Branded plasterboard-based building systems are backed by a huge investment in testing, says the Gypsum Products Development Association’s Crispin Dunn-Meynell 

Drywall building systems from the UK and Ireland’s plasterboard manufacturers have an unparalleled record for safety and reliability, thanks to a multi-million pound ongoing investment in performance testing. It is this continuous testing that enables the manufacturers – British Gypsum, Gypsum Industries, Knauf Drywall and Lafarge Plasterboard – to offer comprehensive warranties for properly installed systems.

The four companies use independent specialists and in-house facilities to conduct hundreds of tests each year to confirm the fire, acoustic and structural performance of their systems.  Individual testing budgets are not disclosed, but as a single fire test can cost from about £6,000 and an acoustic test from around £4,000, an industry-wide total in the millions becomes easy to appreciate.    

Through their emphasis on testing, the GPDA-member manufacturers reduce the risk in their own businesses and importantly also provide contractors and installers with the confidence that every performance aspect of the specific system being installed has been tested, and is guaranteed to perform to specification.

Some distributors and contractors have now started to offer their own ‘tested’ hybrid systems, which look to offer savings by substituting key components with cheaper items. However, testing of such systems is generally limited, with many ‘system performances’ being extrapolated from a single test. The results quoted for these hybrid systems may also be outdated as the companies lack the resources for ongoing testing and do not control the manufacture of every component – so subsequent manufacturing changes may not be reflected in the ‘tested’ performance.

It is worth noting at this point that there is a common misconception that if a product is ‘made to British Standards’ then it will perform identically to a different product made to the same standard. This simply isn’t true, which is why the major manufacturers spend so much money on ongoing development and testing to chase performance gains. 

The main board and system manufacturers are aware of the impact of even small evolutionary changes in their products, so tests are conducted in tandem with each significant change to ensure that systems continue to perform as specified. Changes in a system can arise through variations in one or more components – for example, as a result of new technology, manufacturing processes or the source of raw materials. Even changes that might seem insignificant can have a big impact – for example, a minor change in the dimensions of service slots in steel studs can significantly affect the transmission of sound waves within a partition, with potentially major implications for its overall acoustic performance.    

There is also a practical benefit in using branded systems. Because components are designed to work together, the manufacturers are able engineer improvements that simplify installation – for example, steel studs that ‘snap’ perfectly into head and floor tracks and hold them firmly in place. Installers who think they are saving money when they buy cheaper, non-branded components may find that the studs are more demanding to install, so the installation takes longer – rapidly wiping out any advantage of cheaper materials.

All the branded system manufacturers offer comprehensive technical support as part of the service. In the very unlikely event that a correctly installed, warrantied system has a problem, the manufacturer will quickly step in. It should be noted, though, that the high profile failures that have occurred recently have involved substituted components. In such cases, contractors and installers can risk facing litigation and serious financial difficulties. Even the suppliers and distributors of hybrid systems can be at risk. Specifiers must take their responsibilities seriously and should stand up to contractors who try to ‘dumb-down’ a system under the cover of ‘value-engineering’ by substituting components. A performance system is specified for a reason: stick to it!

To ensure that the manufacturer’s warranty is in place, installers simply have to use the full system as specified by the manufacturer – boards, insulation, studs, tracks, screws, jointing materials as well as other accessories and finishing products. If it is a GPDA member’s branded system it is a tested system – and it can be trusted.   

Each manufacturer’s systems are specified to give the appropriate performance as required by the national standards and Building Regulations, for example airborne sound reduction and fire resistance. All four companies have a similar range of solutions for partitioning and dry lining, but even their reputable components are not interchangeable.   

The safest policy, therefore, is for all involved in the specification, procurement and installation of drywall systems to select the manufacturer and supply chain that best suits their needs, and to follow the specification correctly, down to the last screw. The result will be a system that is reliably tested and can be trusted to deliver the specified performance.     

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