New HomeFree Resources for Choosing Safer Drywall

HBN | July 2020 | Newsletter

Drywall use is prevalent in the U.S. where nearly 24 billion square feet of gypsum board is sold every year.1 As a high volume building material, drywall represents an opportunity for the construction industry to impact human and environmental health by making better-informed decisions. However, understanding the health-related impacts of different options is not always a simple task. To help you meet this challenge, HBN created the new HomeFree product page for drywall, which includes a wealth of information to help you understand the health-related impacts of different drywall options and make more informed decisions about the products you use.

Our rules of thumb below highlight HBN’s key recommendations for choosing drywall materials. You can learn more in the “Read More” section found on the drywall product page, including both the “what” and the “why” of these recommendations.

  • Prefer drywall with the lowest amount of synthetic gypsum or flue-gas desulfurization (FGD) gypsum, also referred to as pre-consumer recycled content.
  • Look for drywall with post-consumer recycled content and consider how your projects can separate drywall cut-offs for recycling.
  • Avoid using mold resistant drywall where not needed.
  • Prefer products with a low emission certification per the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) standard.2
  • Prefer products with full disclosure of content through the industry’s collaborative, user-designed open standard, Health Product Declaration (HPD).
  • Use lightweight boards when possible.

Also included is a new HBN Hazard Spectrum for the drywall product category. HBN developed Hazard Spectrums as a framework to organize our research and recommendations in a given product category. The simplified spectrum identifies safer materials to look for and red-flags materials to avoid. You can use it to benchmark your current practice and take a step up to healthier options. Products in green categories are typically the best options, whereas products at the bottom of the spectrum, in red, are to be avoided. Those in between provide intermediate options from a health hazard perspective. Details on each product type can be found by expanding the associated section on the Hazard Spectrum.


Image: HBN’s HomeFree Hazard Spectrum for Drywall

One of the key recommendations for this category is avoidance of synthetic gypsum. Synthetic gypsum, or FGD gypsum, is considered pre-consumer recycled content in drywall. While it may seem counterintuitive to caution against recycled content in a high volume building material, it is important to keep in mind that not all material that is considered “recycled content” is created equal. Some recycled materials can contain legacy hazardous content from their prior use, and some, like FGD are industrial waste materials from other processes. Pollution control systems at coal-fired power plants reduce the emissions of mercury and other pollutants from those facilities by capturing them in FGD gypsum and other pollution control residues like fly ash. When FGD gypsum is then used in drywall manufacturing, it can shift the mercury emissions from power plants to the drywall manufacturing process. More details can be found in our accompanying newsletter article here.

Another new resource available on the product page is a blog post on choosing drywall accessory products. Check it out to learn about rules of thumb for drywall ‘mud’ and acoustical sealants.

HBN has product category guidance and Hazard Spectrums for nine product categories, focusing primarily on interior finishes—the surfaces and spaces with which people are most often in contact. If you have suggestions about ways to improve our Hazard Spectrums or additional product categories that would be most helpful in your work, please let us know.


[1] Based on annual sales between 2015-2019. USGS. “Gypsum Statistics and Information.” Accessed June 11, 2020.

[2] California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Standard Method for Testing and Evaluation of VOC Emissions (formerly called California 01350) uses a small scale chamber test to determine emission of VOCs from products. Results of the small scale testing are modeled to represent different real world scenarios. The most protective is the residential scenario, and this should be preferred if available. Most certifications now available are for the less protective school or private office scenarios. Programs that certify the CDPH Standard Method or a variation of the standard include GreenGuard Gold, SCS Indoor Advantage Gold, and Berkeley Analytical Clear Chem.