Plasterboard is a relatively modern invention within the history of the plastering trade, and was developed as a quick and easy method of creating wall surfaces in new builds, that did not require the same level of attention as traditional plastering; plasterboard could be put up in less than half the time it takes to prepare and scratch coat a wall, and then only needs a quick skim coat on the top, with none of the worries of wall suction, damp or other surface issues that can cause problems for a plasterer. Building practices change according to more stringent demands on time and cost, and some modern buildings are now being built without that skim coat of plaster on top of the boards.
Many homeowners don’t know they need to prepare these walls for decorating; while some may get away with wallpapering straight on to plasterboard, more often than not the surface decoration does not hold, and they spend more money getting it fixed. Bare plasterboard should be sealed, either with dilute PVA solution or a manufacturer’s sealant product before decorating. However, for a longer lasting surface that will stand up to frequent redecorating and stripping, a skim coat of plaster on top of the board is the best option.
Plasterboard is made up of a gypsum sheet with thick lining paper on either side, and comes in thicknesses from 6mm to 15mm. There are also specialised boards for sound proofing, moisture proofing and fire protection. Fire retardant plasterboard is often used in places that are exposed to a lot of heat, such as furnace and boiler rooms and in public buildings, where evacuation procedures can be time consuming, such as hospitals and schools. The standard width of boards is 1200mm, which fits well with the 600mm stud spacing on new builds.
Although some traditionalists would argue that plasterboard is a short cut and doesn’t involve as much skill as plastering the old fashioned way, there is no doubt that it is here to stay, offering a cost saving on new builds, as well as loft conversions and renovation projects. However, having said that, plasterboard should be used with caution on old building renovations that have structural or damp problems, as by covering everything over with nice smooth plasterboard, you could create hidden problems of damp and cracked walls, that will get much worse before they are noticed.
Plasterboard is not ideal for kitchens, bathrooms and other rooms that may experience high levels of moisture (like a home gym or beauty treatment room), as it can absorb that moisture from the atmosphere and become damp. There are special plasterboards for these rooms, but they are more expensive than standard ones as they contain silicone layers to resist damp penetration. Despite the higher initial cost, there should not be any need to replace moisture resistant plasterboard in a few years, whereas with cheaper, standard plasterboards you could find it needs completely replacing if it gets damp, meaning ripping out the entire kitchen or bathroom suite to do so.
Plasterboard has many advantages in terms of time and cost savings and is widely used for these reasons. The increasing trend of not finishing the boards with either a skim coat or sealant is worrying for plasterers who make their living skim coating new builds on a contractor basis, so there is a valid argument that it is detrimental to the trade in this area. Plasterers affected by this change can capitalise on this by advertising to new build owners, who may be unaware that they can protect their wall surfaces and make future redecorating easier by having the bare boards plastered over, thereby retaining the work, but on a much better rate than being paid by the square metre by a cash-tight property development company.