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Wall Sheathing Options: Pros and Cons Explained

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V Susan
Hi! I'm Susan. I am passionate about woodworking, general DIY and home improvement. If you'd like to connect with me or talk about something you like at mellowpine, drop me a mail at susan@mellowpine.com

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Wall Sheathing

Wall sheathing is an essential component of building construction, and there are so many different options to choose from.

Choosing the right sheathing for your situation is important for the strength, insulation, and safety of your building.

What is Wall Sheathing?

Wall sheathing is a layer of material attached to the exterior wall framing of a building that provides added strength, insulation, and protection from the elements. Plywood, oriented strand board (OSB), and fiber cement board are a few examples of wall sheathing materials. It is frequently used in residential and commercial construction.

It can also be a base for exterior siding, such as stucco or brick. 

Here’s why it’s recommended to sheath your walls:

  • Sheathing on the walls gives the building’s frame an extra layer of support and rigidity, which helps the structure distribute loads more evenly.
  • It shields the building’s interior from moisture and harm since it acts as a barrier against wind, rain, snow, and other exterior factors.
  • The insulation qualities of some types of wall sheathing, like foam insulation sheathing, also aid in lowering heat loss and enhancing energy effectiveness.
  • In the event of a fire, certain wall sheathing materials, like gypsum board, offer fire resistance.

Options for Wall Sheathing

There are several types of wall sheathing materials to choose from, each with its pros and cons.

Type of Wall SheathingPlywoodOSBGypsum BoardFoam Sheathing
MaterialWood veneers bonded with adhesiveWood strands bonded with resinPlaster core covered with paperExtruded polystyrene or polyisocyanurate
StrengthHighHighLowLow
DurabilityHighModerateLowHigh
Moisture ResistanceFairPoorPoorExcellent
Fire ResistanceLowLowHighLow
Insulation ValueLowLowLowHigh
CostModerateLowLowHigh
Types of Wall Sheathing

Here’s a brief explanation of each type of wall sheathing material:

Plywood Sheathing

Plywood Sheathing
Plywood Sheathing

Plywood is created by adhering thin veneer wood layers in alternate grain directions.

It is a robust and long-lasting choice that doesn’t warp or shrink.

Moreover, plywood is simple to work with and gives the wall good stiffness.

Oriented Strand Board(OSB) Sheathing

OSB Sheathing
OSB Sheathing

Oriented strand board (OSB) is created by connecting wood strands with resin.

It is more common in residential buildings and is a cost-effective alternative to plywood.

Although OSB is sturdy and resilient, it cannot hold up as well as plywood in environments with a lot of moisture or humidity.

Weyerhaeuser is a well-known US manufacturer of high-quality OSB wall sheathing panels.

Plywood and OSB are also suitable for skip and roof sheathing.

They are also common subfloor materials.

Gypsum Board

Gypsum Board Sheathing
Gypsum Board Sheathing

A Gypsum board is a typical internal wall finish material, also called drywall.

It is made of compressed gypsum plasters with fiberglass facings on the front, back, and long edges.

Although lightweight and simple to install, gypsum board is not as sturdy or long-lasting as other materials.

Sheathing made of fiberboard is sometimes used for wall sheathing, but it has lower fire resistance.

Foam Sheathing

Foam Sheathing
Foam Sheathing

Foam sheathing made of foam insulation offers weather protection and insulation.

It is a low-density substance with good moisture resistance.

They are also easier to handle since they are lightweight.

While plywood and OSB are popular choices due to their strength and durability, foam sheathing is a good option for improving energy efficiency. 

It’s important to consider factors such as cost, availability, strength, durability, moisture resistance, fire resistance, and insulation value when choosing a material for wall sheathing. 

Non-Structural Exterior Wall Sheathing: What is it?

Non-structural exterior wall sheathing is a type of sheathing used outside a structure for weather protection and insulation but does not significantly support the wall’s structural integrity. 

It provides a barrier against moisture, wind, and other environmental elements.

Additionally, they are lighter and thinner than structural sheathing materials and may have insulating properties to help improve the energy efficiency of the building. 

