1/2 vs 5/8 Drywall: The 10 Differences You Need to Know

When it comes to adding the final finish to the internals of a home or building, drywall is the last thing that turns it from just an unsightly structure into a real building that’s ready to decorate.

You may have heard it called gypsum boards, sheetrock, buster boards, or wall-board. It’s essentially all the same thing and is one of the most widely used construction materials.

It boasts a slew of benefits from being insulating, water-resistant, and fire-retardant. And it’s considered one of the safest materials to use in home/building construction.

The main difference between 1/2″ and 5/8″ drywall is its thickness. While all kinds of drywall have similar benefits, these benefits can increase their effectiveness with thicker drywall. 

Essentially 5/8″ drywall is more heat and water-resistant and is generally used in commercial settings. While 1/2″ drywall is cheaper and more commonly found in residential construction.

When deciding which kind of drywall best suits your intended job, it’s essential to be aware of these benefits to determine if the added cost of thicker drywall is worth it.

What is 1/2″ drywall?

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Drywall, regardless of thickness, is essentially high-grade gypsum (calcium sulfate dihydrate if you want to be technical). This gypsum panel is then sandwiched between two paper sheets, providing a pleasant aesthetic visual look, and it helps to protect the gypsum.

The gypsum is also mixed with other agents to give it many other benefits, making it a better insulator and fire deterrent.

It’s the ideal choice for lining the internals of any building when it comes to aesthetic appeal, durability, and safety. It’s considered the industry standard for the majority of applications.

Now drywall can come in several different sheet thicknesses depending on your intended use application and budget. 

1/2″ drywall is the most common thickness used and provides a nice balance between being affordable while remaining durable and insulating. You’ll see this thickness used most commonly in home and residential applications.

What is 5/8″ drywall?

Out of the four most commonly used drywall thicknesses, 5/8″ is the thickest. It’s usually used in cases where the maximum amount of durability and insulation is needed. You will commonly see it used in commercial buildings where additional safety and durability are essential.

Those benefits come with an additional cost, as the gypsum board inside the two paper sheets is much thicker. So some careful budgeting is required if you are considering using this thickness.

What are the differences between 1/2″ and 5/8″ drywall?

So if the thicker drywall has increased insulation benefits, surely you should do that for everything.

Well, some cons come with using a thicker board, and despite its benefits, there are some excellent reasons why 1/2″ is considered the industry standard.

So let’s walk through how these two drywall thicknesses differ so you can decide which one is better for your intended use.

1. Price

When it comes to the price, a thicker board uses more gypsum, so it is, therefore, more expensive. 

So comparatively 5/8″ board is more expensive than 1/2″, so if budget is an issue, then 1/2″ might be a better choice.

2. Commonly used applications

While there are always exceptions to the rule, generally speaking, 1/2″ drywall is used for residential buildings, which are usually smaller. But for more significant commercial buildings where insulation, durability, and safety become a more substantial concern, builders will usually opt for the thicker 5/8″ drywall.

That said, 5/8″ drywall is often used to line the walls between two apartment rooms because of its added noise-reduction qualities.

3. Weight and ease of use

Because 1/2″ is slightly lighter, it’s generally considered easy to use. It does a great job of being able to line curved walls thanks to its increased flexibility.

With 5/8″, on the other hand, it is far more rigid, which while it has additional durability, is more challenging to work with and is only really appropriate to use on flat walls and ceilings.

4. Noise reduction

One of the things that makes drywall so great for residential applications is its ability to reduce noise. The tightly packed sheet rock core does a great job dispersing sound waves, while the paper exterior helps dissipate first reflections.

But as a general rule, the thicker the board, the better the noise reduction. So 5/8″ has increased sound reduction capabilities compared to 1/2″, but it is often not worth it for the increased price for many home construction scenarios.

5. Ceiling use and sagging

Because of its increased flexibility, when used on a ceiling where the joists are too far apart, the 1/2″ drywall can tend to sag if it doesn’t have enough support. So it will often need to be supported with more screws or adhesive.

