Being on the front line of the drywall trade allows this reporter a unique perspective into the everyday trials and tribulations of a broad spectrum of drywall dogs. The everyday run-of-the-mill challenges have been discussed in this columnad nauseum. However, for the past few months there is a new stranger in town, and with him comes disease and sickness. Actually, I don't think he's really new. As a matter of fact, I have met him a time or two myself.

He would show up out of the blue and bite me just hard enough to get my attention and then disappear. He would take a sabbatical, change his appearance and then pay another surprise visit. Often, he would pick the most inopportune time to show up. I never really wanted to see him but it would have been a much less painful visit if he dropped by while I was working on a one-bedroom addition. Not this guy.

He always picked the job that had hundreds of sheets. One with huge open expanses of light-washed walls that extended up into the stratosphere. He never shows his face in public. He will wait until all the drywall finishers are long gone and the painters are in their trucks headed for the next job.

Then, like a virus that lies dormant waiting for an unsuspecting victim to infect, our stranger starts dosing the finished/painted walls. The sick feeling in the pit of a parent's stomach upon awaking to find a child covered with angry red bumps. After having an outbreak of chickenpox is close to the feeling you get as you field the phone call from the angry builder. Yes you have been visited again. Sometime, over the last few days, the job had been infected and is now covered with white chickenpox. Occasionally, after an extremely bad infection, not only are there bumps, there are also stripes. The only known cure is to sweat it out after hours of re-work.

Has this stranger ever paid you a visit? The following post from theWalls & Ceilingsmessage board is from a recent victim of an extreme infection:

"I'm having a USG rep come Monday on site to inspect a problem with a new home I hung and finished last summer.

"Walking into this home everything looks flawless. The ceilings are smooth and were skim-coated to perfection. Even the experienced eye couldn't find a seam throughout the main floor of this home. Then you head to the finished basement. Every single taped joint on the walls and ceilings shadows through. You can actually see the tape. Every single screw head has a protruding perfect little ring around it, even under the tape. The difference is night and day.

"The thing is, I finished every last inch of this home by myself, the same as the last some thousand odd homes: glue, screw, prefill as necessary, tape, 10, 12 and skim. The builder is also the homeowner. The painter I know well.

"One thing's certain: I didn't leave it this way, it happened gradually. Upon further inspection of this basement, it occurred to me that this is all 1/2-inch, 48-inch sheets. The upstairs is nothing but 5/8-inch, 54-inch for the ceilings. The only explanation I have is the board shrank-can this be?"

A guessing game

Can you feel his pain? I've fielded calls from numerous drywall contactors over the last few months with similar infections. Reps from drywall supply yards, drywall manufacturers and from the company I work for, have all tried to come up with not only a magic elixir to cure this disease but also a vaccine to prevent infection. I have talked to countless persons and everyone seems to have their own opinion. Check out the feedback from this same post:

"Have they had flooding in the basement or a lot of moisture?"

"Sounds like moisture got to it. Was it sealed (painted) shortly after it was finished?"

"I don't think the board shrank. I would say the framing lumber underneath shrank."

"I think you have air movement with humidity behind the walls. Get a dehumidifier in the basement after you fix it."

"Talked to the quality control/touch-up guy for the company we work for. He agrees with the ‘moisture problem' as the cause of your basement problems."

Do you see a pattern? Every single post contained the word "moisture" or "humidity." Consider that gypsum board, in layman's terms, is simply paper-covered dust. Much like that box of baking soda buried in the back of your refrigerator, gypsum board will soak up the surrounding humidity. As you fasten the board in place, the fasteners are driven to the correct depth (the correct depth in a slightly swelled board). The fasteners are now coated and meet your approval. The walls are painted and all is well.

After the homeowner moves into the house and turns on the heating system, the humidity level drops. As the moisture content decreases, the board returns to its original shape and the heads of the fasteners protrude from the wall surface. There are no pops or cracks around these protrusions, just a slight bulge. It now becomes your job to recoat every fastener on the job, thus becoming a drywall doctor, repairing/healing damage done by the stranger. Fun, huh? Want to know what some of the warning signs are for a guaranteed visit from this stranger?
  • It rains the entire time the house is being framed.
  • The load is delivered in a monsoon.
  • Your rockers are swamped and the board sits for days on a job that is not entirely buttoned up.
  • The relative humidity is 99 percent the entire time you are finishing.
  • The job sits for weeks before being painted.

Every person I talked to that had a problem pertaining to screw protrusions hailed from a "wet state." These calls did not originate from drywall dogs in Nevada or Arizona. No, these infections happened in states where the relative humidity hovers dangerously close to triple digits most of the year. These are places where the humidity can invade an unpainted firewall in a garage and turn it a sickening yellow color in a matter of months.

Named and shamed

It looks like we have identified our stranger and he's wearing a trench coat. Now, what precautions can be taken to keep him off our jobs?

First: Make sure your supplier has all of his materials stored inside a warehouse. I recently visited a yard where stacks of drywall were stored outside, exposed to the weather for who knows how long. Most of the stacks had plastic covering them but more than one had ripped plastic blowing in the wind. Do you want to start a job with pre-moistened drywall? You may be able to get away with this in Phoenix but I was visiting a "wet state." As a matter of fact, it was raining the day I was there.

Second: Make sure the job is ready for drywall. This means no matter how much of a hurry the contractor is in, you unequivocally will load no materials until the job is dried-in. If, after you have explained all of the adverse consequences that may occur if you proceed, the contractor will not listen to reason, have a release in hand that he must sign indemnifying you from any liability moving forward.

Third: Use a dehumidifier to dry out your work-not a salamander heater. There are commercial units that work very well and they don't add unneeded heat for those jobs you do in August. If you are working in the winter, use the dehumidifier along with heat. You'll be surprised how much water these things will collect.

Fourth: Use your head. If your gut tells you there are going to be problems with a certain job and/or builder, price it accordingly. If you get your price, you won't feel so bad about re-work. If not, let the trench coat wearing boogieman visit someone else.

Remember: You're a drywall dog,not a drywall doctor!

If you read this article, please circle number 182.