A painted wall can sometimes be the best choice for your design, there’s no doubt about it. If you’ve got a great eye for colour you can really make your home sing, and it’s a cost-effective way to liven up a room – but most of the time, homes with huge expanses of plain painted walls lack character, interest and warmth.
Whilst plasterboard, or whatever it is commonly called where you live, has many advantages, it might not be the best environmental choice for your home.
Let’s take a broad look at some of the pros and cons of plasterboard, then we’ll look at some great alternatives.
> Cost effective
> Quick to install
> Readily available
> Lightweight and thin
> Commonly used so all tradies will know how to install it
> Mining of gypsum (the main ingredient) degrades the landscape
> Manufacturing of gypsum is energy intensive and produces tonnes of greenhouse gasses every year
> Difficult to recycle. Consumer needs to deliver clean materials to recycling company. Because of this it typically ends up in landfill
> Synthetic gypsum, or FDG, is made from a by-product from coal-fired power plant waste
> Doesn’t provide any thermal insulation
> Buy gypsum with post-consumer recycled content to help lower its environmental impact
> Try and avoid over-ordering, and if this does happen look for ways to avoid it being chucked into a landfill bin – like giving it away. Local facebook groups or Gumtree are great places to find a grateful recipient.
So what can we use instead of plasterboard? I’ve pulled together a great list of alternatives for you.
1. Solid timber
Timber is a great way to add texture, warmth and natural appeal to your home. They can be used as a focal point or a feature wall, or you can use them to draw attention to an architectural feature in your room. They also look amazing on the ceiling. You can leave the boards as natural timber or you can paint them. If possible, install the timber boards using mechanical fixings and not adhesive, so the boards can be recycled at their end of life in your home.
> Locally sourced recycled timber is the most sustainable option, followed by locally sourced FSC certified timber
Plywood is made by gluing layers of thin wood veneer together at right angles which creates a strong board less susceptible to shrinkage, expansion or warping than solid timber. Generally it is left unpainted, which can save you both time and money. Sometimes it is stained or given a light whitewash or limewash. It has a warm and raw texture and can really add character to a space. It can come with a variety of options for the face veneers (or the layer of wood which you see). Such as birch, oak, radiata pine or hoop pine and various other types.
> Look for plywood which sources timber from sustainably managed forests near you and is made using glues with lower formaldehyde and VOC emissions
Bricks can look brilliant as internal walls and they can also provide thermal mass benefits to your home, which will stabilise the indoor temperature by storing and releasing heat when you need it. There are loads of shapes, colours, textures and installation patterns you can choose from – so there are endless opportunities to create something totally unique and eye catching.
Recycled bricks are a firm favourite amongst the design industry and design-lovers alike and they can be a very cost-effective option too. Plus, you’ll be saving from bricks from being thrown needlessly into landfill, so it’s a win win.
If you’ve already got bricks inside your home, but you don’t like them consider painting them or giving them a white-wash to brighten the room up, rather than ripping them out. From a sustainability perspective, it’s always best to try and keep what you have rather than buying something new.
> Recycled bricks are the way to go and you might be lucky enough to get them cheaply or for free if you or someone you know is knocking down a brick wall
> There are some great brick alternatives, which are made from waste materials like wood chip, glass and rice hulls. Take a look at Natural Brick Co.
To learn more about sustainable and healthy materials, jump on the waitlist for my new course, Sustainable Materials Method – launching soon! In this course you’ll learn the easy way to choose the best materials to suit your budget, style and lifestyle.
4. FC sheet or Fibre Cement Sheet
Incredibly durable, fire resistant and requires virtually no maintenance. Can be left raw, which has a light cement look or it can be painted. You can join the panels together to create a seamless finish or you can set them with a gap for an industrial and architectural look. Can be used in wet areas like bathrooms and showers instead of tiles. Which means there is no grout to clean, so that’s a big bonus!
It’s lightweight, easy to install and has significantly lower embodied carbon than other masonry products. It’s is low in VOCs and is made from ground sand, cement, cellulose fibres (from plantation grown wood or recycled wood) and water.
> Leave it unpainted and you’ll save time and money plus you’ll have a surface which is virtually maintenance free. I like the sound of that!
5. OSB or Orientated Strand Board
Made out of large wood shaving glued together with resins and wax applying high heat and pressure. Does not need old growth trees to be produced and generally may contain lower formaldehyde levels compared to other wood products. It is becoming more and more popular, especially as a substitute to plywood due to its strength and lower price. It can create an industrial edgy look because of its raw nature. It is typically used as a substrate material but is becoming more common to leave it on show, rather than cover it up with another material.
> It is typically made with less resin or glues than plywood, MDF and particleboard and it comes in larger panel sizes which will help you cut down on construction waste
6. Rammed earth
Less common, but absolutely beautiful are rammed earth walls. Rammed earth is made by ramming, or compacting, aggregates like gravel, sand, silt and a small amount of clay, into place between flat panels. It’s a very old method of constructing a wall and it can be used as a structural wall. Because it is made from natural materials it adds a beautiful earthiness to a home. Usually the aggregates used are found locally or sometimes from your site, so you’ll end up with a look which reflects the colours of the natural landscape around your home.
> Rammed earth walls are highly durable and it has high thermal mass so it’s a great material to consider
7. Compressed straw panels
Compressed straw panels are made from made entirely out of compressed straw sourced from local farmers. It’s extremely environmentally friendly. It comes in a variety of finishes – from the natural finish, which is the compressed straw between layers of Kraft liner which can be painted or left raw. Or it can come with a plywood or cement sheet finish. It’s a fantastic alternative to plasterboard or wallboard and once it’s painted, you’d hardly know the difference between the two. Except that the way it gets installed, you’ll always see join lines between each sheet of the material.
> Compressed straw panels provides insulation against sound and heat while being stronger and better for the environment than plasterboard
Hempcrete is made from a mixture of hemp shivs (which are small pieces from the plant stalk), a lime-based bonder and water. This mix is then poured into moulds or ‘formwork’ fixed to a timber frame to act as a replacement for conventional insulation products. In comparison with conventional building materials, the processing of industrial hemp involves very little embodied energy. Has a lovely soft straw colour appearance and texture. It’s also a great sound insulator. It’s often finished with a render but it looks amazing when left raw.
> It’s a great insulator, fire retardant and naturally resistant to mould/mold and pests so it’s a worthy consideration for your home
So there you have it! I hope you got a lot out of my list of alternatives to plasterboard.
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Also, if you’re about to renovate or build your new home and you want to do it sustainably, then you’ll want to consider my upcoming online course – The Sustainable Materials Method. In this course I’ll help you discover which materials are good, which ones you should avoid and how to create a stunning and sustainable home which you’ll love to live in.
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Nadine is the founder and editor of Eco Edition and founder of the Eco Edition Design School. She’s an experienced interior designer, sustainable materials consultant, speaker and serial home renovator.