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Area Sales Manager
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It’s amazing the difference a certificate can make!
Late last year the BBA extended accreditation for our gypsum fibreboard as internal partitioning and dry-lining to external rainscreen backer board, an investment primarily made to appeal to the architectural market.
The very positive feedback gave us the confidence to review the product’s use as an internal rainscreen, or tile backer board, for small builders through the merchant market.
A priority was resizing the product to make it more attractive for use by them as opposed to the specialist cladding sub-contractors who install an architect’s specification. So now our gypsum fibreboard is available in handy-size 800 x 1200mm panels as well as the traditional 2400 x 1200mm format typically required for commercial projects.
Our technical team in Germany put this new format through an extensive test programme, reviewing the fitting instructions to bring them into line with the standard practice for the usual cement-based boards.
The new-format 12.5mm thick boards were launched into the builders’ merchant market late last year as “Backer board for tiles” and have been a resounding success.
A leading builders’ merchant group has reported a sales increase of 50% versus cement-based boards the previous year and the number of merchants stocking this product is now more than 400 and growing rapidly.
This is a notable departure for builders’ merchants and tile retailers who have traditionally opted for plasterboard or cement-based boards as the specialist moisture-resistant boards to hang bathroom and kitchen tiles from.
Plasterboards have the advantage of being low-cost, easy to work with and readily available but unless they are sealed correctly there is a significant risk of failure as even moisture-resistant plasterboards are susceptible to mould growth.
Some 7% of the 240 million square metre standard plasterboard market is estimated to be sold into the wrong application where a moisture-resistant or waterproof board should be used, that is bathrooms, kitchens and damp and wet areas in general.
Cement-based boards on the other hand are almost totally impervious to moisture but are much more expensive, not appropriate for the traditional dot and dab technique, require specialist tools to work with and the silica dust is potentially harmful.
Despite being made of the same materials as plasterboard - gypsum and paper – gypsum fibreboard is much more dense, and crucially, the paper is bonded in a homogenous mix rather than being an external layer. So its performance when exposed to moisture is very different. It’s also a fraction of the price of cement-based boards.
The BBA certificate reinforces the fact that gypsum fibreboard has been proven not to promote mould growth and to retain its size and shape and not deteriorate when exposed to moisture levels of up to 80%.
This moisture resistance is such that even before BBA certification as a rainscreen backer board it was often installed before the building envelope was complete in conditions where plasterboard would fail.
This makes it ideal for tiling and decoration (paint and wallpaper can be applied directly to it) in domestic bathrooms and kitchens as well as basements and garages.
What we believe has made the difference in it now being so successful through builders merchants is an increasingly savvy consumer, who like today’s architects, want to minimise the risk of product failure.
Influenced by TV programmes about DIY disasters and cowboy builders, they want a product that does what it says on the tin, without paying the earth for it.
The trend for kitchens and bathrooms to be the deciding factor in a home purchase or improvement shows no sign of abating and neither does the use of ceramic tiles on the walls and floors of these rooms, with many millions of square metres sold in the UK every year.
The more recent trend to hang sanitary ware and vertical radiators from walls is also catered for by gypsum fibreboard as with up to 50kg per cavity fixing of load hanging strength, radiators and cupboards can be fixed directly onto it without the need for additional support or patressing.
Gary Carter, general manager, Fermacell