Wood Paneling Vs. Drywall (What is Better and When?)

Last Updated on May 2, 2023 by Barry Gray

When it comes to dealing with walls or ceilings in your home, then two potential approaches you can apply are wood paneling and drywall. However, I’ve always found that any DIY project around the home always has its fair share of pros and cons.

But the problem here is that we are talking about something that is potentially a major project. So, it would be best if you felt you have made the correct decision from the outset, and that means it makes sense to have a clear understanding of those advantages and disadvantages before you even begin to plan.

So that’s what I intend to do here. I’m going to list the positives and negatives of both wood paneling and drywall in the hope it makes your decision that bit easier. Of course, your decision may be to avoid both, but that’s up to you.

What Actually is Drywall?

many drywall sheets

But first, what do I mean by drywall? Well, you may know it by one of its other names: plasterboard, wallboard, dry lining, gypsum board, and even buster board, to name just a few. 

However, no matter the name you know it by, the material itself remains the same.

What you have with drywall is a construction material used in either walls or ceilings. Made from gypsum, it’s softer than plaster, but the cool thing is that it’s not going to crack like plaster can do.

Now, I’m not going to go into exactly how they take water out of gypsum to then make drywall. It’s too much for my brain, and it doesn’t change the fact that what you have is a sheet of gypsum between two layers of what is effectively paper. But don’t worry as this is thick paper. It’s not the sort of stuff you write on.

What Actually is Wood Paneling?

Wood panels in a store

Wood paneling is easier to explain as it involves placing thin strips of wood on the wall or ceiling surface to complete your finished look.

I do admit that this is more of an architectural thing rather than anything else, as we are talking about thin strips of wood more than boards.

However, there’s no doubt that wood paneling has its place, even if the finished appearance can be of a particular taste.

How Wood Paneling and Drywall Differ

Wood Paneling vs Drywall

I think it’s a good idea to run over how these two options differ from one another, and I don’t just mean the materials they use. I feel this will give you better insight into what’s possible with both options and make your decision much easier.

How It’s Installed

The way both options are installed is different. Wood paneling is something that one person can do with ease. However, it’s difficult for one person to install drywall simply because of the size and weight of the panels.

But that’s not the only installation difference.

With wood paneling, you simply have to use adhesive to stick the strips or sheets of wood to the surface. The hardest part is ensuring the surface is ready for the wood paneling to be attached.

But drywall is different. Even after lifting up the board, you need to tape it, use joint compound and then sand down those joints to make everything smooth. If doing a large area, then this takes time.

One is Stronger Than the Other

This part may surprise you, but one option is slightly stronger than the other. With drywall, the surface is strong, but you need a series of studs to give it that strength and allow you to attach things to the wall.

This makes a difference when you come along to add a shelving unit to the wall. Now, you need to locate those studs and make sure you drill into those rather than just the drywall, or there will be little in the way of support. Do it wrong, and whatever you have added to the wall is just going to fall off.

But wood paneling is different. Those wood sheets have strength across them since you are then drilling into wood no matter where you put it. Basically, you can take advantage of the inherent strength of wood, which provides you with greater versatility. Also, it’s just easier to know you can drill anywhere rather than using a stud finder to locate the strongest points.

Their Durability

Durability is something that differs between the two options, but it’s not down to the items themselves but rather where they are located. 

For example, I wouldn’t recommend wood paneling in a basement if you know it gets wet down there. A damp environment and wood do not get along, and you would be forever trying to treat the wood to stop any issues from developing. Ultimately, there’s a good chance your wood paneling would start to rot, and then you need to go through the entire installation process once more.

But drywall also comes with its own issues regarding its durability.

I would not use drywall in areas such as a storeroom of some kind or a garage. There are just too many times when the drywall could potentially be damaged, and trust me when I say it’s easy to make a dent in drywall.

The problem in that scenario is that the drywall then looks like it hasn’t been cared for, which is not a good look.

In that respect, I feel wood paneling is the stronger and more durable option, which may be something you want to consider.


The final major difference I want to mention is the cost. Out of the two, wood paneling is the most expensive, but the actual price depends on the type of wood you use.

Also, the thickness of the wood and even the length will have an impact on the cost. Ultimately, wood paneling cannot compete with drywall regarding the money side of things.

But one thing I need to stress is that both options have added costs linked to the installation. However, even here, things will prove to be different.

Out of the two, drywall is the least expensive, but be aware you will have high labor costs to include in the overall price.

Wood Paneling – The Advantages

Wood panelled wall

Now I’ve given you some insight into what both wood paneling and drywall entail and some of the obvious differences between them; let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of both. I’ll start with wood paneling.

It’s Unique

Every piece of wood paneling is unique. You have a ‘one of a kind in your home, which I think should be admired. I also feel it can have a wonderful visual appeal which can be further enhanced by you via the type of wood you choose, the colors, and how you generally lay it out.

It’s Good Insulation

While I admit that you will find out later on that wood paneling has disadvantages in certain areas, I find it works well as insulation. Of course, it’s put on top of something else, so it’s acting like a double layer, but if insulation is an issue, this could be one way of making a difference.

Now, I’m not saying it’s as good as actual insulation itself, but it does make a slight difference, and perhaps even a bigger difference than you expected.

It’s Easy to Maintain

For me, the fact wood paneling is easy to maintain is a great thing, and it certainly makes your life easier moving forward. It’s simply a case of caring for the wood, and if it’s in a dry area, then it’s not something you will need to do regularly. Sure, the stain will fade over time, but it’s not a yearly job.

