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What is Plasterboard?

In the realm of construction and home improvement, plasterboard has emerged as an essential material, lauded for its versatility and ease of installation. Often referred to as drywall or gypsum board in various parts of the world, plasterboard has fundamentally altered the way in which we construct the interiors of our homes and buildings. But what exactly is plasterboard, and why has it become such a staple in modern construction?

Composition of plasterboard

The versatility and widespread use of plasterboard is rooted in its relatively simple yet highly effective composition. The core component of plasterboard is gypsum, the common name for calcium sulphate dihydrate (CaSO4·2H2O). This mineral is found in abundant natural deposits. It is used in its raw state or processed and utilised in a variety of applications. Plasterboard remains one of the most prevalent.

When creating a plasterboard, the gypsum is first ground into a fine powder and then heated to remove any moisture in a calcination process. This transforms the gypsum into a dry powder known as calcium sulphate hemihydrate (Plaster of Paris). When water is added to Plaster of Paris, it rehydrates and sets into a hard substance. This is why gypsum is the ideal core material for plasterboard—it provides a durable and hard surface when set.

Additives and their functions

To enhance certain properties of the plasterboard, various additives are mixed with the gypsum powder:

  • Foaming agents: To introduce air bubbles and control the density of the plaster core, which can also impact sound insulation properties.
  • Fibres: Usually glass fibres are added to provide additional strength and to prevent the board from breaking or warping.
  • Plasticisers: These make the gypsum more pliable before it sets, allowing for slight bending of the plasterboard in certain applications, like creating curved surfaces.
  • Fire retardants: Chemicals that improve the fire-resistant quality of the plasterboard, often making it a requirement in specific areas of a building to comply with safety codes.
The paper facings

The two thick sheets of paper that sandwich the gypsum core are integral to the plasterboard’s function. These paper layers are typically made from recycled paper, contributing to the environmental aspect of the product’s sustainability.

  • Front paper layer: Designed to be smooth and will be the surface to which finishes like paint, wallpaper, or texture can be applied. It is also strong enough to withstand the pull of screws and nails.
  • Back paper layer: This side may be less refined as it’s typically against the structural elements of the building and not meant for an aesthetic finish.

Some plasterboard may have special coatings on the paper to resist moisture or to bond better with adhesives and finishes.

Environmental considerations in composition

Plasterboard manufacturers have been making strides to reduce the environmental footprint of their products. Some of the key environmental considerations include:

  • Recycled content: Use recycled paper for the facings and recycled gypsum from various industrial processes.
  • Manufacturing efficiency: Advances in production techniques to minimise energy consumption and reduce waste.
  • End-of-life recyclability: Designing plasterboard so that it can be easily recycled at the end of its useful life, by separating the paper from the gypsum.

Varieties and uses

Plasterboard is not a one-size-fits-all solution; its varieties cater to specific needs and applications in construction and renovation projects.

Standard

Standard plasterboard, sometimes referred to as wallboard or ivory board due to its classic ivory paper facing, is the most common type used for general applications. It’s designed for dry areas and is typically employed for covering walls and ceilings, creating a base for decorative finishes.

Moisture-Resistant

Moisture-resistant, or green board, plasterboard has a distinctive green paper facing and is impregnated with water-repellent additives. It’s intended for use in wet areas such as bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms. While it resists moisture penetration, it is not waterproof. Therefore, it should not be used in areas that will have direct contact with water.

Fire-Resistant

With a pink or red paper facing, fire-resistant plasterboard contains fibres and other additives that increase its fire rating. It is used in areas where enhanced fire protection is required, such as between a garage and living space, or in commercial buildings to provide additional evacuation time.

Acoustic

Acoustic plasterboard is denser than standard plasterboard and may include added mass or absorbent materials to enhance its soundproofing qualities. It is used in walls and ceilings where sound transmission needs to be minimised.

Impact-Resistant

This type of plasterboard is reinforced with fibres or has a higher density to withstand impact. It is particularly suited for schools, sports facilities, and areas where walls are subject to rough use.

Insulated

Insulated plasterboard, which can be recognised by its bonded insulating material (like foam or fibreglass), offers thermal benefits in addition to being a wall lining. This is used to improve energy efficiency in a building by reducing heat loss.

Foil-Backed

Foil-backed plasterboard has a layer of aluminium foil on the backside. This acts as a vapour barrier and, therefore helps to reflect heat into the room, making it an energy-efficient option for external walls.

Flexible

Flexible plasterboard is designed to bend, therefore making it suitable for creating curved structures like archways or curved walls. Its core has a lower density, and it typically comes in thinner sizes to allow for flexibility.

Uses of Plasterboard

With these varieties at their disposal, construction professionals and DIY enthusiasts can utilise plasterboard in numerous ways:

  • Wall Linings: The primary use of plasterboard is to line interior walls, providing a smooth surface for finishing.
  • Ceilings: Plasterboard is often used to create ceilings, due to its ease of installation and ability to conceal electrical wires and insulation materials.
  • Partitions: It is ideal for creating interior partitions, due to its lightweight nature and the availability of various performance options like soundproofing or fire resistance.
  • Custom Solutions: With plasterboard, you can create various architectural features such as bulkheads, coves, or floating ceilings.
  • Furnishings: Surprisingly, plasterboard can also be used in the creation of built-in furniture or as a substrate for more intricate woodwork.

Installation process

Installing plasterboard typically involves measuring and cutting the boards to fit the desired space, securing them to the wall or ceiling framework using screws or nails, and then finishing the joints with joint compound and joint tape. This creates a seamless surface that can be painted or wallpapered over.

Environmental impact

As the focus on sustainable building practices increases, plasterboard has come under scrutiny for its environmental impact. The good news is that many manufacturers are now producing eco-friendly plasterboard, which is made from recycled materials and is designed to be recyclable at the end of its life. Additionally, efforts are being made to reduce the energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions associated with gypsum production.

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