What Is Drywall and What Is It Made Of?

Dawn M. Smith
Written by Dawn M. Smith
Reviewed by Andy Kilborn
Updated September 20, 2021
Home addition newly drywalled
Steven Puetzer / The Image Bank via Getty Images

Drywall is the Swiss Army knife of building materials

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If you’ve ever watched a home renovation show, you’ve seen how quickly the crew installs drywall with ease. They’re used to working with this drywall, a wall panel made of gypsum, because it’s an extremely common product in the construction world. Builders use it to construct new interior and exterior walls for homes or reconfigure an existing floor plan (open concept living, anyone?) affordably. 

Drywall is the Swiss Army knife of building materials. It solves a lot of problems on a budget. Read on to find out how it can fit into your home project plans.

What Is Drywall Made Of?

One of the most identifiable building materials, drywall is a construction staple thanks to its affordability, durability, and simple installation. You may also be familiar with this material after learning on the fly how to patch and repair a section after an accidental hole from moving furniture or trying to install shelving. 

“Drywall is one of the most common materials in buildings today. It is relatively simple to install, maintain, and repair,” said Andrew Kilborn, an Angi Expert Review Board member who has 20 years of experience in home repair and remodeling.

Drywall is made of gypsum (calcium sulfate dihydrate) and additives like mica, clay, and resin. Crushed gypsum is heated and then rehydrated with water and additives to create a slurry to produce drywall. The slurry is fed between two thick sheets of paper (quarter-inch, half-inch, five-eighths-inch are the most common sizes). 

After the slurry dries, it chemically bonds to the paper. The drywall is taped around the raw sides of the exposed gypsum to form panels.   

The term drywall is used interchangeably with many other names, including gypsum board, gypsum wallboard, GWB, wallboard, and plasterboard. You’ll also hear about the popular brand name, Sheetrock

They’re all similar, with only slight variations in composition or the reason you’d use it. Regardless of what you call it, your local drywall contractor or home store employee will know what you’re talking about and point you in the right direction. 

Drywall panels with mud on the joints
Douglas Sacha / Moment via Getty Images

What Is Drywall Used For?

After World War II, the housing construction boom pushed drywall into everyday use thanks to affordable drywall labor and material costs. Compared to the old, labor-intensive technique of covering wood walls with plaster, drywall is far faster, easier, and safer. Today, drywall is used in commercial and residential construction to build rooms or create separations, especially in condos and apartment complexes, because it’s non-flammable. All drywall is fire-resistant, though type X and type C drywall stand up the best against fire.

Some multi-resident housing complexes tout specialized drywall that has sound damping material. A cost of living perk you’ll definitely want if your upstairs neighbor has a late-night vacuuming habit.

Drywall is one of the most common DIY projects for homeowners because learning how to repair drywall is fairly easy even without installation experience. However, first-timers sometimes find drywall challenging because it's somewhat delicate and easily damaged. The bonuses outweigh the negatives, though; drywall is lightweight and versatile. 

Drywall projects go beyond simple residential uses. Specialized drywall performs well in these circumstances.

  • Drywall can be water-resistant to keep bathrooms and mudrooms mold-free.

  • Thick drywall is used for high-traffic walls and hallways in buildings like schools and hospitals. 

  • Builders use drywall to line elevator and mechanical shafts. 

  • Drywall is used in custom designs because its flexibility allows for curved walls.

  • Builders install drywall lined with lead for medical and research facilities to avoid radiation. 

What Are The Pros and Cons Of Drywall?

It's clear why drywall remains a go-to product across construction industries. It’s widely available, simple to install, low-cost, light, all-purpose, yet specialized. 

Drywall does have downsides, mostly connected to ingesting gypsum dust. Drywall dust isn't toxic in average amounts, but breathing the dust for extended periods without a mask irritates your lungs and can give you asthma-like symptoms. The dust could also bother your nose, mouth, throat, and eyes, but the only time it poses a serious risk is after moisture and mold damage.  

Professionals recommend wearing safety glasses, gloves, and dust masks when working with drywall.

How Much Does Drywall Cost?

When buying a sheet of drywall, the average costs range from $0.40 to $0.65 per square foot for most products. The price will increase if they’re specialized for jobs like repelling moisture or reducing sound. If you hire a professional drywall installer, you’ll pay $65 for a 4-foot-by-8-foot sheet and $100 for a 4-foot-by-12-foot sheet for labor, materials, and finishing.

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