I’ve been painting and cutting plasterboard on and off for the last week now as we work on some ceilings. In our various renovations we’ve used vast quantities of plasterboard, and we haven’t finished yet. So I decided it was time I did some research on it.

Plasterboard, plaque à plâtre here in France, and drywall in the USA, is made from a layer of gypsum paste sandwiched between two sheets of thin cardboard. The central layer is made from ground gypsum mixed with starch, paper pulp and thickeners. The whole lot is then cooked at 70 degrees Celsius. At this stage the sheets of plasterboard are up to 450 m long! They’re cut to size once they’ve cooled, a common size here being 120 by 250 cm.

Plasterboard became popular after the Second World War, although it had been around since 1916. To start with it was thought of as a cheap and inferior substitute for traditional plastering and wasn’t popular. But when the menfolk went off to fight there were labour shortages and plasterboard proved its value as a low cost and quick method of construction. It was positively patriotic to use it!

Plasterboard is fairly green. Recycled materials are used in the gypsum paste and the cardboard casing is up to 100% recycled newspapers. However, there are emissions when the product is made, although in the USA the first zero emission drywall has hit the market. There are recycling centres where you take all those leftover offcuts. Lafarge in France has such a centre at Carpentras. And of course gypsum is a finite resource. It is mined out of the ground. Once a quarry is exhausted, it is made safe, landscaped and replanted and made as pleasant as it can be. French manufacturers have undertaken to do what they can to minimise negative environmental effects.

We couldn’t manage without plasterboard. It’s allowed us to do our renovation work ourselves – the only way we could afford to do it. As well as being reasonably priced, it’s relatively easy to handle, can be cut to shape, paints up well and has fire-retardant qualities. A pretty useful material. However, I shall be quite happy not to see another sheet of it for a long, long time…