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Oriented Strand Board vs. Plywood

OSB and plywood can both be used for walls, floors and roofs, but there are some differences between them. Here’s a rundown of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Choosing sheathing

Building codes, the Engineered Wood Association, architects and most builders rate plywood and oriented strand board (OSB) equal in strength and durability. Like-thicknesses of these two products can span the same distances between studs or rafters, weigh about the same and offer similar nail-holding abilities.

OSB has its advantages. Some panels have a textured surface, which makes them less slippery when used for roof sheathing. OSB panels often have lines at 16- and 24-in. intervals so you know where underlying studs, rafters and joists are for nailing. In our area, 1/2-in. OSB costs a few dollars less per sheet than 1/2-in. plywood. And OSB is available in 4 x 9-ft. sheets, which means you can sheathe an 8-ft. tall wall and the joists below with a single sheet.

OSB has one irritating characteristic—but only if you abuse the stuff. The edges tend to swell when they get wet and remain swollen even after drying out. This results in ridges that can “telegraph” through shingles, and even carpet when OSB is used for subfloors. So store your OSB in a dry place, then cover it with tarpaper or siding ASAP to protect it from the elements.

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