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.
So 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.