How to Identify Asbestos-Based Drywall

By Stan G. in Construction

In the case of many American buildings, the most commonly encountered building supply is drywall, since for the longest time it represented the most popular choice regarding interior wall finishing. From residential buildings to industrial and commercial ones, drywall was the first choice in construction projects for a period of more than seven decades.

Drywall is also widely known under the names of gypsum wallboard and sheetrock. The extensive use of the material is based on valid reasoning: it does not require complex installation, it finishes smoothly and it is cost-effective, which made it perfectly convenient for homeowners and businesses across the United States. However, to the misfortune of such benefits, a large part of the manufacturers producing drywall used asbestos in its composition.

Until the 1980s, Asbestos Was Widely Used in Drywall Manufacturing Across the U.S.

In the period prior to the 1980s, building components in general, and that includes drywall, were made from mixtures containing asbestos. The initial plan that construction manufacturers had in mind was to encourage the addition of the mineral into the drywall in order to increase the strength of the material while at the same time keeping it lightweight. Other qualities, such as the mineral's properties for fireproofing and for soundproofing further sealed the deal on the rewarding use of asbestos in construction projects.

Companies that manufactured asbestos-containing wall materials include:

  • Bestwall Gypsum Company
  • Hamilton Materials, Inc.
  • Kaiser Gypsum Company, Inc.
  • Kelly-Moore Paint Company
  • National Gypsum Company
  • Synkoloid Company
  • American Biltrite
  • Amtico Floors
  • Armstrong World Industries
  • Congoleum Corporation
  • EverWear
  • GAF Corporation
  • Kentile Floors
  • Montgomery Ward
  • Sears-Roebuck

By the time World War II was happening, homes and public buildings all across the United States used asbestos-containing drywall for interior finishing. The period following the war brought about what historians refer to as a "building boom", which suggests that the demand for construction materials and, implicitly, for the miracle material, skyrocketed.

Our Asbestos Identification page contains information on how to identify materials that may contain asbestos.

How Do You Know Whether There Is Asbestos in Your Home's Drywall or Not?

  • The first step to identifying asbestos in your home's drywall is determining the date your property was built. If it was built after the 1930s, your interior walls are probably at least partially constructed of drywall.
  • Drywall sheets are conformed to 4 feet by 8 feet standard panel sizes similar to plywood.
  • The joint wall compound that is commonly used to close off the seams between drywall panels also contained asbestos between 1930 and 1980. This pre-mixed paste was used to join the gypsum boards together.
  • You also have to take into account that asbestos-containing joint compound may have been applied not only up to 18" wide over drywall joints but also in patches, repairs, around penetrations or fixtures, and in some buildings as a skim coat over an entire wall surface.
  • You can look for other warning signs such as older, unlabelled construction materials that are showing signs of degradation and wear.
  • You can also check the construction materials to see if they have any safety labels outlining the levels of asbestos. If there's no label, it's likely that the products are made before exposure to asbestos was identified as a health concern.

Handling A DIY Project

It should be kept in mind that simply having drywall in your house or work site does not pose a threat to your health, not even if there are asbestos fibers within it. It is important to take careful notice of the state of the materials. In this sense, the environment is safe to live in if the fibers are sealed in with paint that is in good condition and has not deteriorated over the years.

If your drywall does turn out to contain asbestos, and you intend to carry on by yourself with getting rid of it as part of your renovation project or repair work, then here are a few things you should consider before jumping into the do-it-yourself fever:

  • make sure that working with hazardous materials is approved in your state.
  • if homeowners are approved for abatement work, collect authorized information regarding the process.
  • admit your limitations and stick to small jobs, meaning actions that would disturb less than one square meter of drywall.
  • use a respirator equipped with P100 cartridges.
  • use disposable coveralls so that your clothes will not carry toxic fibers outside the work site.
  • dampen the drywall with a solution made from water and dishwasher detergent for as long as the process lasts to prevent dust.

If your project implies focusing on a little more than one square meter of drywall, than the adequate way to do it would be for you to hire a team of licensed abatement professionals to ensure both the success of your remodeling and the safety of your health.

Why Should I Test Products in My Home for Asbestos?

It is often impossible to tell whether asbestos is embedded in a material, as the fibers are too small to be observed with the naked eye. Exposure to asbestos is responsible for serious respiratory conditions, so thorough testing is required to ensure your home is asbestos-free.