Easy alternatives to drywall

Updated February 21, 2017

The word "drywall" brings to mind endless hours of taping, spreading joint compound, sanding and inhaling a fine dust that gets into just about everything. Although it installs easily, finishing is labour intensive and can take several days if you perform the process correctly. Drywall might be also a little ordinary. Learn about some easy alternatives that look good and go up quickly without all the dust and mess.


Panelling comes in different shades, textures and grades. Some types are best described as plywood with a good finish and texture on one side, while others consist merely of a photograph printed on glossy paper and glued to a thin substrate of medium-density fiberboard.

Panelling installs quickly and easily, but take care to install it correctly. Nail panels to the wall studs, and leave the manufacturer-required gap at the top, bottom and between panels, or it will buckle when the temperature or humidity changes. Trim pieces cover the gaps between panels ,and moulding fills gaps along the top and bottom. Resellers also sell colour-matched panelling nails that help make the installation look good.

Fibreglass-Reinforced Plastic

Once the domain of professional kitchens and other areas that need to remain spotless, fibreglass-reinforced plastic (known as "FRP" in the trades) has made its way into the home for use in kitchens, bathrooms and other areas. FRP in the trades and installs over panelling, plywood or drywall.

FRP requires a separate substrate, but it installs easily. Simply spread special glue onto the back using a notch trowel, then press the panel into place on the wall or ceiling. Wall installations adhere by themselves, but putting FRP on the ceiling requires bracing until the glue sets. Like panelling, FRP requires a gap at the corners, along the wall and ceiling, and between panels. Manufacturers supply moulding strips to fill the gaps.

Knotty Pine Tongue and Groove

Tongue-and-groove pine boards offer a rustic look. They install easily either vertically or horizontally and don't require a substrate for support. This natural wood product has knots throughout the boards, which many consider part of its charm. Although probably not for formal dining rooms, knotty pine tongue and groove planks work well in rec rooms, dens and other informal areas.

The tongue of one plank fits into the groove of the adjacent plank. You can then place finish nails through the groove of one plank, the tongue of the next plank and into the wall or ceiling framing, which minimises nail damage. You can leave tongue-and groove-pine natural or seal it with a clear wood sealer. It darkens slowly over time.

Medium-Density Fiberboard

Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is a wood fibre product available in thicknesses ranging from 1/4 to 3/4 inch. MDF is often used in woodworking, but 1/2-inch-thick MDF makes an attractive alternative to drywall.

MDF installs directly to the framing with finish nails and construction adhesive; as with many panel products, you must leave gaps between the panels and both the floor and ceiling to allow for expansion. You'll typically cover gaps between panels with thin wooden strips called battens and then prime the product with standard interior paint primer and paint it with a quality latex paint. MDF also stains well, although it has no grain to show off.

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About the Author

Michael Logan is a writer, editor and web page designer. His professional background includes electrical, computer and test engineering, real estate investment, network engineering and management, programming and remodeling company owner. Logan has been writing professionally since he was first published in "Test & Measurement World" in 1989.