Even though you're reading BIG BUILDER magazine and are most likely engaged in the home building business in one way or another, you probably haven't given much thought to the subject of drywall other than to ensure avoidance of that stinking Chinese stuff. Actually, that's kind of a shame, because were it not for drywall, everybody would still be plastered. (Bada-bumpf!) It revolutionized interior construction, but that was a long time ago.

USG Corp., which invented the original material, in late July unveiled a true innovation in wallboard, or, as they call it, Sheetrock, which is one of those trademarked brand names, like Band-Aid, Kleenex, or Xerox, that has come to represent the entirety of the product category. Called Sheetrock UltraLight, the new wallboard is 30 percent lighter than traditional wallboard and is strong enough to be substituted for ½-inch gypsum ceiling board, as well. If you have any question about how innovative this product is, just look at the picture on this page. That's a 12-foot sheet of ½ drywall being carried by a guy who is not quite Arnold Schwarzenegger.

UltraLight meets all International Building Code, International Residential Code, and ASTM C1396 specifications for gypsum board, for both ½-inch gypsum wallboard and ½-inch gypsum ceiling board. It can be used on ceilings with up to 24-inch, on-center framing and water-based texture, an application that, when used as a replacement for 5/8-inch type X board used on ceilings or ½-inch interior ceiling board, can save costs. The panels come in standard lengths of 8, 10, 12, 14, and 16 feet, in 48- and 54-inch widths.

Chris Baker, wallboard product manager for USG in Chicago, sums up one of the chief advantages of Sheetrock UltraLight this way: “A lot of two-man jobs can become one-man jobs.”

HELPING HAND: Sheetrock UltraLight's light weight and durability enable installers to “work harder longer,” according to USG's Chris Baker. Photo: Courtesy USG Corp.

In two and a half years of field trials, USG also discovered that “it actually scores and breaks a littler cleaner” than standard wallboard and that “you don't have to rasp it” because cutouts are cleaner. The product also gives off a bit less dust.

Sheetrock UltraLight has earned UL Environment designations for recycled content, reduction in transportation energy, conservation of raw materials, and low-VOC emissions (it meets California code 01350).

USG developed the new Sheetrock by “redesigning the gypsum core at the submicron level,” according to Baker. Basically, the company figured out how to put less gypsum in the core while strengthening the bonds between the gypsum molecules. In techspeak, “The panels utilize colloidal chemistry to feature a significantly higher strength-to-weight ratio and improved sag resistance.” They also are covered in a new, proprietary face paper, made in a new mill in Michigan, that adds strength both across and along the sheets.

USG sent Tech Spec samples of its standard ½ wallboard and the new Sheetrock UltraLight. The weight difference is easily felt, even in the 8½-by-5½-inch sample. A score-and-snap test proved the UltraLight equal to the standard USG Sheetrock, although in a sample that small, the test was lacking. It took screws, glue, tape, and mud equally well.

“The weight difference is unbelievable,” says Mark Saueressig, owner of Professional Drywall Services in West Bend, Wis., who has been working with Sheetrock UltraLight through the field trial period. “The way it cuts, the way it handles. And we can use the same product in the ceilings, which saves money and time.” He also says its resistance to moisture appears to equal that of standard wallboard.

Sheetrock UltraLight does come at a cost premium of about 10 percent over standard Sheetrock. That was news to Saueressig, who says, “I've been getting a pretty good price.” There are advantages to taking part in field trials, apparently.

But he doesn't hesitate when asked if it is worth more. “I do think it is worth a premium,” he says.