Historically, most building pros likely haven’t given their drywall selections much thought. But with new wallboard products that target mold and moisture, extend durability, enhance noise suppression, and contain increasing amounts of recycled materials, builders and remodelers are paying closer attention. The sustainable-building movement also is shifting that commodity perception, as green building teams look to earn points toward green project certification.
Indeed, gypsum offers a number of opportunities to go green—from recycled content to local manufacturing credits to long-term durability. More than ever, options abound for product specifiers to make sustainable choices that meet the needs of each area of the home.
For decades, most North American manufacturers have used recycled-paper facing on their panels and some incorporate leftover end product back into the production stream; more recently, the introduction of synthetic gypsum has upped the category’s reuse opportunity even further.
Unlike traditional gypsum, which is mined from quarries, synthetic products use waste material from coal-fired power plants. The two materials arrive in different states—natural is a rock, synthetic comes in wet form—but the chemical makeup is the same. “Synthetic is indistinguishable in terms of the look, the feel, and the performance,” says Mundise Mortimer, technical manager for National Gypsum.
According to the Gypsum Association, synthetic has grown to nearly 30% of gypsum sales. Most manufacturers offer both types, so be sure to specify synthetic and ask for documentation when ordering if you plan to seek green standard points for recycled content. Also note that synthetic drywall is easier to obtain in the East; the high recycled content isn’t very green if you’re shipping it all the way across the country.
The EPA recently proposed new regulations on the disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCR); however, the agency says, products in which the CCRs are encapsulated or used as an ingredient in manufacture, such as wallboard, raise minimal health or environmental concerns and, at this time, do not need to be regulated.
Many manufacturing facilities are now built next to or near the source, so gypsum materials may also qualify for regional credits. But, says Glenn Miller, architect specialist at Temple-Inland, some supply may come from Canada or Mexico, so ask about the origins of the raw materials as well as the manufacturing facility.
Though not required to earn green standard points, two manufacturers—USG and Temple-Inland—have obtained Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) approval verifying the percentage of recycled content in some of their products.