ugly duckling house vs pretty handy girl

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Did you know you can soundproof a room with drywall? Or install some that can take a (literal) beating? During a recent tour of National Gypsum headquarters in Charlotte, NC, I learned a lot more about what makes their Purple XP drywall products so unique.

Click on these to jump to a section in this post (trying out a new feature with longer posts with lots of info, let me know if you like it):

Anyone out there a fan of the show, How Its Made? As a kid, I found this behind-the-scenes look at how everyday objects are created fascinating. Perhaps, in a small way, it influenced my adolescent brain into a career of showing people how I make/build/fix/renovate. (Funny that I didn’t really think about it until I started writing this last paragraph, but huh — neat!)

Often, when I start working with a brand as part of a blog partnership, I get invited to one of their manufacturing plants. For the brand, it’s one of the better ways to understand their products on a fundamental level: their company’s history, their motivations, their employees, the work that goes into new product development, and all sorts of things that lead up to the last step of using it in a home. For me, it’s an invite to the living version of the show I used to watch as a kid.

group tour with national gypsum

This fall, I’ll be working with National Gypsum and using one of their unique types of Purple XP drywall for a new sponsored project. But until I took the trip, I pretty much assumed all drywall was relatively the same. I mean, other than making sure you use the correct thickness for your wall or ceiling, that’s really all there is to it, right?

National Gypsum headquarters

Turns out — not true! If you see those purple drywall panels in the store, they have a few secrets up their sleeve…

Ask for Purple — Because It’s Moisture, Mold, and Mildew Resistant

It seems like I am learning a lot about water this year: moisture is the enemy of keeping a safe, clean, worry-free home. Indoors and out, bathrooms and kitchens — all of your home regularly interacts with water. At the same time, we need to prevent mildew, mold, and rot. That’s why we use pressure-treated wood and flashing tape on outdoor projects; it’s why polybutylene pipes became a problem; and it’s why we get all freaked out when we see a leak in our ceilings. It’s a very simple concept, and yet it is a very tall order for most manufactured products. I will now and forever remember the quote I heard while in Charlotte:

When owning a home, it’s not a matter of if you will have a moisture problem, it’s when.

Purple headquarters and showroom

Purple XP® drywall: if the name doesn’t mean much to you yet, it’s worth noting. What differs most about this product (other than the noticeable color, of course), is that it’s manufactured to be moisture, mildew, and mold resistant. You may have read about me using paint products with mildew-resistant properties in the past, and the reason is the same: to prevent that very expensive call to a remediation specialist. Toxic mold is not only extremely hazardous to have in the home, but it can be very expensive to remove (and once it’s in the drywall, it has to be ripped out). While paint products are still a good idea, it’s not going to do me much good if the back paper on the drywall is heading to Mold City.

Less than a month later after my trip, I had problems with my air conditioning unit, which forced me to cut a big hole in my ceiling. There was also the time my primary bath’s hot water valve popped right off, flooding the room. Brittany from Pretty Handy Girl was also on the trip (I love it when we get to hang out!); she’s had her share of not-so-fun adventures with mold. Eventually, I think every homeowner has a story of close calls or giant disasters!

Hangng out with Brittany - Pretty Handy Girl
A rare occasion where we’re hanging out but not covered in muck ;)

Bottom line is, if using a product likes this keeps mold from growing in the first place, and you may not always catch something growing behind your walls, it’s smart to prevent it rather than spend thousands of dollars repairing the damage (or deal with the health effects on those who live in the home).

How Its Made — Purple is… Green?

So, I started this whole post about how things are made. And I definitely learned more about that during the trip. As you might assume from the name National Gypsum or drywall’s other name, “gypsum board,” drywall is created from gypsum. Plenty of it is blasted out of quarries all over the country, which looks a lot like this when holding it in your hand:

Holding piece of quarried gypsum

But, drywall is also possible due to a byproduct of coal burning power plants. By filtering out and reusing this byproduct, it saves literal tons of waste from landfills. National Gypsum has also been making the paper that goes on the front and back out of recycled materials since the 1960s. And since having to rip out less drywall from mold damage keeps old home materials out of landfills, when you think about it, Purple is actually pretty green.

We got the opportunity to walk the entire length of the (extremely clean and hot) manufacturing center, and it was kind of amazing to see the mix come out in liquid form and be hardened to the touch by the time we walked to the end. They scooped up some of the liquid product for us in cups as well, and we could watch little filaments form on the edges as we walked through. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to film this part of the tour (pretty standard since they don’t want me accidentally capturing something important to their competitors), but I’ll have a video for you guys soon on all of the other cool things we got to see! In the meantime, you can catch this How Its Made version.

Specialty Drywall Types

As I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, one of the biggest surprises for me was to learn that there is far more to drywall than I thought. Some are made for areas that get knocked into a lot, and some are made to prevent neighbors from making each other miserable:

hitting ceiling with broomstick - Friends

XP® — the “normal” XP stuff is meant for most wall applications, and especially in areas where moisture might eventually be a threat, such as bathrooms (non-wet areas), kitchens (non-wet areas), basements, and laundry rooms. If you are building a new home or tearing out walls, I would recommend using it wherever drywall needs to be replaced (after all, the ceiling of my living room is really nowhere near a room I’d think I’d have a moisture issue, and yet, here I am).

