Wood Paneling Vs. Drywall: 7 Deciding Factors


Drywall is a frequent choice for finishing walls and ceilings, but options like wood paneling have been rising in popularity. If you’re considering remodeling your basement or another room in your home, you might be wondering which material is better. 

Wood paneling is more expensive and easier to install, while drywall is cheaper and has a more labor-intensive installation process. Drywall is fire-resistant and blocks out noise, while wood paneling is stronger and doesn’t dent as easily. Both wood paneling and drywall can be painted, but you can only apply wallpaper and add various textures to drywall.

Drywall Vs. Wood Paneling: Which Is Better For Your Project? 

Your choice between wood paneling and drywall comes down to personal preference and the characteristics you value most.

Below, find a table comparing wood paneling and drywall in several different areas. Keep reading to learn about the characteristics of these materials in more detail.

CharacteristicsWood PanelingDrywall
Ease of InstallationSimpleLabor-intensive
Strength and DurabilityDoesn’t dent easily; can hang or mount items anywhereEasily dented; must hang or mount items on studs for support
Fire ResistanceNot resistant to fireCan keep fire from spreading
Noise PreventionDoes not prevent noiseCreates a barrier against sound
Visual AppealHas a dark, rustic, and sometimes outdated appearance, but can be paintedHas a plain appearance, but you can add texture, paint, or wallpaper
CostA four-by-eight-foot sheet averages $12 to $40A four-by-eight-foot panel averages $12 to $20

Can Paneling Be Used Instead Of Drywall?

Yes, you can use paneling instead of drywall for most projects. Paneling, whether wood or plastic, tends to be easier to install than drywall. 

Still, paneling has disadvantages as well: it’s not fire-resistant, doesn’t prevent noise, and can have an outdated appearance.

Another option to consider is using both drywall and paneling. By installing drywall with paneling on top, you can reap the benefits of both materials.

Is Wood Paneling Better Than Drywall?

Whether wood paneling or drywall would be better for your project is a matter of personal preference. Both materials have advantages and drawbacks, so it depends on which features matter the most to you.

1. General Qualities

As you’ve probably inferred from its name, wood paneling consists of panels of wood strips. The thought of wood paneling probably brings up mental images of the dark, cheap panels frequently used in the ‘60s and ‘70s. 

Wood paneling was out of style for quite a while, but it’s made a comeback in recent years. You’ll often see wood paneling that’s been sanded and painted to match the room’s color scheme.

Drywall is made of gypsum and other additives, and it’s also called sheetrock, gypsum board, and plasterboard. It’s a popular building material installed as a panel between thick sheets of paper.

Many textured finishes can be achieved with drywall. You can also paint it or apply wallpaper on top of it.

2. Installation Process

Wood paneling tends to be quicker to install. The sheets are lighter than drywall, so only one person is needed for installation. 

The process starts with applying adhesive or caulk to the back of the panels. Next, you press the panels into place. Once all panels are in place, you can further secure them with finishing nails.

To install drywall, you’ll need at least two people due to the weight of the material. The average four-by-eight-foot panel weighs around 54 pounds, and drywall is usually delivered in sets of two panels. 

Drywall installation typically takes longer and is more labor-intensive than wood paneling installation. You’ll need to measure and cut the drywall, apply adhesive, and install drywall screws. Other steps include applying joint compounds and sanding the drywall joints.

3. Strength and Durability

When considering structural strength, wood paneling is quite strong. One of the nice things about wood paneling is that you can hang decor or your television anywhere on the wall. 

Thanks to its strength, wood paneling isn’t easily dented, even if you drill through it to hang or mount various items.

Wood paneling may not be quite as durable if you live in a humid area. This also applies if the wood paneling is installed in a space that’s very moist. This material is prone to mold, mildew, and rot, so it needs to be resealed regularly to prevent potential issues.

While drywall is also strong, it can’t support heavy items in the same way that wood paneling can. Instead, you’ll need to find the studs before drilling through the drywall to hang your TV or artwork. Otherwise, you aren’t likely to have enough support and can damage the drywall.

A drawback of drywall is that it’s very easy to dent, and drilling into drywall leaves noticeable damage behind. If you have drywall in places like your garage, workshop, or basement, note that it will not stay perfect for long. 

4. Fire Resistance

Unfortunately, wood paneling is not fire-resistant and can even make fire travel faster. 

Drywall, however, is composed mainly of gypsum. Twenty-one percent of gypsum’s weight and nearly half of its volume comes from water. Because of this, drywall can actually keep fires from spreading.

5. Noise Prevention

Wood paneling doesn’t create a barrier against sound. However, drywall can prevent noise from traveling between rooms.

6. Visual Appeal

While visual appeal is very subjective, wood paneling can have a dark, outdated look. One option is painting the paneling to spruce it up and make it appear brighter. Wallpapering over wood paneling isn’t a great idea, though, since the paneling’s surface isn’t smooth.

Drywall on its own has a very plain appearance with a smooth surface. You can finish it with various textures or paint it in the color of your choice. Another route is to apply wallpaper on top to create the aesthetic you desire. 

7. Cost

Prices for wood paneling and drywall can vary greatly. In general, though, wood paneling is more expensive, and drywall tends to be cheaper.

Something to consider is the cost of labor. It’s usually cheaper to install wood paneling because the process is shorter and simpler. Meanwhile, installing drywall requires multiple people as well as more time and expertise.

What Is More Expensive, Paneling Or Drywall?

When purchasing the materials themselves, paneling is usually more expensive than drywall. If you’re looking to buy four-by-eight-foot sheets of wood paneling, they can range from $12 up to $40. As you may expect, the higher the wood’s quality, the higher the price will be.

You can purchase wood paneling with a real wood veneer, or you can buy a photo-generated lookalike panel for a lower price. Another option is to opt for peel-and-stick panel strips. These can be applied as a DIY project and don’t require nailing.

On average, a four-by-eight-foot drywall panel costs $12 to $20. You can usually purchase drywall more inexpensively than wood paneling, but its installation is often pricier. 

Depending on the professional you hire, the cost of labor may make the total cost of drywall equivalent to that of wood paneling.

The Final Verdict: Wood Paneling Vs. Drywall

Neither wood paneling nor drywall is objectively better than the other. Your choice comes down to personal preference, especially concerning cost, ease of installation, and appearance.

You can paint both materials, but wallpaper and various textures can only be applied to drywall. Drywall is usually cheaper but more difficult to install, while wood paneling is more expensive but quicker and easier to install.

Finally, drywall blocks out sound and is fire-resistant. Wood paneling doesn’t have these attributes, but it’s harder to dent and stronger overall.

Jessica Allen

Jessica is a freelance writer and editor who has years of experience writing about home improvement and interior design. When she’s not typing away in her office, you can find her doing yoga in her backyard or curling up with a good book.

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