Depending on your age and where you live, the terms “sheetrock” and “drywall” may be interchangeable. To clarify, “sheetrock” is a brand name of the drywall panel (made from gypsum and paper) most of us have in our homes. However, there are several companies that manufacture drywall panels, so not all drywall is sheetrock. While we’re on the subject, let’s answer a few more commonly asked questions about drywall.
What is Drywall?
Drywall really began as a product called Sacketboard, which was the first product to place plaster between two panels to form a sheet. The panels were made from a combination of plaster and paper and designed to ease the burden of installing wood lathe strips on every surface that would need plaster. Installing wooden lathe strips was very time-consuming, so a solution was needed.
Sacketboard was still made from mostly plaster, so it was installed in place of lathe strips, and another layer of plaster was applied on top. Using Sacketboard sped up the process, but the material still needed a skim coat of plaster to accept paint. At the time, the paper used for the panel construction was not directly paintable, as it would simply absorb the paint and wrinkle.
Eventually, it was discovered that changing the materials and manufacture of the panel allowed it to be painted directly. By eliminating the last skim coat of plaster, this method became the standard because it was easier, faster, and required less material. In modern construction, only the joints of the panels and the fasteners need to be skim coated with drywall compound.
What Are the Different Types of Drywall?
You’ve probably seen a building under construction and wondered why there are different colors of drywall panels in various locations. Why are some panels white or light gray, some are green, and some are blue? Why are some panels longer than others? Why are some thicker and some thinner?
Most drywall panels are 4’ x 8’, but they also come in larger sizes, like 4’ x 12’, or even 4’ x 16’ as a special order. Drywall panels are available in ¼”, ⅜”,½”, and ⅝” thicknesses, because most building codes require it to some degree. Some panels are treated with chemicals to reduce mold and mildew growth, while others are designed to be easier to install. Here we will briefly describe the most common drywall panels and what they are typically used for:
Standard drywall is the white or light gray version available in big box stores. Most in-stock panels will be ½” thick, but ¼”, ⅜”, and ⅝” are also usually available. The professionals will install ½” x 4’ x 12’ no sag panels on most of the ceilings, as this method results in the fewest joints. Most professionals also use 4’ x 12’ standard panels horizontally on the walls for the same reason.
Water-resistant drywall is often green in color, but not always. Please note that water-resistant drywall is not waterproof. Water-resistant drywall has a special element that helps it repel moisture, but the gypsum inside the panel is absorbent. Water-resistant drywall is commonly used anywhere moisture is present, like a bathroom, laundry room, or kitchen.
Mold-resistant drywall is often green, but it can also be found in yellow, purple, or blue. Mold-resistant drywall panels include a chemical called sodium pyrthione, which prevents the growth of mold spores. In most instances, these panels will be faced with a special paper that also includes sodium pyrthione or other moldicide.
Fire Retardant Drywall
Fire retardant drywall is designed to slow the spread of fire and give the occupants time to escape. Fire-retardant drywall is required by most building codes in certain areas of a home. An example would be the requirement for fire-retardant drywall in the ceiling of a garage if there is a bedroom above it. For comparison, fire retardant drywall panels are designed with a one-hour fire rating, while a standard drywall panel is rated for only 30 minutes.
Soundproof drywall is usually installed as a system. Soundproof drywall is often installed in layers to create a cushion of air between the panels. The air acts as an insulator and reduces the transmission of both impact and airborne sounds. Kits are available that include small rubber bushings and sound deadening caulk, installed between the layers to absorb any small vibrations.
If you’ve ever tried to install drywall on a ceiling, you will appreciate lightweight drywall panels. Especially useful for ceiling installations, these panels are a few pounds lighter than a standard panel. Using lightweight panels makes the project easier for the installers, and usually speeds up the project.
No Sag Drywall
No sag drywall was designed to add stiffness to a thin drywall panel. As previously mentioned, installing drywall on a ceiling can be labor-intensive, so traditionally, installers used ½” standard drywall panels. Over time it was noticed that these panels would sag under their own weight between connection points.
To combat this without using extra thick, extra heavy drywall, manufacturers designed no sag panels. No sag drywall panels maintain the stiffness and rigidity of a thicker panel without the additional weight. The fasteners used can also be smaller because the material is thinner and requires less support.
Paperless drywall panels are relatively new and offer the benefits of water and mold-resistant drywall, without the absorbent paper backing. Paperless drywall replaces the paper with a thin layer of fiberglass and includes a water-resistant gypsum core. Paperless drywall can be used in place of water and mold-resistant drywall and it creates its own vapor barrier.
Paperless drywall has emerged in recent years as a replacement for cement backer board, often used in custom showers. Because paperless drywall creates its own vapor barrier, tile installers use it in place of the cement backer board and a separate vapor barrier normally required. Because paperless drywall includes the vapor barrier, using it can be both faster and less expensive to install.
Can I Install Drywall Myself?
If you are a handy do-it-yourselfer, you can probably install drywall yourself. The most common complaint among drywall installers is the weight of the panels. Many homeowners installing their own drywall will rent or buy a drywall lift. Drywall lifts allow one person to install up to 16’ long panels without breaking the panel.
A screw gun is also handy, but you can use a cordless drill if you have one. You can also use drywall nails, but they are not recommended because they can release from the wall and cause a hump in the drywall known as nail pops. Drywall screws are a much better option because they will not release, and they can be tightened as needed.
How Do I Know Which Drywall Panel to Use?
Building codes will vary from location to location, but generally, you will need regular drywall in most of the home. Some common exceptions will likely be:
- A garage ceiling (⅝” Fire Resistant) if there is a bedroom above it, as well as (½’’ Fire Resistant) in each bedroom.
- Bathrooms will require either water or mold-resistant drywall (½” Green, Blue, or Yellow)
- Home theaters will likely need two layers of sound-proof, drywall (½” Soundproof)
- For all ceilings except the garage, most pros use no sag ½” panels or ⅝” Standard panels