5/8″ drywall, on the other hand, is far more rigid and less prone to sagging, so it can hold its shape over larger areas making it a better choice when you have joists that are spaced further apart from each other.

6. Insulation properties

While both drywall thicknesses have excellent insulation properties, you will often back this up with additional foam insulation.

Because of the thickness of the 5/8″ drywall boards, it does a better job of insulating than 1/2″ drywall. But 1/2″ still does a good job and is more than sufficient for many construction purposes.

You will generally only need the thermal properties of thick drywall for more significant buildings that are more expensive to heat/cool and perhaps have a higher amount of foot traffic.

7. Durability

Both drywall types are durable in their ways. 1/2″ drywall is thinner, which means it’s easier to break through and damage, whereas 5/8″ is far better at withstanding force and is considerably more rigid.

However, as the 1/2″ drywall is more flexible, this adds a certain amount of toughness to it as it can flex and bow with movement. Whereas 5/8″ drywall is more liable to crack or snap due to its increased rigidity if enough force is exerted on the panel.

8. Fire resistance

The gypsum board used in drywall comprises approximately 21% water, making it exceptionally good at creating a resistive barrier against fire and heat. The way this works is that the water content in the gypsum gets dispersed as steam which prevents heat transmission to the other side.

So as you may have guessed, with 5/8″ drywall having a thicker gypsum board inside, meaning more water content, the 5/8″ board has a higher fire resistance than the 1/2″ board.

But the 1/2″ still does very well and is more than appropriate for many use cases.

9. Water resistance

In addition to the gypsum board’s water content, it gets treated with a waxy coating to seal everything in, making it very resistant to water and even resists mold buildup.

The drywall board’s thickness doesn’t factor in its exposed surface area. So, in this case, both drywall thicknesses have roughly the same amount of water resistance.

10. Hanging over previous drywall

Sometimes for speed and convenience, people like to hang a new drywall board directly over the top of old board panels. They circumvent the need to do lengthy and troublesome repairs like hole filling, sanding, and painting on the old wall.

However, 5/8″ can often be too heavy to attach to preexisting drywall and risk falling or having its fixtures stripped.

1/2″ board, on the other hand, is much lighter, creating much less of a burden on the drywall mounted underneath, and as such, is far better for quickly patching over old drywall.

1/2″ vs 5/8″ drywall: Are they the same?

While they are technically both made from the same material and share almost identical properties, the main differences between them are the amounts of each property they have, which, depending on your intended use case, may make a particular thickness of drywall more appropriate than another.

  • 5/8″ drywall is more expensive than 1/2″ due to its thickness and higher material usage.
  • While this can vary depending on the situation, as a general rule, 5/8 drywall is used more commonly in commercial and industrial settings. Whereas you will more commonly find 1/2 drywall in residential applications
  • 1/2″ drywall is slightly lighter and more flexible, making it a little easier to use, whereas 5/8″ is more rigid with higher durability but is only really appropriate for flat surfaces.
  • Because of its higher inherent thickness, 5/8″ drywall is better at reducing noise bleed into adjacent rooms. But both generally do a good job with this. 
  • When used for ceiling applications, 1/2″ drywall runs the risk of sagging because of its increased flexibility. A 5/8″ board is more rigid and has no chance of sagging.
  • Both 1/2″ and 5/8″ drywall have reasonable amounts of heat insulation, but 5/8″ does a slightly better job at this once again, thanks to its increased thickness.
  • Each board thickness has its kind of durability, with 1/2″ board being more flexible and less prone to snapping and cracking, whereas 5/8″ is far thicker, more rigid, and able to withstand more forces before breaking.
  • The gypsum board used in drywall has a very high water content making it excellent at resisting fire. Both boards have these properties, but the 5/8″ panel is slightly better due to its increased thickness.
  • Due to its lighter weight, 1/2″ board is much easier to hang over old drywall as it exerts less pressure on the previous wall.
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