However,non-structural exterior wall sheathing is less likely to use Plywood or OSB.

Some common types of non-structural exterior wall sheathing materials include foam sheathing, gypsum board, and wood-based sheathing.

Select a high-quality material and ensure appropriate installation to guarantee the lifespan and durability of your building’s exterior.

How Much Does it Cost to Install Wall Sheathing?

Here is the average cost to install wall sheathing for different materials in the United States:

MaterialAverage Cost per Square FootEstimated Labor Cost per Square FootTotal Cost per Square Foot
Plywood$0.70 – $1.00$0.80 – $1.00$1.50 – $2.00
OSB$0.70 – $0.90$0.30 – $0.60$1.00 – $1.50
Foam Sheathing$1.50 – $2.50$1.00 – $1.50$2.50 – $3.50
Gypsum Board$0.40 – $0.60$1.10 – $1.40$1.50 – $2.00
Wall Sheathing Installation Costs

Note that these are typical cost estimates and that your actual costs can change depending on the project’s location, scale, complexity, labor, and material costs. 

The Thickness of Wall Sheathing

Here are the standard thicknesses of common wall sheathing materials used in the United States:

Sheathing MaterialStandard Thicknesses
Plywood1/8″ to 3/4″
Oriented Strand Board (OSB)5/16″ to 3/4″
Gypsum Board (Drywall/Plasterboard)1/2″ to 5/8″
Foam Sheathing1″ to 2″
Wall Sheathing Thickness

It’s important to note that local building codes specify minimum thickness requirements for wall sheathing based on factors such as wind resistance, seismic activity, and insulation requirements.

Installation of Wall Sheathing

Installation of Wall Sheathing
Installation of Wall Sheathing

First, ensure the wall framing is level and plumb and remove any protruding nails or screws from the studs and fill gaps with a suitable filler or sealer. 

Then, measure and note the sheathing panel dimensions.

Cut the panels to size with a circular saw or handsaw, allowing a 1/8-inch gap between panels to allow for expansion.

Nail or screw the sheathing panels to the framing, starting at one corner and working across the wall. 

Use 8d or 10d nails or #8 or #9 wood screws spaced 6 to 8 inches apart along the edges and 12 to 16 inches apart in the field. 

Before fastening, also ensure the panel is level and plumb.

Continue installing the panels, making sure to stagger the joints between panels. 

Staggering the joints helps to strengthen the wall and prevent the sheathing from warping.

Install the panels so that the long edges are perpendicular to the studs.

Which is Better for Wall Sheathing: Nails or Screws?

Nails are a good choice if you’re looking for a fast and cost-effective option.

They are easier to install and typically less expensive than screws. 

However, nails have less holding power than screws and may become loose over time, which can be a concern in areas prone to high winds or earthquakes.

If you’re looking for a strong and durable option, screws are a good choice.

However, screws are costlier and require more installation time than nails.

Generally, it’s a good idea to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for fastener type and spacing when installing wall sheathing to ensure a safe and durable installation.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

Is there a Difference Between Sheathing and Drywall?

Yes, sheathing and drywall are two different materials used in construction. 

The sheathing is a structural material installed over a building’s exterior framing, while drywall is an interior finishing material used to cover walls and ceilings. 

Is Wall Sheathing Waterproof?

Wall sheathing is normally not waterproof on its own, but when combined with other building materials, it can offer water protection. 

It also depends upon the type of sheathing material used.

For example, foam sheathing can provide some degree of water resistance.

What Comes After Sheathing?

After wall sheathing is installed, the next step in the construction process typically involves the installation of a weather-resistant barrier (WRB), such as building wrap or felt paper. 

The WRB helps to prevent water from penetrating the wall assembly while allowing moisture to escape, which can help prevent issues with mold and rot. 

Subsequent steps in the construction process include the installation of windows and doors, insulation, and exterior finishes, such as siding or stucco. 

V Susan
Hi! I'm Susan. I am passionate about woodworking, general DIY and home improvement. If you'd like to connect with me or talk about something you like at mellowpine, drop me a mail at susan@mellowpine.com