Ultralight Drywall Basics Before You Buy

An attic with new drywall

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For do-it-yourselfers and many professionals, the excessive size and weight of drywall are at least two of its defining characteristics. Coupled with its unwieldy nature and its nearly china-like fragility, drywall can result in aches and pains in even the strongest person. Ultralight drywall is an alternative to standard drywall that promises to shave off some of the weight to make the carrying and hanging marginally easier.

What Is Ultralight Drywall?

Ultralight drywall is a generic term for drywall that is about 25-percent lighter than standard drywall. Half-inch thick ultralight weighs 13 pounds less than standard 1/2-inch thick drywall sheets.

Ultralight Drywall Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Easier to carry
  • Easier to hold and hang on the wall or ceiling
  • Produces slightly less dust when cutting

Cons

Brands and Types of Ultralight Drywall

U.S. Gypsum (USG) and Georgia-Pacific (GP) are the two leading manufacturers of ultralight drywall in the U.S.

USG Sheetrock UltraLight Brand

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 ToughRock Brand

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-foot by 8-foot thick. In terms of weight, it is comparable with Sheetrock UltraLight.

Ultralight Drywall Composition

According to the Sheetrock UltraLight specification sheets, the board is composed of gypsum or calcium sulfate dihydrate (85-percent or less), cellulose (10-percent or less), starch (5-percent or less), and crystalline silica (5-percent or less), an ingredient list roughly similar to conventional Sheetrock.

While formulae 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 the strength. Additionally, the introduction of a gaseous foaming agent to the gypsum slurry likely adds more air pockets to the wallboard. However, this foaming agent may be responsible for better-shaped pockets that provide superior structural strength.

Ultralight vs. Standard Drywall

A conventional 1/2-inch thick sheet of drywall measuring 4-foot by 8-foot weighs around 57 pounds. According to drywall maker USG, a 4-foot by 8-foot sheet of Sheetrock brand UltraLight Panel weighs 13 pounds less, for a total of 44 pounds. Some do-it-yourselfers find this weight manageable. Having a work partner is recommended for carrying and hanging sheets of drywall.

But when sizes and thicknesses exceed this, it can get to be quite unmanageable. Some installations require thicker Type-X 5/8-inch thick drywall. This drywall is used in garages or around furnace rooms to retard the spread of fire. A 4-foot by 8-foot sheet of 5/8-inch thick drywall weighs 74 pounds.

Drywall weight can become a very real issue since this is not a steady, static, and predictable weight. Drywall's weight is one that is continually moving: boards can flex and even an errant breeze can make it more difficult to hold the board.

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 4-foot by 8-foot half-inch conventional sheets.

Transporting in pairs saves time. More importantly, it reduces the monotonous drudge factor of carrying what can feel like hundreds of drywall sheets onto the worksite. So, the 26 pounds of weight savings per bundled pair of conventional boards can be helpful.

Ultralight Drywall Strength

Does lighter translate to weaker? USG notes that their light wallboard has "superior sag resistance" and that it hangs well on ceilings with 24-inch on-center joists. They also say that the product is "stronger pound-for-pound than standard 1/2-inch drywall."

USG does not clarify if this qualifier "pound-for-pound" means that Sheetrock UltraLight is stronger only proportionally-speaking, but that conventional drywall is still as strong or stronger.

Datasheets for the product state that, for hardness and flexural strength, Sheetrock UltraLight "meets or exceeds" ASTM C-1396 Specifications.

On a panel-by-panel basis, the ultralight version may still be weaker than the conventional drywall. Anecdotal evidence from installers and contractors points to a brittle consistency and edge breakage tendencies.

Should You Buy Ultralight Drywall?

USG's product is largely marketed to the 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. Adopting ultralight drywall may have a significant impact on a contractor's bottom line at the end of the year.

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.