Generally speaking, market domination doesn't last for long: At some point, competition eats away share or growth simply slows. Unless you're a gypsum wallboard manufacturer, that is. Though the wall-board industry does not track usage in new homes, manufacturers estimate that between 85 percent and 95 percent of all new homes constructed in the United States are done with drywall, which has dominated all other interior materials for at least 20 years.
The amount of wallboard is also growing. The North American gypsum industry achieved its highest amount of annual shipments ever in 2004, when manufacturers shipped a total of 34.24 billion square feet of material, says the Washington-based United States Gypsum Association (USGA). This was an 8 percent increase over 2003, when 31.72 billion square feet of board were shipped. “As of Oct. 31, [2005,] board shipments are running about 4.5 percent to 5 percent above the 2004 number, which represents the fifth consecutive year of growth,” says Michael Gardner, executive director of the USGA. “We see no reason [why it] should tail off.”
BOARD STIFF The strong housing market is driving much of this growth, so, logically speaking, if the housing market slows, wallboard shipments should as well. However, gypsum wallboard is such a force in the home building industry that its growth rate has no effect on the rate of its use among builders. So even if board shipments slow, most builders will still use wallboard.
What accounts for this kind of market domination? No other interior wall material can be adapted to any architectural style, for any application, or in any location. “Wallboard is easy to install, it's versatile, it's lightweight, and it's economical,” says Cory Nevins, product marketing manager for U.S. Gypsum (USG) in Chicago.
But even though business is good, manufacturers are not satisfied. Many are eyeing new, application-specific products to grow even more. One innovation of the last few years is a glass-faced (as opposed to paper-faced) line of gypsum board by Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific Building Products. The company says the glass-based surface is highly mold-resistant and thus ideal for moisture-prone interior walls in places such as basements and bathrooms. “We believe this glass-mat technology will revolutionize the industry,” says Chris Beyer, the company's director of marketing for gypsum products. Another innovation has come from San Rafael, Calif.–based Supress Products, which has introduced sound-engineered wallboard to control noise in residential single- and multifamily structures.
Meanwhile, residential builders are learning how some commercial products can result in installation efficiencies. For example, more residential builders are adopting large-format drywall sheets in their houses to speed the installation process or to accommodate taller ceilings. Jim Hannan, marketing support specialist at Diboll, Texas–based Temple-Inland, says the company's Stretch54 extra-wide gypsum has been extremely popular with builders lately. With a width of 54 inches, the product results in less taping, floating, and sanding, the company says.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Atlanta, GA.