One Person Can Install 

You can install wood paneling yourself and do not require another individual to help you out. All you need is to know the layout or pattern of the wood and then use the correct adhesive to put it in place.

There are no requirements for someone else to help due to weight or it being too awkward for an individual, so this is certainly a project you can undertake at your own pace and at a time of your choosing.

It Protects the Surface Below

And here’s a final advantage, it protects the surface below the wood. It’s like a top coat, so if you have drywall below, then the drywall will not be damaged, thanks to the wood. Also, it covers up the horrible plaster or drywall, taking us back to the visual appeal advantage I mentioned at the outset.

Wood Paneling – The Disadvantages

Installing wood panels on wall

While I know wood paneling has a number of advantages, it’s not all rosy when it comes to installing this in your home.

It Can Be Expensive to Install

I touched on this earlier, but wood paneling can be expensive to install, so it’s not the best option for people on a budget. You can cut the costs slightly by using less expensive wood or wood of poorer quality, but that just destroys the end effect.

If you want to complete this project by spending the least amount of money, then wood paneling is not the best option.

It Takes Time to Install

Wood paneling is also not the quickest thing to install. Sure it sounds easy to simply stick on the wood, but there’s more thought that has to go into it than just that.

Instead, what you need to do is to arrange the wood beforehand to ensure it makes a nice effect or pattern. This is something that people can spend an eternity on as they never feel quite content with what they are doing. So, if you thought it was simply a case of throwing up that wood paneling, then think again.

It Doesn’t Help with Sound

Wood paneling is horrible when it comes to dealing with sound. I would not recommend it at all, so if you have a TV room or a room where someone plays video games or listens to music, then do not add wood paneling to that room. 

It’s Not Good with Fire

This is hardly a surprise, but wood paneling is not good with fire. You do not want to use this as a fire barrier, but as I said, this is not a shock.

Certain Wood Hampers a Room

I know you can stain wood, but that can be a tough process, and it’s made even harder if you use darker wood at the outset. The problem with dark wood is that it can make a room appear smaller and effectively removes so much of the light. 

Now, I know some people love that feeling, which is excellent, but if you want to open up a space and make it feel airier, then wood paneling is not the best option.

Drywall – The Advantages

Installing drywall

Drywall has several undeniable advantages when compared to other construction materials or methods you may use. 

It’s Fast to Install

The first advantage is the speed at which you can install drywall. Thanks to the size of the boards, it’s very easy to install drywall over a large area and do so quickly. That means you will see a difference in your project, which is always inspiring. It also means you can push on with other parts of your project, knowing this considerable task is behind you.

Repairing is Easy

As it’s quite easy to damage drywall, it’s good to learn that it’s also very easy to repair. You can cut out the damaged board and then replace it with a brand new one. All you need is a reciprocating saw to cut the old panel out, and then remember to go through the exact same installation process as you did earlier with the new board.

In no time, your damaged wall will appear pristine again.

The Materials are Inexpensive

The most expensive part of plasterboard is if you need to hire labor to do the job. The actual drywall and everything else you need from a materials point of view will not cost you a lot of money. That means it’s the perfect solution for people on a budget, and you will save even more money if you can find someone to help where they won’t charge you a fortune.

It Delivers a Smooth Finish

The final huge advantage linked to drywall is that it delivers a perfectly smooth finish after sanding it down. That means it gives you the ideal surface for painting or even applying wallpaper to complete the look.

Overall, I feel that drywall has many obvious advantages, and it all depends on what you want your desired end look to be as to whether or not it’s the correct option for you.

Drywall – The Disadvantages

Installing Drywall

But as with wood paneling, drywall has its own disadvantages.

The Installation

Trying to install drywall requires two people, and it’s primarily due to the sheer weight of the plasterboard you need to use. I find drywall tricky to handle because of the size of the panels, and there’s no doubt that two people make the process significantly easier.

So that does mean you need to rely on assistance from other people to get the job done rather than simply getting on with the project on your own.

You Need to Apply a Finish to it

With wood paneling, you can install it and leave it as it is, with it looking great. This cannot happen when you install drywall. 

Instead, setting up those boards is only part of the project. You need to sand it down and then apply some finish to make it look respectable. This can be either wallpaper or paint, but it does mean the length of time it takes to complete the job is longer than you may have liked.

It’s Easy to Damage

One thing I don’t enjoy about drywall is the ease with which it can be damaged. At times it feels as if only the slightest of taps results in a hole or a dent appearing. It can quickly become quite tiring trying to fix it.

That’s why I stated earlier that you should not use drywall in an area such as a garage simply because the chances of something hitting the wall and damaging it are so high.

But overall, I feel that drywall does not come with too many disadvantages, even though some of them sound pretty major. At the end of it all, you just need to weigh up everything to determine if using drywall is the correct thing for you.

Overall Conclusion

Those are the advantages and disadvantages of both wood paneling and drywall. Now it’s all up to you to decide which option is best for your home and then get started on your project.

Both options can work well and have the ability to deliver a pretty good finish. However, this is certainly something that comes down to personal preference, so I’d hate to try to sway you to one over the other.

At the end of the day, you need to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages and see which one feels right for you. Perhaps you will even feel that the disadvantages are less of a problem than you thought. 

Both options are popular, and both can make a significant difference to the finished appearance of a room. So make your decision, and see what your end result will then be.

Photo of author

Barry Gray

Hi, I’m Barry. I’ve loved woodworking and bringing things back to life for more years than I care to remember. I hope my passion for tools comes across loud and clear in everything you read here on The Tool Square.