Drywall Construction in Your Home and VOC's: A Comprehensive Guide


This informative guide will cover the under-discussed realm of drywall construction and its relevance to Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). As home dwellers, it is crucial you understand these interconnections because they directly influence indoor air quality. The article will range from the basics of drywall construction, understanding VOCs, their relationship, reduction measures, potential alternatives, legal regulations to a succinct conclusion. Ultimately, enabling a healthier residential environment.


Drywall, also known as gypsum board or sheetrock, is a construction material typically used to finish interiors of buildings. Its usage can be traced back to the 1940s in residential properties across the United States and has increased in popularity due to its cost-effectiveness, ease of installation, and versatility.

Drywall consists of panels made from gypsum plaster pressed between two thick sheets of paper. These panels are secured to the wooden or metal structures within a building, thus creating walls and ceilings. A significant advantage of using drywall over traditional methods like plaster lies in its installation speed and simplicity; it does not require a long drying or settling period as plaster does.

In terms of functionality, apart from providing privacy and design aesthetics, drywall contributes to sound control between rooms and has fire-resistant properties due to the water content in gypsum which helps slow down heat transfer during fires.

Despite its common usage, it's essential to see beyond the user-friendliness and convenience that drywall offers. Notably, consider the possible effects on indoor air quality, particularly regarding Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) release. Which brings us to an insightful understanding of VOCs themselves.


Volatile Organic Compounds, often abbreviated as VOCs, denote a vast grouping of carbon-based chemicals that exhibit high levels of vapor pressure at room temperature. This quality makes them highly prone to evaporation or sublimation from their solid or liquid states into the air around us. They are surprisingly common and can be found in everyday materials such as paint, solvents, aerosol sprays, cleansers and even drywall.

Depending on their specific composition, VOCs have varying impacts on human health and indoor air quality. Some compounds may cause eye, nose and throat irritation, shortness of breath, headaches and nausea. Long-term exposure to certain concentrations could lead to more severe health problems such as liver or kidney damage.

Furthermore, due to their reactive nature, VOCs play a significant role in atmospheric reactions leading to outdoor air pollution and smog. In terms of indoor air quality, given the right conditions, some VOCs react with other gases to produce secondary pollutants like formaldehyde.

This segues into our next section - delving into whether drywall construction can indeed become a source for indoor emissions of VOCs. Let's take a look at what's the relationship between the two.


While drywall itself is not inherently a significant source of VOCs, the compounds can be introduced at various stages of the manufacturing and construction process. For instance, some adhesive materials used to secure the gypsum core to its paper lining contain VOCs which may off-gas over time.

Furthermore, once installed, the application of paint, sealants and adhesives could lead to a heightened level of VOCs indoors. This phenomenon referred to as "off-gassing," is a process wherein VOCs are slowly released into the air from these products over their life span.

Significant amounts of VOCs might also emanate from newly added wallpaper or joint compounds to mend cracks and seams in drywalls. It's particularly relevant during renovations when older layers are disturbed.

Long-term exposure to these emissions inside enclosed spaces can impact indoor air quality detrimentally and thus require attention and careful management. The extent of this impact depends on several factors, including the materials used, ventilation rate, temperature, humidity level and the elapsed time since construction or renovation.

Now that we understand this relationship better let's explore how we reduce exposure to VOCs during drywall construction.


There are several steps that can be taken to minimize exposure to VOCs during drywall construction, which will ultimately contribute towards healthier indoor air quality.

Firstly, choosing materials wisely is vital. Opt for low-VOC or VOC-free drywall and associated products like adhesives, sealants, paints, and wallpapers wherever possible. Reading product labels helps make informed choices.

Secondly, effective ventilation during and after construction plays a crucial role in reducing VOC concentration levels indoors. Ensure windows are left open, and exhaust fans used where possible to increase airflow and disperse accumulated gases.

Next is implementing protective measures. Using dust-resistant drywalls and vacuum sanders during installation aids in preventing dust from these materials from contributing to indoor pollution.

Lastly, consider timing. To avoid peak emissions ("off-gassing") from influencing indoor air quality significantly when occupants are present; it might be beneficial to allow a newly constructed or renovated home to sit empty for a few days with windows open for natural ventilation.

These steps combined with the selection of alternative materials, which we will discuss next, can help reduce residents' potential health risk due to VOCs effectively.


Beyond conventional drywall construction, several alternatives manifest lower VOC emissions and can contribute to better indoor air quality.

One such option is eco-friendly wall panels made from recycled materials like agricultural waste or cardboard. Their composition often ensures they are mold-resistant and lead to a reduction in VOC off-gassing compared to standard gypsum board.

Another possibility is the use of magnesium oxide (MgO) boards. These fire-resistant options are growing in popularity not only due to their durability and resistance against mold and insects but also because they usually contain fewer VOCs.

Also gaining traction are autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) blocks that provide excellent thermal insulation along with reduced VOC emissions. Though slightly more expensive, AAC's benefits that include fire resistance and energy efficiency make it worth consideration for some homeowners.

Similarly, clay plaster walls offer a natural alternative by making use of clay, sand, and water, which off-gas significantly less than traditional painted drywall would. Coupled with their unique esthetics and enhanced humidity control capabilities, these could serve as compelling alternatives.

The exploration of these options alongside adherence to legal regulations and guidelines discussed next can aid in safer home building practices.


Various governmental and international organizations have stipulated guidelines concerning indoor air quality, including the emission of Volatile Organic Compounds from building materials like drywall.

In the United States, for instance, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set forth limitations on VOCs in various consumer and commercial products to mitigate their impact on outdoor air pollution. These regulations indirectly influence indoor VOC levels as manufacturers aim to comply with these standards, thus reducing the VOC content in their products.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also monitors exposure to certain types of VOCs in the workplace, making sure that levels do not exceed established safety limits.

On a global level, certifications such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), provide guidelines on selecting low-emitting materials for construction projects, helping improve indoor air quality. Akin is the GreenGuard Certification which specifically tests for lower chemical emissions from products contributing towards healthier surroundings.

Understanding these regulations and guidelines will enable more knowledgeable material choices as consumers, leading toward a safer and environmentally conscious home environment. Our final section will wrap up this comprehensive discussion.


In conclusion, prudent drywall construction can manage VOC emissions effectively, improving indoor air quality. By understanding the sources of VOCs, choosing low-emitting materials, adhering to established guidelines, and advancing toward eco-friendly alternatives, homeowners can create safer residences without compromising on comfort and design aesthetics.