Gypsum Facts and Drywall Installation

by Jon Nunan

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Drywall (or gypsum board), one of the most common building materials of our time, hasn't always been as popular as it is now. When it was first invented nearly 100 years ago (1916, to be exact), drywall was thought to be an inferior and undesirable product. However, in the mid 1950s, the amount of drywall installation in the U.S. skyrocketed due to its use in the construction of suburban homes. These houses had to be made quickly and inexpensively. In this capacity, drywall was shown to be a much more effective material than traditional wet plaster and wood forms.

Drywall Makeup
Drywall traditionally consists of a mixture of gypsum plaster that is sandwiched in between two pieces of heavy paper while it is still wet. It is allowed to cure, then is cut into boards of a manageable length. Using plaster that is in board form and is already dry is far easier than working with plaster when it is wet. Drywall installation literally cuts weeks off of the time it would take to complete a project using the lath-and-plaster method that came before it.

The additives to the gypsum plaster and the type of paper used can both vary depending on the particular job that board is meant for. Drywall installation in very moist areas, for example, benefits from having moisture and mildew repellants added to the plaster that will become its core. For an area that could get particularly warm or cold, the covering of certain types of gypsum board is made of fiberglass instead of paper to increase its insulate properties.

Basic Drywall Installation
The process of drywall installation is a fairly straightforward one. The measurements are taken, the boards are scored and cut to fit, and then they are screwed (or nailed in some cases) into ceiling or wall joists. After the boards are screwed in place, the drywall needs to be "finished" before it gets painted, which means that all nail or screw holes, along with any gaps or dents in the board, are filled in and leveled.

Just because drywall installation is straightforward, that doesn't mean it is simple. Though it is certainly a very DIY friendly project and is much less involved than, say, laying down a hardwood floor, it requires a seasoned (or very patient) hand to do it well. The finishing, especially, can be difficult for beginners.

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Drywall Installation in Cold Climates
Drywall should not be installed in freezing or close to freezing conditions. Expansion is one problem with this material, as well as most others that will have to be dealt with if installation occurs when the environment is very cold. Additionally, the products used in drywall finishing do not work very well in cold temperatures. They can lose strength as well as adhesion when allowed to freeze or cool excessively.

Drywall and the Environment
Used and discarded drywall is becoming a problem in our landfills. Some landfills will actually not accept old drywall for disposal. Since this is a concern for homeowners as well as the manufacturers, more and more drywall is being recycled.

Jon Nunan is a freelance writer who draws on his experience in construction, ranging from landscaping to log home building, for his articles on home improvement.