Paperless drywall is justifiably hyped as virtually mold-proof, but also widely maligned for several drawbacks. Cost is the biggest issue. Paperless drywall is pricier than its traditional paper-faced alternatives. This immediately rules out paperless drywall for many homeowners, but it shouldn't. In the long run, it can be a money saver and even a lifesaver.
Tales of moldy paper drywall
I spent several months outside New Orleans working for the St. Bernard Project and rebuilding homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. I saw plenty of mold in that time — in both gutted homes and homes that were flooded during reconstruction. It also appeared on both white and green drywall. The green boards are paper-faced gypsum board treated with mold-resistant material. They are clearly not mold-proof, however, as I witnessed in St. Bernard Parish. Granted, these were not normal conditions, but they certainly brought home the fact that mold-resistant "greenboard" still has plenty of tasty paper for mold to eat. It's just masked with chemicals to repel the mold.
What is paperless drywall?
As an alternative, paperless drywall has fiberglass facing on the gypsum sheets. It also is not guaranteed to be 100-percent mold-proof, but it at least eliminates a major potential food source for mold spores.
Arguments against paperless drywall
Paperless drywall costs more. It can be hard to find, and you can expect to pay about $1 more per sheet for paperless drywall than mold-resistant "greenboard." Moreover, some users complain that the lack of paper facing further drives up installation costs. Paperless drywall can be harder to attach to the wall because screws are more likely to drive too far into the drywall. These deepset screws don't hold up the drywall, allowing more pieces to break and requiring more screws.
Why we like paperless drywall
On the other hand, paperless drywall is generally sturdier and less likely to warp, dent and tear. Therefore, it may last longer, and you'll need to replace fewer defective boards.
Fiberglass is a skin and lung irritant. The fiberglass dust raised by cutting paperless drywall can be more irritating than standard drywall dust. Some people suggest this makes it as dangerous as the mold it aims to prevent. However, fiberglass irritation is not a long-term health hazard, just a temporary nuisance. Moreover, it can easily be avoided with simple safety gear: long sleeves, masks, glasses and gloves.
Tips from drywall guru Myron Ferguson
Paperless drywall is trickier to finish. This one may come as the biggest surprise to untrained homeowners. The fiberglass facing has a rougher surface than paper facing, which some users don't notice until they have painted the wall and they see an ugly bumpy texture that doesn't match the drywall throughout the rest of the house.
Also, drywall guru Myron Ferguson offers a solution to the deepset screw problem in a recent Fine Homebuilding magazine article. He suggests attaching the drywall to the framing with Liquid Nails or other adhesive before screwing it on. This allows for fewer additional fasteners and compensates for any overly deep screws. He also suggests leaving screws slightly protruding, then sinking them to the perfect "dimpled" depth by hand.
Again, Ferguson comes to the rescue with two tips: Either lightly sand the whole surface or apply a thin skim coat of joint compound.
Finally, Ferguson offers a final tip. If you are going to the extra effort to avoid the mold-attracting paper on the drywall, paper tape between the drywall sheets will defeat that purpose. Instead, use fiberglass mesh tape.
Paperless drywall may not be perfect, but it is a great idea for your bathrooms, kitchens and other moisture-prone areas. It offers better peace of mind that mold is not growing in your walls.
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