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Charlotte-based drywall company is breaking out new products

By Allen Norwood
Correspondent

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Anitra Mecadon grabbed the hefty wooden cudgel and whaled away at the impact resistant drywall panel. She’s an interior designer on TV who’s the size of a petite pop star, but she swung for all she was worth. There was a solid thump – and a small ding in the drywall.

Then yours truly took a few cuts.

With a one-handed backhand, I had knocked a fist-size hole in regular drywall. With two hands, swinging as if I were pulling a softball down the third base line, I swung at the impact-resistant panel. All I managed was a small dent. A dimple, really, fixable with one swipe of spackling.

We were checking out a new generation of drywall products about to hit market from Charlotte-based National Gypsum, which is out to show you that drywall is a lot more interesting and innovative than you thought.

In fact, top manufacturers have been working to improve drywall products, especially since corrosive drywall from China was discovered in U.S. homes in 2006 and 2007. Moisture and mold resistance has been improved. Since mold forms on the paper surface, some new drywall is paperless.

National Gypsum is the No. 2 maker of drywall in the country, according to its web site, and controls 23 percent of the market. The chairman of the company is Charlotte investor Clemmie “Dick” Spangler Jr., former president of the consolidated UNC system.

The company has 17 gypsum board plants across the country, including a state-of-the-art facility in Mount Holly that uses gypsum scrubbed from the emissions at the Duke Energy Marshall Steam Plant on Lake Norman.

Taking a test drive

The test drive came in the basement of the National Gypsum research center, across Barclay Downs Drive from SouthPark. The company has been based in Charlotte since 1978, said Jay Watt, director of marketing.

This building not far from the headquarters is where the company develops products like the impact-resistant drywall, as well as soundproofing drywall, low-dust finishing compound and more.

Mecadon is host of the show “Mega Dens” on the DIY Network. “It’s the first family room makeover show,” she said. “Not just for moms, but for the whole family.”

Later this summer, National Gypsum will spread the word about its “Purple” line of high-performance drywall in national ads.

There’s lots to share. The company has patented the color purple, the signature hue for its XP drywall products, Watt said. The face of XP drywall is purple. The company has used the color to distinguish the improved products as it has developed and introduced them.

The products are featured in the DIY Network’s interactive “Blog Cabin,” a 1892 cedar-shake cottage on the North Carolina coast being remodeled by Charlotte contractor Andrew Roby. A virtual tour of the home launches July 16; episodes of “Blog Cabin” will air beginning July 29.

Why it costs a bit more

How much more do the specialty drywall products cost?

Price varies, but this week at Lowe’s a 4-by-12-foot sheet of Hi-Impact was about $39, special order for a small amount. That’s about three times the price of a standard sheet the same size.

Watt estimates that works out to $100 to $200 per room more for materials.

The Hi-Impact XP drywall features a fiberglass mesh imbedded on the back of the board, which prevents penetrations. Our inability to damage the product was amazing, but the formal tests were even more impressive.

Using a heavy swinging weight, with exactly the same force each time, Director of Product Development Michael Blades demonstrated the difference between regular drywall and Hi-Impact.

The weight knocked a hole the size of a soccer ball in the regular drywall. The same blow damaged the Hi-Impact more than we’d been able to – but not much more.

Your teenager won’t be able to slam a hole through this stuff with a doorknob, and your car door won’t poke through it in the garage.

Other new products

Sound-dampening drywall, which National Gypsum calls SoundBreak XP, is a huge improvement, too. Anyone who lives in a condo or townhouse will appreciate its qualities. Or anyone who just wants a sound barrier between noisy great room and quiet bedroom.

The product consists of two thin sheets of high-density drywall, laminated together with core of elastic polymer that never hardens. The soft core absorbs and dissipates the noise.

At the research center, Blades led us to a room with three identical closets. He cranked up a radio in the center closet. The space on the right was separated from the radio by standard drywall. In that tiny room, the radio was clearly audible, barely dampened. We could hear every word. In the closet on the left, separated by SoundBreak XP drywall, the noise was half what it had been in the right space – and the decibel meter over the door confirmed what we heard.

You not only can use SoundBreak in new construction, but also add it as a layer over standard drywall during remodeling.

The finishing touch

If you’re a do-it-yourselfer or planning a renovation project, you’ll appreciate the low-dust qualities of ProForm XP Ready Mix with Dust-Tech. That’s National Gypsum’s low-dust finishing compound. It reduces dust by 60 percent, the company says, because it’s formulated so most dust falls straight down. That means much less dust will permeate your sofa, drapes and carpet. In a setting like a hospital, Watt said, pervasive dust is not only a nuisance, but also a health threat.

It’s not difficult to sand, either, the way some fast-drying products are.

We saw other products, including a flexible cement board for use as a tile backer. The company calls it PermaBase Flex. It’s designed for curved walls, indoors and out, that will be covered in tile or stucco. We saw abrasion resistant drywall.

All drywall is fire-resistant. It’s one of the product’s most important qualities. Both the paper surface and gypsum core of National Gypsum’s Purple XP products also are mold- and mildew-resistant.

“It installs just the same,” Watt said. “That’s the great thing. Labor to hang and finish it is exactly the same.”

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