefits, its unsurprising drywall displaced plasters as a favorite construction material.