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Oriented Strand Board (OSB Board) vs Plywood: How To Choose

OSB 3 - 2397 x 1197mm
Oriented Strand Board (OSB) stock by Theos Timber

Manufactures of plywood and oriented strand board that both of these products work well. However, using panels that are made of wood chips often make some builders nervous. One thing is for sure, oriented strand board is going to define the structural sheathing market future. When choosing between OSB board and Plywood, here is what you should consider:

– Durability and Strength

Both OSB and plywood are equal in durability and strength. This usually comes as a surprise to many people because oriented strand board looks like many pieces of wood have been glued together. Typically, building codes recognise both OSB and plywood to be the same in their properties, and they use the term “wood structural panel” when describing them. Plywood subfloors, however, are stiffer than oriented strand board by around 10 per cent. Consequently, oriented strand board floors are likely to do the following:

• Lead to soft, spongy floors.
• Make hard floor surfaces crack (like tile).
• Squeak as a result of floor movement.

– Cost of OSB vs Plywood

Oriented strand board is cheaper than plywood when used as roof decking, sheathing and subfloor.

– Usage

Both OSB and plywood are used for subfloors, walls and sheathing roofs. They work equally well when it comes to these uses, they are easy to drill into, plus they have an equivalent capability of holding nails. However, oriented strand board is considered to be less resistant to water (OSB swells in thickness when it is exposed to moisture), thus some people prefer using plywood for subfloors as well as roofs. Some builders find oriented strand board panels easier to use as they have pre-printed gridlines for facilitating measuring, marking, cutting plus fastening.

Also, plywood manufacturers have introduced grid-marked sheathing; it’s advisable to use this because it speeds up installation. Oriented strand board panels are manufactured in lengths of up to 16ft (or sometimes even higher), whereas plywood is typically limited to 8-10ft. Therefore, oriented strand board is preferable for applications whereby wider or longer panels required.

Note that some manufacturers of OSB use advanced technology in making high quality oriented strand board panels, which includes products that are more moisture-resistant. These are more expensive compared to traditional OSBs, but they may be worth the price because of their durability and performance.

– Environmental Factors

Oriented strand board can be made from trees with a small diameter like poplar that can be easily farmed, while plywood requires trees from old-growth forests, with a larger diameter. Moreover, oriented strand board releases more formaldehyde (a carcinogen that’s off-gased) compared to plywood.

Oriented strand board is pushing plywood aside unceremoniously as the structural panel of choice. OSB is visually striking that people need a technical explanation regarding the material from builders. Today, oriented strand board has 70 to 75 per cent market share, while plywood has about 25 per cent share. Oriented strand board is in our future; the products of OSB will improve.

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