Hi-Abuse XP® and Hi-Impact XP® — both of these drywall types are made for areas where the walls might take a beating. But where Hi-Abuse XP is more meant to resist scratches and scuffs (think hallways, stairways, or places where furniture gets moved around), Hi-Impact XP can literally be beaten with a bat and still hold up to its job. It’s got a fiberglass mesh inside the core, so it can withstand some impressive abuse! I know I’m only 5’2″, but I played fastpitch softball growing up… I really hammered this wall, and only broke through after repeatedly hitting it HARD in the same exact spot. Workshops, playrooms, frat houses, maybe the tasting room at a brewery… it’s a perfect match. If you’ve ever had to repair a hole punched through a wall, you know that running some joint compound over a dent is far easier than patching a hole.

Sarah - Ugly Duckling House - Hitting Purple Drywall

SoundBreak XP® — This was my FAVORITE thing to learn about during the trip. Almost all of us are familiar with “thin walls” and noisy neighbors in hotels, apartments, townhomes or condos. Sometimes, it’s as though a neighbor only has to blink and you can hear it through the walls. An interesting piece of info shared was that, with the popularity of mixed-use real estate and the conversion of commercial buildings into high-rise lofts, noise-related lawsuits are becoming much more common for real estate developers. So, a lot of them are starting to pay more attention to the cost vs. risk of using cheaper, lightweight drywall where noise slips right through. But that’s not what got me so excited…

SoundBreak XP Retrofit® Board — THIS. This product is so cool, because it can be applied on TOP of your existing drywall to add a sound barrier! It’s super thin, so it can be installed without demo-ing your walls, which saves a LOT of time and labor. I can think of all sorts of applications for something like this: nursery walls, media rooms, bedrooms (hehe), or even a home office or workshop. With the effort I’ve been putting into doing both written and video tutorials this year, I have a greater need for cutting out background noise (barking dogs & air conditioning/fans are really inconvenient for voice-overs, so I usually have to do it in my primary bedroom closet!). And like many of my woodworker friends who find their creativity at night, I would love the opportunity to learn new skills without annoying my neighbors (or the bearded guy sleeping upstairs).


To give us some “hands-on” demos, they first presented a few pointers on how to better tape drywall seams and install drywall properly. I was very into it, since I have had a little experience with both repairing old drywall and installing new drywall over paneling. Even though I have learned a lot through my own DIY efforts, it’s great to get some solid tips from an expert in the field.

Drywall demonstration

Then, they had the group of us — me, Brittany, and a handful of professional remodelers (that was quite a different experience, since almost all of my trips include only DIYers and this had pros in the mix!) take part in a competition!

ugly duckling house vs pretty handy girl

Considering that at least one member of our group had decades of experience doing this exact task (and coughcough, used his tape measure to make sure he got exact 12-inches on center when the rest of us were told we couldn’t measure — but no, I’m not bitter ?), it wasn’t really a shocker to me that I lost. I was glad to know that I can hold my own in the room, though!

drywall competition

Why I’m Working With Ask for Purple

Before you guys think that I’m going to only sing the virtues of Purple, there is one thing that I will say is a negative, at least in my area: availability. It’s available in big box stores in some places, but where I live, I’ll probably have to order it (especially if it’s something like Retrofit). It’s not that I have an issue with working with local suppliers (I think it’s good to support local business). It’s that I’m no stranger to needing eight trips to get supplies in a single week, and at least one of them will be 15 minutes before closing. So, whenever I consider working with a brand, I heavily weigh whether or not the “extra effort” is worth it. As cool as a product might be, I certainly don’t want to add to my DIY frustrations by the store being closed while there’s still daylight and I have a deadline to meet, or having something only available if I buy in bulk. Pros have enough experience to create a list they can more easily stick to. But that’s not my life, and I don’t want to pretend it is. And it wouldn’t be honest to advocate that you should make extra efforts that I wouldn’t be willing to make.

As you probably guessed, I had zero problem telling the marketing team exactly this. A homeowner needs more than just the product’s benefits or cost; the experience can still be intimidating and frustrating. And that’s ultimately why I chose to work with them. Because a pro can know all day and night why one product might be better than the other and advocate for it with ease. A brand’s sales team can work their magic to get a product into stores to test sales performance. But if there’s something out there that will solve a DIYers problem and we don’t actually know it exists, we can’t go looking for it or ask the store to start carrying it. This is one of those times where it might legit be worth it, and we’ll see once I install!

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  1. Great post! I would have loved to go on this manufacturing tour. You rock! Sheetrock that is. HaHa get it?

    1. Haha, I knew you would have loved going! Wish I could have taken more footage in the actual plant, but I knew ahead of time that probably wasn’t going to happen. Still neat to learn about and see all of the work that goes into their research.