By Steve Maxwell
Chances are pretty good that drywalling isn’t the main reason you became a contractor. As necessary as it is, drywalling is also something that more than a few builders dread. And why not? Heavy, dusty and demanding, drywalling is one part of the building process that’s ripe for improvement. And while there’s been no revolutionary change in the way interior walls are typically covered these days, there are a handful of significant evolutionary improvements in the drywalling process. Taken together these make the work easier, the results better and the whole deal more profitable.
Less drywall dust
Everyone hates drywall dust, and the fact that it floats around in the air so easily only makes matters worse. Yes, most builders are pretty particular about the working properties of the drywall compound they’ve come to like, but CGC’s dust control drywall compound is worth a try even if it’s not your regular mud. It’s a bit lighter than standard compounds, but the main benefit is the way dust behaves while sanding. Most of it falls straight to the floor, without floating in the air. These are the claims, and I know from my own personal experience that they’re true. Troweling, drying times and sanding are pretty much the same as regular compound, the only difference is that you don’t look like you’ve fallen into a barrel of flour when the walls are finally smooth. You may be so in love with your old, favourite drywall mud that greatly reduced dustiness doesn’t interest you, but I doubt it.
On-the-spot drywall delivery
If Captain Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise were sent on a mission to drywall buildings on a far-away planet, someone would flip open a communicator and Scotty would beam the gypsum board directly into the rooms they were working on. The Home Depot’s Drywall Direct delivery program is nearly this good. Call any time before 2 pm and your order of drywall will magically appear anywhere you want in any building within a two-hour time frame the next day. Basement, second floor, multi-storey, it doesn’t matter. The drywall transporter technology involved isn’t quite as fancy as in Star Trek (it’s a couple of guys with strong backs), but it is a hands-off process as far as you and your crew are concerned. Minimum order size to avoid delivery charges is $650, but this tally includes mud, tape, corner beads, insulation and pretty much all the drywalling products mentioned here. The Home Depot’s Drywall Direct program is available from more than 100 stores across Canada, covering most major markets. It’s just one more example of how the building process is becoming more modular. The most successful contractors have learned the lesson that their job is really about coordination, not necessarily direct, hands-on production. Farming out the schlepping of drywall is pretty much a no-brainer.
Fiberglass mat drywall
Microbes eat organic materials, and drywall paper is one of their favourite foods. Just add water (or even a little too much humidity) and a moldy picnic begins. There are two reasons this matters: First, people are hyper-sensitive about mold growth these days. And second, fixing mold in your projects after the fact costs a lot. It might even cost you your business. Regular drywall is fine for regular spaces, but fiberglass drywall is king when it comes to resisting mold growth. In fact, some types are even weatherproof enough to install before buildings are dried in, for as long as 12 months of full weather exposure. This might not be much of an advantage for standard, residential work, but schedules for light commercial projects involving steel frames can be tightened up considerably when drywall goes on before the roof. DensArmor Plus is one of the most widely available brands of fiberglass mat drywall in Canada, and it pretty well eliminates any problems with mold in high-moisture areas.
Don’t forget the tape
Reducing the liability you’re exposed to if things go wrong is a big part of staying alive as a contractor, and sometimes this boils down to little things. Drywall tape is a case in point. While mold resistant drywall is nothing new for bathrooms and other high-moisture applications, what’s the point in using it if the tape turns black and ugly? That’s almost as nasty a callback as if the whole wall was growing things. Regular paper tape is just as much a food source for microbes as the paper on conventional drywall, and that’s why it makes sense to tape with something different in high-moisture areas. Fibatape Mold X-10 scored a perfect 10 in the ASTM D3273 testing. That’s a rigorous four week process where materials are sealed in a chamber with 95% relative humidity at a temperature of more than 30ºC. Your clients probably won’t take continuous, month-long, steamy showers, so moldy drywall tape is one thing you can check off your worry list if you use the right stuff.
Installing insulation is a close cousin to drywalling, and as long as stud frames remain common in the homebuilding business, batt insulation will be an ongoing part of your professional life, too. But all batts are definitely not created equal. Some are significantly more pleasant to install, and significantly easier to install well. I’ve never met anyone who’s installed Roxul mineral wool batts and didn’t like them a whole lot more than conventional insulation batts. They’re virtually itch-free to work with, they put almost no fibres into the air, and they’re a whole lot easier to cut precisely. Their high density fibre structure is the reason why. Although you can cut Roxul with a utility knife, a serrated bread knife is the tool of choice for trimming. These batts are stiff enough that they cut exceptionally well with a sawing action, and you can easily be very accurate, too. In fact, you’ll have no trouble sawing 1/4” off the end of a batt, while still leaving square corners.
Roxul batts resist water saturation surprisingly well, and their Safe ‘n‘ Sound product provides better than average sound resistance between walls and floors. And make no mistake, sound transmission is a big deal for your clients. In fact, a noisy building will tarnish your reputation for as long as people remember you as the person who built it. Quiet is synonymous with quality in most people’s minds. Insulation is bulky, but it’s also part of The Home Depot’s Drywall Direct program. Might as well get Scotty to beam it down along with the board.
The contractor business is cautious about adopting new technology, and it’s easy to understand why. There’s so much at stake if something goes wrong. That’s why tried and true methods are worth being loyal to. That said, there’s no need to keep drywalling the way they did in 1973. Easier, faster and better methods and materials are available. Might as well jump on board while they’re becoming mainstream.