How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes

What is the difference between plywood and OSB?

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Here’s the big question we get asked regularly when we come out of an attic: “Is my roofing sheathing plywood or OSB?” Everyone seems to have a friend that has told them that one is good and the other is bad—or, at least, not as good. OSB (which is an acronym for Oriented Strand Board) is the new kid on the block, but more popular, with almost twice as much produced annually in the U.S. This is primarily because plywood and OSB have comparable, but not identical, performance properties, while OSB is cheaper. A contractor saves hundreds of dollars by choosing OSB instead of plywood to build an average home.

   They are easy to tell apart at a glance, if you peek up into the attic at the underside of your roof sheathing. OSB (shown in the attic above) looks like wood chips laid at random angles and pressed together, while plywood has a recognizable overall wood-grain pattern.

    They are also manufactured by different methods. Plywood is made from thin veneer layers of wood that are peeled from a spinning log and laminated together. There is always an odd number of layers and each layer is glued with the grain at right angles to the one underneath it, for strength and stability of the material. OSB starts with rectangular wood strand pieces that are arranged in cross-oriented layers which are pressed and heat-cured.

   Here’s the pros and cons of each material: 



  • Both off-gas formaldehyde, but plywood produces less because not as much glue is used to manufacture it. While formaldehyde is primarily an irritant, that can cause eye and throat irritation, coughing, and allergic reactions, the EPA states that “long-term exposure to high levels has been associated with cancer in humans.” See our blog post How can formaldehyde gas in a house be a problem? for more information on this issue.
  • Plywood is slightly stiffer, by about 10%, than comparable OSB.
  • Better at holding nails and screws.


  • Plywood tends to delaminate as it ages in exterior applications, especially at the base of siding in the high humidity of Florida.
  • More expensive than OSB.



  • OSB is considered a “greener” material, because it can be made from small, younger and farmed trees.
  • OSB is more structurally uniform, without the soft spots at gaps in the veneer layers of plywood.
  • Can be manufactured in larger sheets.


  • Swells more when wet, especially at the edges of the panel. Stays somewhat swollen after drying.
  • About 15% heavier than plywood.

    Also, see our blog post What is the average life expectancy of plywood siding?

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •  

  To learn more about roofs and attics, see these other blog posts:

Why is my roof sheathing sagging between the trusses?

Why is granule loss a problem for an asphalt shingle roof? 

What are the mistakes to avoid when doing attic improvements?

What causes roof shingles to curl up at corners?  

What causes shingles to buckle along a line on the roof?

What causes leaks at a fake roof dormer? 

What causes a sagging roof ridge line?

What causes bubble-like blisters in a built-up and gravel roof?  

Why does it cost so much more to replace a steep roof than a low slope roof? 

What is "ponding" on a flat roof?

Is an attic required to have a light by the building code? 

How can I inspect my roof for hurricane damage?

Why is premature curl of roof shingles a problem?

How can I tell if a roof has more than one layer of shingles? 

What are the common problems with attic insulation? 

What is the life expectancy of an asbestos cement shingle roof? 

Are roof trusses better than roof rafters (stick framing)? 

Why is a popped nail in a shingle roof a problem? How do I fix it?

Why do roof edges start leaking?

Why do my dormer windows leak? 

Do home inspectors go on the roof? Do they get in the attic?

How can I tell if the house needs a new roof?  

 Why does my homeowner's insurance want a roof inspection?

What are the hazards to avoid when going into an attic? 

     Visit our ROOF AND ATTIC page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

Water Heaters

Water Heater Age

"What Are The

Signs Of..."

Septic Tank Systems

Structure and Rooms

Plumbing Pipes

Termites, Wood Rot

& Pests



When It First

Became Code

"Should I Buy A..."

Park Model Homes


Shingle Roofs




Wind Mitigation

Roof and Attic

"Does A Home


Pool and Spa

"What Is The Difference Between..."




Concrete and

Concrete Block

Metal Roofs


Modular Homes

Rain Gutters

Mold, Lead & Other Contaminants


Older and

Historic Houses

Crawl Spaces

Mobile-Manufactured Homes

Building Permits

Life Expectancy

Clay Soil





Exterior Walls

& Structures


Common Problems

HUD-Code for

Mobile Homes

Garages and Carports

Flat (Low Slope) Roofs

Electrical Panels

Sprinkler Systems

Electrical Receptacle Outlets

4-Point Inspections

Hurricane Resistance

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Home Inspection

Heating and Air Conditioning

Building Codes

Fireplaces and Chimneys

Inspector Licensing

& Standards

Energy Efficiency

Washers and Dryers



Doors and Windows



Electrical Wiring

Click Below  

for Links

to Collections

of Blog Posts

by Subject

Plumbing Drains

and Traps


Smoke & CO Alarms

Aging in Place

Top 5 results given instantly.

Click on magnifying glass

for all search results.






Air Conditioner & Furnace Age/Size


Electrical Switches





Water Intrusion

Electrical - Old

and Obsolete


Foundation Certifications

Tiny Houses

About McGarry and Madsen



Buying a home in North/Central Florida? Check our price for a  team inspection by two FL-licensed contractors and inspectors. Over 8,500 inspections completed in 20+ years. In a hurry? We will get it done for you.

Moisture Problems

Crawl Spaces