Replacing Plaster Walls With Drywall: Worth It?
As a former owner of a 1910-era home, I get it. Plaster walls suck. They crumble easily. It’s hard to find studs. And they skyrocket the cost of your insurance. But should you really replace plaster walls with drywall?
Replacing plaster walls with drywall will cost well over $10000 for a 2000 square foot home. Since plaster is considered a higher quality material than drywall anyway, it should not be replaced with drywall in most situations.
The one exception is if you’re pulling down the walls to replace the plumbing and electrical systems anyway. In that case, it makes sense to replace with drywall. But other than that, it’s a losing proposition. Let me show you why.
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The Cost to Replace Plaster With Drywall
In the US, average costs for labor and materials of different tasks is as follows:
|Task||Cost Per Sq. Ft.|
That means you’re looking at about $6.50 per square foot of wall. I did a rough estimate of the square footage of wall in my 1600 square foot home, and came out with 2976 square feet.
(As an example, one 10×10 room has four walls that are 10 feet wide by 8 feet tall. That’s 320 square feet of wall right there, maybe 300 if there are doors and windows, and that’s just one small room.)
Multiply the total square footage by $6.50, and you’re looking at over $19,000. This doesn’t even include things like reinstalling molding, or any extra fees if your plaster walls contain asbestos (many do.)
Maybe you’re thinking you can do the paint and/or demolition yourself. Maybe you can. But that’s a whole house worth of painting, and a whole house of wall demolishing.
Be very, very certain you’re willing to spend a month doing those things before you take them on.
Note: I’m a strong proponent of DIY, and in my plaster-wall home I remodeled a kitchen (including moving a gas line,) and refinished my own hardwood floors. I’m not one to shy away from projects.
But hanging drywall in an old house where nothing is level is going to be a miserable project full of unpleasant surprises. I did one wall during my kitchen remodel, and it was awful.
A whole houseful seems like a nightmare, and that’s not even including the demo portion that probably includes asbestos exposure. I’m not saying don’t DIY it, but be aware that it’ll probably be awful.
Either way, replacing plaster walls is going to be an incredibly expensive project of either time or money, and is one that won’t raise the value of your home.
In most cases, homeowners aren’t considering the wall type when they’re shopping, and as a result replacing plaster with drywall isn’t going to raise the home price.
Additionally, many home shoppers consider plaster walls a plus! You wouldn’t want to inadvertently reduce the value of your home with an expensive remodel, right?
Plaster Walls Are Actually Desirable
You might hate your plaster walls. I hear you – I hated mine. They crumbled and cracked, had a weird texture, and were just a pain to deal with anytime I needed to find a stud (see this post for the method I finally developed.)
Plus, they’re expensive to replace, so my home insurance cost was outrageous because of them.
But putting my personal feelings aside, objectively they’re actually a higher-quality wall.
Plaster is thicker than drywall, and therefore provides better insulation, both for temperature and sound. It’s also more durable, and more water-resistant than drywall.
In a new construction, they’re easier to make smooth, and even in older homes many people consider them part of the charm.
In fact, if you spend much time in Houzz or Reddit home forums, you’ll find people who wax poetic about the beauty of plaster walls. I’m not sure what house they’re living in, but it must be nicer than mine, because I’m not sure anyone could call my plaster walls “beautiful” even on their best day.
All this to say, there are a lot of advantages to plaster walls! And unless you’ve got an extra 20 grand sitting around, you’re probably going to have to live with them, so you better start brainwashing yourself to like them!
Living With Plaster Walls
Lucky for you, I tried a few things to make my plaster walls more live-able. Most of these techniques are a variation on “cover the walls up,” but that doesn’t mean they’re not useful. You wouldn’t want to do the exact same technique in every room of your home anyway.
Now, this was something my house came with, but it’s a really effective way to hide cracks in the wall. Wallpapering over a crack makes it pretty much invisible, which is exactly what you’re going for.
If you can opt for easily-removable wallpaper, do so. If your house is shifting and the crack gets bigger, it might ultimately cause a gap underneath your wallpaper.
That would take a few years, so don’t be afraid of this happening immediately. But using wallpaper that’s easily removed means if this does happen, you can easily change out the wallpaper.
This is a very 70s-style idea, but before you scroll along, I swear it can look fantastic!
I hung burlap in my living room, and it’s one of my greatest successes. I was super nervous about it, because I hadn’t seen anyone do anything like it before, but it turned out amazing. It was super easy to do, and comes down quickly if you want to change it out.
This method covers up any cracks or weird textures from plaster walls, plus it’s a nice variety from paint or wallpaper that you might have in other parts of the house.
While I used burlap, the method I used of a water/starch mixture can be used to hang any fabric on the wall.
Other Wall Features
And while I haven’t tried it, a geometric feature wall (where wood pieces are glued onto the wall to form interesting shapes) could be strategically placed to cover up flaws.
I have a wall treatment board on Pinterest that’s full of ideas; feel free to check it out if you need inspiration.
When You Should Replace Plaster Walls With Drywall
If you’re doing a full gut of the house – replacing the plumbing and electrical, and adding insulation, then you’re probably better off replacing the plaster with drywall.
In this case, the walls are coming down anyway. Taking them out isn’t going to add to the cost of your project. And when it’s time to reinstall the walls, it’s much cheaper to go with drywall rather than plaster.
In fact, choosing to reinstall plaster walls would up the cost of your project significantly. It’s almost a no-brainer that if the walls are coming down, you’re going to replace them with drywall.
If you’re working with a really old house that hasn’t been updated ever, a remodel of this scale might make sense. But for the normal homeowner who bought an older home in decent condition, it’s probably not worth the cost.