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 August 2007

Building a Better Gypsum Standard

WHEN ROBERT WESSEL WAS PRESENTED WITH THE ASTM AWARD OF MERIT IN 2000 HE WAS TOLD THAT IT WASN’T VERY OFTEN THAT SUCH AN AWARD WAS GIVEN TO SOMEONE FOR ELIMINATING STANDARDS. However, the lesson to be learned from Wessel and from ASTM standard C 1396/C 1396M, Specification for Gypsum Board, is that, in the world of standardization, sometimes less is indeed more.

Wessel, the assistant executive director of the Gypsum Association in Washington, D.C., and secretary of Committee C11 on Gypsum and Related Building Materials and Systems, coordinated the committee’s efforts to consolidate the information from nine other gypsum product standards into C 1396/C 1396M.

The purpose of this change was to allow for greater ease in balloting changes that involve a number of different gypsum product standards. By putting nine separate gypsum standards together under an “umbrella” standard, the committee could place all of the common information in C 1396/C 1396M. Changes to those sections could now be handled by balloting just one standard rather than nine. This streamlined process has allowed C 1396/C 1396M to emerge as a leading standard for gypsum products.

“We had a well thought-out plan, a pattern we were going to follow to make this work,” says Wessel. The plan to institute C 1396/C 1396M was done concurrently with the development of the standard. Wessel notes that it was fortunate that all of the gypsum manufacturers in the United States and Canada belong to the Gypsum Association and were supportive of the plans regarding C 1396/C 1396M and the related gypsum standards that it would supersede.

The development of C 1396 as an “umbrella” standard for the various types of gypsum board was well-received in the field, but some initial confusion had to be dealt with during the transitional years. For example, product labels indicating standard designations would need to be changed, but many companies keep two or three years worth of labels in their inventory, and wouldn’t want them to go to waste.

Another issue that presented itself early on in the transition process was that specifiers were used to simply listing a designation number when referencing a certain product. Now, with many of these products all part of C 1396/C 1396M, it has become more important that a product name along with the standard number, be included.

In order to minimize the confusion, the transition took place over a period of several years. At this point, the nine standards that were originally superseded by C 1396/C 1396M have all been withdrawn.

Those standards were:

• C 36, Specification for Gypsum Wallboard;
• C 37, Specification for Gypsum Lath;
• C 79, Specification for Treated Core and Nontreated Core Gypsum Sheathing Board;
• C 442, Specification for Gypsum Backing Board, Gypsum Coreboard, and Gypsum Shaftliner Board;
• C 588, Specification for Gypsum Base for Veneer Plasters ;
• C 630, Specification for Water-Resistant Gypsum Backing Board;
• C 931, Specification for Exterior Gypsum Soffit Board; and
• C 1395, Specification for Gypsum Ceiling Board.

The most recent revisions to the standard include an appendix featuring a table that lists the withdrawn standards that were replaced by C 1396/C 1396M. In addition, dimensional tolerances on thickness have been changed. “When these standards were originally written, the thickness control processes at a plant were much cruder than they are today, making it difficult to maintain thickness tolerances as tight as we do today,” says Wessel. “Now, we have electronic monitoring devices that monitor the thickness while a piece is being manufactured, which is important since some of these plants manufacture up to hundreds of millions of square feet of gypsum board in a year.”

Now that the transition to regular usage of C 1396/C 1396M in the gypsum industry is complete, Wessel is pleased with the results. “I thought this work on C 1396/C 1396M was an incredibly good example of cooperation among all the competing gypsum companies,” says Wessel. “C 1396/C 1396M was an idea whose time had come.”