As the nationwide plasterboard shortage causes severe delays to projects, there’s a pressing need to think carefully about how we are using it: waste is not an option.
Plasterboard has long been the standard material for interior lining of New Zealand buildings, with alternatives few and far between.
In early 2020, as the pandemic began to wreak havoc on supply chains, stock began to deplete and demand increased. 95% of New Zealand’s plasterboard supply comes from one company – Winstone Wallboards, a subsidiary of Fletcher Building, who holds KiwiSaver as one of their biggest investors. The first lockdown came after the annual Christmas shutdown, and when the country began to reopen for the construction industry, the company’s Auckland factory was forced to remain closed.
Since then, construction companies with available space and resources have been stockpiling, and as the construction industry continues at record rates, the supply is severely struggling to keep up with demand.
Winstone Wallboards has put a hold on new orders to create a new “allocation model”, due to take effect in July, and major suppliers like Carters and Placemakers have warned of a huge backlog of orders.
Projects are grinding to a halt while they wait for plasterboard deliveries, and frustration is mounting.
The 5% of the market not controlled by Winstone Wallboards have a seemingly impossible hill to climb to meet the huge demand – and global supply chain issues have made it even harder for their imported products to make it to New Zealand.
Elephant Board holds around 3% of the market, imports its product from Thailand and struggles to overcome the generic ‘GIB board’ term. Speaking to Stuff, Managing Direction Kevin van Hest says “the word GIB has become generic. People think if it’s not GIB it’s a different product. People should call it ‘plasterboard’ on building consents and people should have a choice.”
Current council rules mean only one brand of plasterboard can be specified on a plan at the consent stage, and once approved, it’s notoriously difficult to alter that product. Add to that the slow response of the Government to address the market monopoly, and the legislative challenges mount. So too does the cost of building, at a time when that cost continues to reach record peaks.
In 2014, the Commerce Commission investigated Willstone Wallbaord’s market position and found no evidence it had acted “anti-competitively” to maintain market dominance. This year, a similar probe has been launched by the Commission to investigate the company’s monopoly and whether big construction players are blocking new green or prefabricated building supplies.
It’s difficult to see how the country can pull itself out of this shortage – with construction continuing its upward trajectory, an increasing backlog of orders and one company’s monopoly trying to supply the ever-increasing demand.
There’s long been conversations in our office about how to use plasterboard efficiently, in order to minimise waste, considering it’s a massive contributor to construction waste in New Zealand. Now, as it becomes an increasingly scarce resource, it’s more important than ever to be vigilant.
Standard plasterboard sheets come in 1200mm and 1350mm widths, with a selection of length options to accommodate stud heights of 2400mm and 2700mm.
Wherever possible, we design room sizes to fit a 600/1200 module, which means that a whole sheet can be used vertically, and any remaining half sheets can be used in wardrobes in cupboards. We sometimes design a 2550mm ceiling height allowing for the 1200mm and 1350mm sheets to be used horizontally.
Specifying on plans that the boards should be installed horizontally or vertically, depending on the design, means contractors can order sheet lengths that align with the size of the room.
These reasonably simple design strategies reduce the amount of stopping required, as well as minimising off cuts and bringing the amount of plasterboard waste down significantly.
It’s been a wild few years for the construction industry and it’s unlikely that the challenges we face now will disappear any time soon.
There’s no denying it’s hard work to keep up with the shifting nature of the construction industry, but we’re the types who relish a challenge, and we’ll continue to adapt our ways of working and continue to find new design solutions.
Because after all, the bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity.