In 1916, Chicago-based United States Gypsum Co. invented drywall as an alternative to the time-consuming lathe and plaster method of constructing walls. The product failed to catch on at first. However, the housing boom and manpower shortage that followed World War II created a demand for the ease and efficiency offered by drywall. What was considered a perfect product remained largely unchanged for nearly 100 years.

Drywall, also known as gypsum board, is a panel made of gypsum plaster pressed between two thick sheets of paper. It is used to make interior walls and ceilings. Cement board is a wallboard option that combines cement and reinforcing fibers, and is used as a backing board for interior tile or as a base for exterior plaster.

Homeowners’ recent interest in eco-friendly products has spurred manufacturers to offer modern-day enhancements to what always has been considered a reliable product. Today’s consumers not only are demanding wallboard that is mold-resistant, but they also are seeking products that improve indoor air quality, or IAQ, by reducing volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, in the home; have high recycled content; and minimize sound between rooms.

“This is an exciting time to be in the construction industry,” says Amy Lee, manager of marketing communications for CertainTeed Gypsum, Valley Forge, Pa. “Forecasts indicate the economy is slowly rebounding, and, overall, we are finding that homeowners are looking for innovative ways to make their homes more green and eco-friendly.” The drywall industry is accomplishing these objectives by developing sustainable products that meet traditional expectations. 

The Green Movement

According to the Hyattsville, Md.-based Gypsum Association, in 2007 alone, the gypsum industry’s use of recycled paper kept more than 3.5 million cubic yards of material out of landfills. Gypsum-board manufacturers also utilize synthetic gypsum as an alternative to natural gypsum. Synthetic gypsum, which has an identical chemical composition to natural gypsum, is a byproduct from the desulfurization of flue gases in fossil-fueled power plants. In 2007, U.S. gypsum wallboard manufacturers used about 8.3 million short tons of byproduct gypsum, accounting for approximately 28 percent of all the gypsum used by Gypsum Association members that year.

In addition to utilizing synthetic gypsum, modern manufacturing techniques allow panel manufacturers to use “re-grind” or production overrun material in their products. Although demolition and remodeling waste cannot be recycled into new product because of the possibility of contaminants, like lead and asbestos, independent recycling firms can pick up and transport clean gypsum panel construction waste. The scrap gypsum board can be ground and used as a soil conditioner or animal bedding.

In addition to recycled content, IAQ is an important aspect of the green movement. We all are subjected to pollutants in the air every day, but we don’t often consider that our indoor air may be just as toxic—if not more toxic—than the outdoor air. To mitigate this issue, manufacturers are developing products that contain fewer chemicals and do not offgas.

Several drywall and finishing products carry the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute label. The third-party certification company tests many types of building products for chemical emissions.

“A contractor’s business is built on his reputation, so the way to make sure that reputation is high is to make sure the products used are truly moisture-resistant.”

Prashant Panchal, James Hardie Building Products Inc.

Moisture Resistance

Most wallboard manufacturers offer mold- and moisture-resistant products. Lee says, “In regard to moisture and mold protection, there are gypsum-board products with specialized facings and core formulations that resist moisture and protect against the formation of mold.”

As part of a mold-resistance strategy, selection of wallboard products designed to retain as little moisture as possible is key. In wet areas, such as showers and tub enclosures, it is essential to use products specifically designed for water durability.

Prashant Panchal, head of marketing for Mission Viejo, Calif.-based James Hardie Building Products Inc., sees wallboard used in wet areas as one of the industry’s hottest topics. “There’s a trend toward mold- and moisture-resistant products and cementitious products,” he says. Panchal advises using cement board in moisture-prone areas, such as bathrooms, and installing it all the way to the ceiling instead of changing to a product that isn’t moisture-resistant.

“In the housing boom, people were looking to use products that were low cost,” Panchal says. He stresses the need to use the highest-quality products. “A contractor’s business is built on his reputation, so the way to make sure that reputation is high is to make sure the products used are truly moisture-resistant.”

Acoustics and Fire Resistance

Manufacturers also are addressing acoustics and noise control with new gypsum-board products, which incorporate noise-reducing technology, such as viscoelastic damping compounds that limit structure-borne vibrations when sandwiched between two sheets of gypsum board.

The amount of sound transmission that is eliminated by a wall is its sound transmission class, or STC, rating; a higher STC rating means a product has more effective sound control than a lower-rated product. Acoustical wallboard can improve the STC rating but must be properly sealed to avoid sound transmission through wall penetrations and leaks.

“Sound resistance is the latest thing,” says Chris Pinckney, gypsum product manager for National Gypsum Co., Charlotte, N.C. “Sound is a big issue as people are living closer together in condos and apartment buildings.”

In colder environments or high-humidity areas, ready-mix joint compounds may not be the best choice.

Additionally, gypsum-based drywall is fire-resistant and can slow a fire’s progress because, in its natural state, gypsum contains water. When exposed to heat or flame, this water is released as steam which retards heat transfer. The moisture trapped within the gypsum causes the drywall to steam when heated to high temperatures. The steaming effect slows heat transfer through walls; therefore, thicker drywall will provide more fire protection.

Although enhanced wallboard products may be slightly more expensive, stressing the features and benefits can serve as an excellent marketing tool. Chris Baker, USG wallboard product manager, says, “If contractors arm themselves with knowledge of products that make their jobs easier and more efficient, they can offer added value to the homeowner.”

Joint Compound

Manufacturers also have made advancements in drywall finishing products. New compounds are designed to make a contractor’s work efficient and effective while satisfying homeowner concerns for cleanliness and improved IAQ.

“Lightweight compound, which weighs approximately one-third less, is extremely popular,” Baker says. Although this weight difference may not seem like a big deal, Baker explains it “is substantial when you’re carrying around compound all day.”

Lightweight joint compound also has a quicker drying time than heavier-weight compound so it requires a bit more accuracy when applying.

“Clients want more for their dollar than ever before and that will only increase moving forward,” says Michael Blades, National Gypsum’s national marketing manager.

While some enhanced products may cost more, Blades recommends using the product benefits to assuage possible homeowner concerns regarding IAQ and project duration. He says, “It’s an actual selling point that contractors can go in armed with these advanced technologies. The bid might be a little higher but you’re going to get an easier project and better performance. Being able to demonstrate the added value helps contractors secure that bid at a profitable price.”

Low-dust compound is formulated to reduce airborne dust generated during sanding and minimize airborne and settled dust during renovations. The product is designed so the dust particles bind together and fall to the floor rather than dispersing into the air and throughout the house.

“We continue to find that some contractors aren’t that familiar with setting compounds,” Blades adds. In colder environments or high-humidity areas, ready-mix joint compounds may not be the best choice. The alternative is to use a “setting-type” joint compound which, after a period of time, will chemically set rather than air dry. Blades explains: “By using setting compound for your taping/first coat, you can put a second coat over it before it is completely dry. Because it chemically sets, less-than-ideal conditions, such as moisture and humidity, are less of a factor.”

“To capitalize on today’s trends, it’s important to really understand the goals and priorities of the customer and be able to help them meet these goals within a given budget,” Lee advises. “Many people will say they want to be more ‘green’ in their home. But what does that really mean to them? Ask these questions so you can become a more valuable partner in their quest to build or renovate their dream home.”

Harry Spaulding writes from Boston about construction and construction materials.

Advancements in Drywall and Drywall Finishing Products

Before you begin your next drywall project, consider the following products:

American Gypsum
• Passed ASTM G 21 mold-resistant testing with a score of 0
• Earned GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certified status and GREENGUARD Children & Schools Certification
• Encased in 100 percent recycled paper, purple on the face side and sturdy liner paper on the back side
Type 43 in E-Inquiry Form

CertainTeed Gypsum
• Actively helps clean the air by capturing formaldehyde and other aldehydes and converting them into inert compounds that safely remain within the board
• Offers moisture and mold protection according to ASTM G21 and D3273 performance criteria
Type 44 in E-Inquiry Form

Georgia-Pacific Gypsum LLC
• ToughRock gypsum boards
• Made of reclaimed gypsum and recycled plant
waste and paper
• Manufactured using clean fuels
• Paper-faced panels for interior walls, floors and ceilings
• Abuse-resistant
Type 45 in E-Inquiry Form

James Hardie Building Products Inc.
HardieBacker 500 Cement Board
• Protects against moisture damage and mold growth
in walls and floors
• Ideal for wet-area walls
• Smooth surface may be painted, textured,
wallpapered or tiled
Type 46 in E-Inquiry Form

Lafarge North America
Protecta AR 100 with Mold Defense
• Consists of fiberglass-enhanced noncombustible high-density gypsum core with a reinforced heavy facing paper
• Guards against fire, mold and mildew
Type 47 in E-Inquiry Form

National Gypsum Co.
ProForm Lite Ready Mix Joint Compound with Dust-Tech
• Reduces airborne dust by more than 60 percent
• Available in a 4 1/2-gallon pail, 3 1/2-gallon carton or specially designed 1-gallon pail
• Lightweight and won’t clog sanding tools
Type 48 in E-Inquiry Form

PABCO Gypsum
PABCO FLAME CURB Gypsum Wallboard
• Designed for use on interior walls, ceilings and partitions
• May be attached with nails, screws or approved adhesives
• Tapered edges provide a recessed area that allows tape and joint treatment to be used to create a monolithic surface
Type 49 in E-Inquiry Form

Serious Materials Inc.
QuietRock ES soundproof drywall with EZ-SNAP Technology
• Acoustical ratings of up to STC 55 on single-stud
• Up to four times easier to score and snap
• Offers strength and fire resistance
Type 50 in E-Inquiry Form

GreenGlass Fiberglass-Faced Interior Board
• Enhanced water- and mold-resistant core sandwiched between naturally mold-resistant fiberglass facers
• Scientific Certification Systems-certified to contain at least 90 percent recycled gypsum content on a dry-weight basis in accordance with ISO 14021 standards
• Fire resistance classified by Underwriters Laboratories according to ASTM E1192
Type 51 in E-Inquiry Form

USG Corp.
SHEETROCK Brand Abuse-Resistant Gypsum Panels
• Resistant to surface indentation and penetration
• Panels score and snap easily for quick installation
• 100 percent recycled heavy natural-finish paper on the face
Type 52 in E-Inquiry Form

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