Original Sheetrock: Save or Scrap

by Josh on July 7, 2006 · 5 comments

in Bedroom,Projects

Is it worth saving something in your house simply because it is old? If, like me, you favor home restoration over renovation this can be a challenging question. After all, most people today want original woodwork, but not original kitchens; original plaster walls but not the original wiring inside them.

1926 sheetrock labelSo what about original sheetrock? At first I wouldn’t have believed that there was such a thing as original drywall on a house built in 1923. Then, as I continued the demolition phase of my work in the south bedroom upstairs, I noticed a U.S. Gypsum Company label on the backside of the sheetrock. The label described how to install and finish sheetrock and included a production date punched in the sticker: 5.15.26.

I don’t know for certain why the sheetrock would be just a few years newer than the house. It’s possible the upstairs was not finished right away, or the walls could have been replaced when there was a fire in the house in the late 1920’s. The fire scenario makes a bit of sense because sheetrock was promoted for improved fire resistance compared to lath and plaster walls. Whatever the history, I was not expecting to find 80-year-old sheetrock in my house.

Back to the real question: is 80-year-old sheetrock a detail that is worth preserving? As I try to answer this and other restoration questions, I ask myself a few things about the item I’m considering removing:

  • Does the detail in question help define the character of the house?
  • Is the detail in question more important than other details it intersects or overlaps?
  • Will it be unworkable or cost-prohibitive to replace the detail with a modern equivalent?

If I answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, I would try to preserve the detail as well as I can.

However, I don’t think this sheetrock defines the character of the house. Keeping the old sheetrock is not more important than modernizing the wiring and insulation in the wall spaces, particularly when replacing the old sheetrock with a modern equivalent will be easy.

I have felt guilty for tearing up this old sheetrock, because I figure if it has been there for 80 years who am I to yank it out? But the burdens of home maintenance, not to mention the opportunities of advances in safety and energy conservation, require homeowners to choose which details to preserve and which to sensitively replace or update.

For this homeowner, I’ve decided to preserve my original sheetrock on this website– but take it out of my house.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Aaron July 8, 2006 at 8:58 am

I don’t think you should feel guilty about sheetrock–your final product won’t be substantially different in appearance.

Mind you, I come from the pragmatic end of the spectrum…our second floor had deterioriated enough so that we had to make the unfortunate decision to replace plaster with sheetrock. We’re hoping to salvage the plaster in the living room and dining room downstairs, though.

I think cost and maintenance are valid considerations when making these choices–and imagine the original builders/owners would have felt the same way.

PS–Not sure when it happened but I love your latest sight design.

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Greg July 8, 2006 at 11:55 am

I found some of this in my house as well. It was used in a 1920s bathroom addition that was cut in to the kitchen. I was amazed as you that sheetrock went back that far. At the bottom of the label on mine it shows sheetrock patent dates going back to 1911!

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Josh July 8, 2006 at 9:02 pm

I came down on the side of pragmatism, too. I just needed to justify it a bit. Like you, I’m planning to retain the plaster on the lower level. Thanks for the encouragment, Aaron. Glad you like the new site, too.

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Josh July 8, 2006 at 11:44 pm

Greg, I got a kick out of how the labels go to great lengths to describe how to store, install, and finish the sheetrock. This included specifying studs 16″ on center and warnings not to fill drywall seams with plaster. In my house, the installer seems to have been a little skeptical of the sheetrock because he put nails in the material every two inches around the whole perimeter of each sheet.

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Greg July 10, 2006 at 11:22 am

If it’s in disrepair then take it out. If it’s a hazard, then fixit. If you remove it, be cautious, Asbestos. Save a chunk that has a label and put it behind the furnace, for posterity and the future owner.

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