Dodging Drywall

Warnings about defective drywall may have some homeowners looking for alternatives to any kind of drywall. On April 2, the federal government recommended that homeowners remove widely installed but defective drywall that may be corroding metal in their homes. Later in April, a federal judge ruled that a Chinese drywall company must pay $2.6 million in restitution to six homeowners.

In the United States, buildings without drywall are rare. There are some exceptions, such as plaster-finished cob construction or this $454 million car factory made of glass.

However, most homeowners need something simple to cover the framing and insulation. There are a couple of interesting, though relatively expensive, alternatives to drywall.

Wood Paneling

Wood paneling may bring 1970s flashbacks, but there are some attractive, contemporary and green alternatives to the fake wood veneers flaking onto the orange shag carpet.

Bamboo plywood panels are made from layers of the sturdy and rapidly renewing grass. They are pressed together, and can be treated with fire retardants. Some products also are pre-finished and available in a wide variety of colors and styles. Manufacturers claim bamboo is 30 percent harder than oak, and more resistant to termites, mold and warping.

For an even more distinctive look, check out B&N Industries' reclaimed wood panels. The high-end California design and build company makes patterned wood panels using recycled redwood, fir and teak. The panels are certified by the Forest Sustainability Council, have low-VOC finishes, and are thick enough to install in place of drywall.

Basement Finishing Systems

Insulation industry giant Owens Corning is the leading manufacturer of specialized fiber board panels for finishing basements. Basement Finishing Systems panels are thick, insulated and more moisture-resistant than drywall. They also are easily removed to access wiring and foundation walls.

The drawbacks to the panels are aesthetics and installation. They are less attractive than finished drywall, and must be installed by certified professionals.

EcoRock Drywall

This year, Serious Materials will debut its EcoRock drywall. As the name suggests, EcoRock looks like standard drywall, but is more green and reportedly healthier than standard gypsum sheetrock.

The panels are 80 percent recycled cement plant waste and other materials and require 80 percent less energy for production than regular drywall. Used, broken and scrap drywall can also be used as a soil additive or reformed into new EcoRock sheets, according to the company. Serious Materials also claims it will be the most termite- and mold-resistant drywall on the market.

Know What You Need

Before potentially sinking thousands of dollars replacing your walls and exploring these alternatives, check that you truly have defective drywall. You just need to look for corroded copper wiring, or hire an inspector who can check for problems without tearing out any drywall. For more information, read this Wall Street Journal summary of what homeowners should do to detect and replace the problem drywall.

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