Henry Ford famously said that customers could have the Model T in any color they wanted, as long as it was black. This restriction was largely driven by the limitations of automotive paint technology at the time. The only cheap, durable finish available for cars was a
Copied from my comment on a discussion elsewhere:
This is a fun one for me, as I've worked in an auto manufacturing paint shop and I've done drywall.
They have something else common that the author didn't mention - imperfections.
I worked on custom homes with my dad growing up, and some customers demanded "triple perfect" work. Any wall can look smooth with lights pointed straight at it, or with diffuse lighting. Most walls look really bumpy when you shine a light down the wall. During construction, you are working with natural light. The customer sees the home after overhead lights are installed and after blinds and shutters are put in. This completely changes which imperfections are visible. Small scratches become pronounced; changes in texture show up. Customers can see ALL of your work. Who knows if the electrician has some half-tight wire nuts? But we all know when the drywall is bad.
Another thing drywall and automotive paint have in common: Repairs have a 50/50 chance of making things better. Automotive paint repair in this case being during the OEM process, not a collision repair. Collision repairs have a 0% chance of looking exactly like OEM paint.
Small imperfections may be fixed or covered up, but you have to skip back several steps in the process.
For drywall, if you are fixing scratches, you just have to disrupt part of the texture and paint. If you are fixing a lumpy butt joint (seam), then you have to disrupt a large area of texture and paint. The repaired texture may not match - air flow in the texture gun, humidity, exact proportions of the texture mix, temperature - will all be different. Paint has a different pore structure and dries differently on texture vs paint. This often affects the specular look of the paint.
For automotive paint, much of the same applies. Humidity, paint mix, metallic or mica mix, temperature all play a role. As well, for a repair, you are not painting primer, you are painting paint. It's very hard to match edges, so often whole body panels or even the whole vehicle is repainted. For the paint process I'm familiar with, you only get 2 tries to fix any large problems - the vehicle has to go through the oven again for each repair, and too many passes puts you out of compliance for the paint and adhesives.
Anyway, how to replace drywall? I don't see it happening on a large scale. I think drywall can definitely be improved, but even for most of the replacements listed drywall will be installed under the product listed. For instance, MDF does not meet fire code. Anything that uses adhesives instead of screws is MUCH harder to repair.
Some things to ponder for replacements:
- Fire code
- Speed of install
- Look and feel
- Ease of repair ( you may not like drywall repair costs, but they're nothing compared to other products, even though I said it's very hard to make repairs look good, its much harder to make repairs in other products look good )
- Ease of demolition
I enjoyed this a good bit. I wonder how much the issue of wall material preference just comes down to "continuous smooth" walls vs "seams in panels" walls. I suppose for people who grew up with drywall, anything with a seam looks wrong and cheap, whether it is in fact cheap fiber board paneling or super expensive real wood paneling. I have heard people say they didn't like the look of real wood paneling and being surprised at how "cheap" the interior of a room was that cost more than their car in all likelihood.
Makes me wonder if the answer isn't to just have a material that can be hot joined (melted with a heat gun) or make such close seams that it can be filled sufficiently with paint, or perhaps the exact opposite where they need to hire some celebrities to ostentatiously put in paneling to make that look fancy and expensive again.
I can imagine some improvements to drywall, but it will still have to be cut and custom fit on site. Something is still going to have to join the seams, even if it is something that sets in 15 minutes. It isn't just that people don't like seams. It's that people don't like seams that are arbitrarily placed as artifacts of construction.
A drywall construction process discussion won't be complete without our favorite yellow fiberglass cladding product: densglass! Drywall is now used for exteriors with highly engineered plasters and foams. This is quite common in new multifamily projects... I imagine for cost reasons?
Another well researched and informative article. Thank you
Drywall is easier to cut to install electrical (and other) devices and is more forgiving of errors. If you want to add items after the fact, its a pain, but you can cut and repair to your hearts content.
I have seen the lathe in older buildings. I have also seen a variety of what looks like chicken wire lathe. Maybe it is because they are old, but the plaster on these types of walls is extremely difficult to chip/cut.
When I looked (15 years ago?) I didn't find much history, so I really appreciate this piece!!
From my end, I didn't try to interview older builders / architects who might remember changes.
I assume that drywall today is a very different product than in 1950, in the details that matter (eg, the profile of the surface adjacent to edges and the covering paper.. Another query would be special tools, though those may date from quite early. Ditto tapes, corner pieces and so on, plus better versions of "mud" – the latest innovation I encountered was pink when wet, white when dry, a great help trying to patch water damage into the evening trying to get a house ready for sale. Screws and accompanying bits. Tools for cutouts for electrical fixtures. All those little things add up in terms of productivity.
Now there's Dryvit as an exterior treatment, I have it on my house and after 12 years it's near-perfect. I didn't watch the application in detail, but it's put on over mesh backing, which I think also had lathing to support it. Because it's textured (at least for my house), it's visually forgiving, but that's probably common to most exteriors (vinyl siding, brick etc). I don't know how much commonality there is to working with plaster, but to my untutored eyes that's what the process resembled.
Gypsum is a fantastic material, you only need to know how to work with it. Our new high-density gypsum technology will change the speed and automation of how walls are made.
Great piece! Is there a good source breaking down the proportion of total cost for the building phases of single family homes? For example the ~5% metric mentioned for the drywall portion.