Magnesia drywalls: better than bricks

The Indian construction industry continues to exhibit a traditional mindset largely by using brick or block walls when it comes to internal partitions in highrise buildings.

This defies international trends wherein brick or block walls have been jettisoned long ago for the modern and superior magnesia drywalls. If the international ratio of drywalls to brickwalls is 80:20, in India it is reversed.

'Drywalls', are walls constructed without the use of water at site, usually a metal framework as skeleton and building boards mechanically fastened on either side.

The industry did experiment with drywalls in the last fifty years by first switching from brick walls to internal partitions made of timber frame and wood-based panels. In the 1980s gypsum board and metal frame became the non-wood option, followed by calcium silicate and grey cement boards. One possible reason why drywalls could not make much headway was because none of the drywall options could substitute brick walls.

Now magnesia drywalls have entered the market. These have been in vogue in several countries: USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, Australia, Russia, China. In fact, China has been the world's largest manufacturer, domestic consumer and exporter, by virtue of the fact that it has the world's largest deposits of magnesite. They have been employed in these countries for both external walls and internal partitions. It is, however, novel to India.

Magnesia drywalls mimic a brick or block wall. They are strong and impact-resistant. They do not get spoilt in damp or wet conditions and so can be safely used in toilet and kitchen areas.

Their screw holding capacity is such that objects like LCD TVs and high-wall AC units can be mechanically fastened to the boards without the need of additional framework. They have the highest fire ratings of any building board and can be clad with tiles, stone, marble.

These drywalls are easy to install and saves 3-6 months of project time. No masonry skill sets are required, as installation is a mechanised process. There is a saving of up to 20 per cent in steel reinforcement costs. No water or sand is consumed at site. Magnesia drywalls afford the slimmest footprint hence freeing up carpet area.

All in all, magnesia drywalls are ideal as internal partitions for Indian buildings given our climate, project practices and post-occupancy maintenance. Other drywalls have largely been a Western idea where dry conditions exist both in terms of the weather and maintenance.

With the real estate sector coming to terms with restrictive water use during construction, drywalls seem the perfect alternative to ensure sustainability.

— Sandeep Mittal is MD, Anutone Building Systems

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