Primer

Drywall Options: Paper-Faced, Monolithic, or Fiberglass-Faced?

Drywall types differ in cost, recyclability, and response to moisture and mold.

Drywall comes in three primary product types. Paper-faced drywall remains by far the dominant product for finishing interior walls. It is inexpensive and easy to work with (cutting panels by scoring and snapping). Environmentally, the paper is typically 100% post-consumer recycled, the gypsum core can be derived from flue-gas-desulfurization (FGD) gypsum (a byproduct from stack scrubbers on coal-fired power plants), and unpainted scrap can be recycled or ground up for use as a soil amendment. The downside is that paper-faced drywall is highly vulnerable to moisture damage and mold growth. Some paper-faced drywall products have mold-inhibiting chemicals to reduce this problem, but it is still a major concern. While FGD gypsum is a waste product and generally considered a good thing from an environmental standpoint, relatively little testing has been done on potential toxins and whether those could be released into buildings—or into the soil if scraps are ground and used as a soil amendment. FGD gypsum is only available in certain regions, and shipping FGD drywall long distances creates more pollution than it solves.

Monolithic drywall, such as USG Corporation’s Fiberock product family, has cellulose fibers uniformly dispersed throughout the gypsum matrix. This makes the drywall both more durable and more resistant to mold. Like paper-faced drywall, monolithic drywall can be made from FGD gypsum and recycled cellulose fiber, and scrap can be chipped for use as a soil amendment. Some products are designed for use as tile backer or underlayment. In limited sampling, we found the retail cost of Fiberock drywall to be more than twice (230%) that of standard paper-faced drywall.

Published June 7, 2007