Gypsum board is now such a commonly used building material that it's difficult to imagine a construction project that doesn't use it somewhere. Most residential interior walls and ceilings are composed of framing and gypsum board; a very large portion of commercial interior walls use gypsum board; gypsum sheathing is frequently used in exterior construction; and area separation walls in townhouses and shafts for elevators and stairwells frequently are built using gypsum shaft liner board.

Gypsum board is also used in areas less considered, including exterior soffits and ceilings, grease ducts, roof underlayment systems, tiled areas and as a substrate for veneer or Venetian plaster. This popularity as a building product speaks to gypsum board's versatility, cost effectiveness and ease of installation. But gypsum board's current popularity also speaks to the promotion of the product that began as a major effort in the early '50s and lasted through the '70s.

So why, given the current aforementioned popularity, would one even discuss the promotion of what appears to be the obvious choice in many construction situations? The simple answer is that those who promote non-gypsum materials are always looking for ways to grab some of the market share that gypsum board holds.

Sadly, that means that they occasionally go beyond the bounds of decorum to portray gypsum board in the least favorable light possible in order to portray their products as having advantages they would not otherwise have. While our side is able to see these misrepresentations for what they are, unfortunately others can't or won't see them in that way. Without a proper response, misstatements begin to take on the aura of fact after a certain period of time and some of the good work that our industry has done to promote gypsum board becomes undone.

To counter misrepresentations about gypsum board, the members of the Gypsum Association have commenced a program that will remind the architectural, code, and building communities why gypsum board is used as frequently as it is-and it will do this without stooping to the level set by its detractors. The industry has begun the preliminary work for developing a campaign that will highlight the many features and benefits of building with gypsum board products.

Soon a variety of media will be made available to wall and ceiling contractor organizations across the country. These tools will aid in presentations geared to reinforce the understanding of the many beneficial properties of gypsum board to architects, code officials and other interested audiences.

Wise wall and ceiling contractors understand that if they do not help protect the market share that gypsum board currently holds, the building products that replace it will very likely be installed and finished by other trades.

Representatives of the contractor organizations consulted for input on this project support the industry's actions to defend its position in the market and they have offered positive suggestions about the campaign's contents, media and delivery. And most important, they've offered to do much of the legwork by using these materials in presentations, trade shows and in the local media.

Features and benefits

So, what are these features and benefits of gypsum board that make it so desirable? Keep in mind that it is a combination of features and benefits that makes a particular building product or system more desirable than another in any given situation, and the combination of the following attributes of gypsum board has often made it the first choice in a wide array of applications.

It's green

These days one cannot open a trade publication without seeing mention of the green aspects of all types of building products. Gypsum board products are unashamedly green. Their paper facings are composed of nearly 100 percent recycled fiber and an increasing amount of the gypsum used in their cores is the byproduct of scrubbing smokestack emissions. Where gypsum plants are coupled with energy production plants, fuel is saved in the transportation of the byproduct and heat generated in the process can be used in the manufacture of the board.

It's fire resistant

Gypsum's chemical composition is one in which water is bonded at the molecular level. That water is released as steam when gypsum board is exposed to the temperatures produced by a fire. The steam released under these conditions creates a thermal barrier that keeps heat and flames restricted to the fireside of the board until all the water contained in the gypsum is depleted. And even once the gypsum is completely depleted of the chemically combined water-or "calcined"-the calcined gypsum will not burn, further protecting the unexposed side from the fire. This property of gypsum has been known for centuries-if not millennia-and throughout modern history gypsum has been used in fire resistant construction.

Over the last 75 years, the association and each of its members have designed, tested and published hundreds of designs proven to resist fire for specified lengths of time.

It's noise attenuating

Several layers of gypsum board, especially in varying thicknesses, have been shown to significantly reduce the amount of sound transmitted into neighboring areas. A large and ever-growing body of tested sound-attenuating designs, using a variety of materials in conjunction with gypsum board, is now available.

It's lightweight

Gypsum board systems weigh roughly 20 percent of what many alternative fire-resistant systems weigh. This property, coupled with its fire resistance, has enabled the construction of taller buildings using lighter weight structural steel framing members. This, in turn, reduces the cost of the whole building and enables the construction of a larger building for the same cost of a building built using alternative materials.

It's temperature tolerant

When the temperature approaches the freezing point, building systems that require moisture to either dissipate or chemically combine with other materials may not cure or set properly. Often, these materials require many days to fully cure under acceptable conditions before additional work can be performed; during cold weather conditions, work cannot proceed at all. Several gypsum board systems have no need for a cure time; this increases productivity and profitability for the builder by enabling almost year-round construction.

It's easily installed

Gypsum board can be installed with a few relatively inexpensive tools. It is also produced in panels of varying lengths and widths up to 54 inches, allowing workers to efficiently cover large areas in short time spans. Additionally, there is no cure time involved-the panels are ready to install and finish. Even if taping and finishing are necessary, it's not uncommon to install the board in a room on Monday and have it painted and ready for use by the weekend.

It's easily decorated

Gypsum board can be decorated using several methods. Most commonly it is painted and most paint manufacturers offer several primers and finishes that are formulated specifically for application to gypsum board. Similarly, most types of wallcovering can be applied over gypsum board surfaces and there is a wide selection of wallcovering primers and pastes formulated for use with the many different types of wallcovering over gypsum board.

It's easily repaired

In the event that a gypsum board surface is damaged, small areas can simply be patched and redecorated in a few days. Larger repairs are easily performed by replacing whole panels where necessary, which generally can also be finished and redecorated in a few days.

It performs as designed

Gypsum board products are manufactured to meet a specific ASTM standard; consequently, product quality is very consistent. As a result, almost all of the claims that gypsum board has not performed as intended can be traced to poor installation, finishing, or maintenance. Like any other building material, gypsum board must be transported, stored, handled, installed, finished, and maintained properly to ensure that it performs as intended. Cutting corners in installation and finishing, misusing the product, leaving the board exposed to conditions it was not designed to withstand, and ignoring simple maintenance procedures open the door for competitive products and trades to replace gypsum board and its installers.

Gypsum board enjoys a good reputation for all the reasons described above and the vast majority of installers and finishers take pride in doing quality work. If conscientious contractors support the producers' efforts to reaffirm the features and benefits of using gypsum board products to specifiers, code officials and builders, the whole industry stands to enjoy many more years of success.