Drywall panels made of gypsum sandwiched between sheets of face and backer paper are the standard material used to construct most wall and ceiling surfaces. This material revolutionized the home construction industry when it came into widespread use in the years after WWII. For its benefits, drywall is not without drawbacks. One is weight.
For most do-it-yourselfers and some professionals, the large size and heavy weight of drywall panels are its two most negative characteristics. Coupled with its unwieldy nature and its fragility, drywall is difficult to move around by hand, especially when you're a do-it-yourselfer working alone.
Ultralight drywall is an alternative to standard drywall that promises to shave off some of the weight to make transport, carrying, and hanging drywall a little easier.
How Much Does a Sheet of Drywall Weigh?
A conventional 1/2-inch sheet of drywall measuring 4 feet by 8 feet weighs just over 51 pounds. At around 39 pounds, a sheet of 1/2-inch thick ultralight drywall weighs 12 pounds less than a standard 1/2-inch thick drywall sheet.
Since drywall is usually purchased in batches, the weight difference is more telling when 25-sheet stacks of drywall are compared against each other. A stack of 1/2-inch ultralight drywall is nearly 300 pounds lighter than a stack of conventional drywall.
Also significant is the weight difference between sheets of the larger, 4-foot by 12-foot drywall. A great timesaver, these larger sheets do have one problem: Not just long, they are heavy and difficult to carry. Each ultralight panel is 18 pounds lighter than a conventional panel—a major help when off-loading a panel from the truck or carrying it upstairs.
|Size, Thickness||Quantity||Conventional Drywall||Ultralight Drywall|
|4x8, 1/2-inch||1||51.2 pounds||39.2 pounds|
|4x8, 1/4-inch||1||28.8 pounds||Not available|
|4x12, 1/2-inch||1||76.8 pounds||58.8 pounds|
|4x8, 1/2-inch||25||1,280 pounds||980 pounds|
|4x12, 1/2-inch||25||1,920 pounds||1,470 pounds|
Ultralight drywall is a generic term for a building material that is about 25-percent lighter than standard drywall. A panel of 1/2-inch thick ultralight drywall weighs 13 pounds less than standard 1/2-inch thick drywall sheets.
According to the Sheetrock UltraLight specification sheets, ultralight drywall is composed of gypsum or calcium sulfate dihydrate (85 percent or less), cellulose (10 percent or less), and continuous filament glass fiber (5 percent or less), an ingredient list roughly similar to conventional Sheetrock.
While the formulas for ultralight drywall boards are proprietary, a slightly higher degree of pregelatinized corn starch and a special type of surfactant may help account for the lightness and strength.
More importantly, the introduction of a gaseous foaming agent to the gypsum slurry likely adds more air pockets to the wallboard, reducing its weight. This foaming agent may also be responsible for better-shaped pockets that provide superior structural strength. In other words, ultralight drywall has more air in it than regular drywall.
Lighter for carrying
Easier to install
Less dust when cutting
Less expensive to transport
Slightly higher cost
More brittle than conventional drywall
1/4-inch sheets not available
Ultralight Drywall Cost
Ultralight drywall typically costs slightly more than standard drywall, but not by an amount that is significant for most DIYers.
For pros, ultralight tends to run about 20 cents per square foot, while standard drywall runs about 18 cents. This difference becomes significant only for very large jobs.
At major big box home improvement centers, you can expect to pay around $16 per sheet of 1/2-inch ultralight drywall. The cost differences between ultralight and standard are so slight that they are often rendered invisible by whatever weekly sales specials are being conducted.
Maintenance and Repair
Installed correctly, ultralight drywall has the same profile for maintenance and repair as standard drywall. Some users report that ultralight is somewhat more susceptible to cracking under impact, but the damage is generally easily repaired with a little additional taping and mudding work.
There is no appreciable design advantage for ultralight drywall over standard drywall. This is a material that can be used for all wall and ceiling finish surfaces in any residential application.
