In today’s construction world, almost all structures are built with panels for at least part of the infrastructure. Builders have two widely available options in plywood or OSB structural panels, which both have advantages and disadvantages to their use.
OSB, or oriented strand board, is a rigid panel made by grinding logs into thin strands that look somewhat like wood chips. The strands are arranged in crosshatch orientation and mixed with materials to bind them together, then finished in a hot press. The finished OSB board has a consistent density throughout the panel and can be made into sheets as long as 16 feet or higher. Historically, OSB’s key advantage comes from its cheaper manufacturing cost. For most uses such as subfloor and wall sheathing, it is rated equivalent to plywood. However, it’s a performance in moist climates can be questionable, as it is prone to retaining moisture that can result in the swelling of the board’s edges.
Plywood is a strong panel made by stripping thin veneers in layers from a log. The veneers are pressed together in perpendicular layers, creating a solid panel, typically manufactured at 8- or 10-foot lengths. Plywood’s primary advantage is in its moisture resistance. Many flooring contractors refuse to use anything else as subfloor as it is perceived as more consistent and reliable. Plywood is generally more expensive than OSB, which is a key disadvantage.
Overall, the two types of structural panels are rated very similar by agencies that specialize in building codes and material quality. Plywood can be perceived to be of higher quality, but many believe that fact comes from its long history, more consistent appearance, and higher cost. OSB is very commonly used in wall sheathing as well as roofing and flooring.
In closing, builders have a choice of materials they can safely and responsibly use in construction planning. Both plywood or osb structural panels are reliable, strong options for roofing, sheathing, flooring, as well as many other applications. The renewability of wood makes either product widely available, therefore a good option for almost all buildings.
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