Ultralight Drywall Installation
Ultralight drywall is cut, installed, and finished in exactly the same way as standard drywall. Panels are cut to fit, then positioned against framing members and anchored with drywall screws. Seams are finished with drywall tape and several layers of drywall compound, which is sanded smooth before the walls are painted. Some pros report that because ultralight is less susceptible to sagging, they can attach overhead panels with fewer screws. However, manufacturer's instructions are virtually identical for ultralight drywall and standard drywall, and DIYers are advised to treat both types of drywall identically when installing.
Ultralight Drywall vs. Standard Drywall
The main difference between ultralight and standard drywall is the weight and its 1/4-inch availability.
According to drywall maker USG, a 4 x 8-foot sheet of Sheetrock brand UltraLight Panel weighs 12 pounds less than a conventional sheet, for a total of just over 39 pounds. Some do-it-yourselfers who find standard 1/2-inch drywall too heavy may find this weight to be significantly more manageable.
The weight advantage of ultralight becomes more significant with thicker panels. A 4 x 8-foot sheet of standard 5/8-inch thick drywall weighs 70.4 pounds, with ultralight drywall weighing 51.2 pounds. So, a 19-pound reduction in weight offered by ultralight can be significant.
Be aware that thicker Type-X drywall may be required for some installations—for example in garages or around furnace rooms to retard the spread of fire, though ultralight drywall has been developed to meet certain requirements, as well.
Consider, too, that drywall sheets often come bundled in pairs—two sheets sold as one, with a paper binding strip down the edges. If you choose to keep the paper binding strip in place, you might conceivably be carrying 114 pounds for every bundled pair of 1/2-inch 4 x 8-foot conventional sheets. So, the 26 pounds of weight savings per bundled pair of conventional boards can be helpful.
The other difference between conventional and ultralight drywall is that ultralight panels are not available in a 1/4-inch thickness. Quarter-inch drywall is less commonly used than 1/2-inch drywall. But it sometimes comes up when skim-sheeting a surface or creating bends.
Does Lighter Mean Weaker?
USG notes that their light wallboard has "superior sag resistance" and that it hangs well on ceilings with 24-inch on-center joists. The company also says that the product is "stronger pound-for-pound than standard 1/2-inch drywall."
It may, however, be weaker on a square foot basis, which is the anecdotal evidence from installers and contractors. Professionals report that ultralight panels may be more brittle and more prone to edge breakage than standard drywall panels. But Datasheets for the product state that, for hardness and flexural strength, Sheetrock UltraLight "meets or exceeds" ASTM C-1396 Specifications. For DIYers, there is really no reason to avoid ultralight drywall out of concerns for its strength.
Top Brands of Ultralight Drywall
U.S. Gypsum (USG) and Georgia-Pacific (GP) are the two leading manufacturers of ultralight drywall in the U.S.
- USG was the first company to introduce ultralight drywall, and they continue to do this with their Sheetrock UltraLight Panels brand. This product comes in both 1/2-inch and 5/8-inch non-fire-rated thicknesses.
- GP makes a light drywall product called ToughRock Gypsum Board in 1/4-inch, 3/8-inch, and 1/2-inch thicknesses. This product is slightly less than 44 1/2 pounds per 1/2-inch-thick sheet at 4 x 8-foot size. In terms of weight, it is comparable with Sheetrock UltraLight.
Is Ultralight Drywall Right for You?
Once largely marketed to professionals—either drywall hangers who carry the product every day or to contractors who need to think about issues such as workplace injuries and productivity—ultralight drywall has migrated into residential DIY use.
For do-it-yourself homeowners, the weight savings will be felt with every trip made from the home center to the truck and from the truck to the house. Drywall is always heavy and unwieldy, and there is no way to get around that. But this slightly lighter board may help do-it-yourselfers with the difficult loading and unloading tasks and especially when it is necessary to hold the sheets overhead for ceiling installations.
USG Sheetrock Brand Ultralight Panels Mold Tough. USG Interior Panels and Finishing Solutions.
USG Sheetrock Brand Ultralight Panels. USG Interior Panel and Finishing Solutions.