Do It Yourself: Drywall Installation


If you stick to a few basic guidelines, drywall (sheetrock) installation is easy. We’ll focus on drywalling a dining room, but the principles are universal.

Tool Requirements: A measuring tape, T-square or straight edge (four feet in length minimum), aluminum drywall knife with spare blades, drywall keyhole saw, chalk line, and decent pencils are the bare minimum. Markers and ink pens should never be used on drywall. They are tough to paint over. A high-quality drywall saw is also an excellent investment if you can do so. When cutting drywall, a saw is preferable to a knife because it allows for clean, straight cuts without forcing the blade through the board. You should also have access to a robust ladder and saw horses. Drywall screws, rather than nails, are now the standard method of drywall installation. The screws will not loosen over time and cause “nail pops” in the final product. For roughly $50, you can get a quality drywall screw gun. Though more expensive, cordless firearms give users greater freedom of movement. Without the ropes to trip over.

Determine the maximum length of boards that will fit in your home by measuring the dimensions of the space. The measurements of the eating area are 12 by 11 feet, 6 inches. The maximum height inside is eight feet. With these proportions, eight 4-by-12s would be needed for the walls, and three 12-by-12s would be required for the ceiling of our dining room. Taping and Spackle effort is greatly enhanced if you utilize eight-foot boards standing up as most homeowners do. If you utilize boards that are 12 feet long, you will have 84 feet of tape joint after you account for the standard wall-to-ceiling and corner joints. Using eight-foot panels on the walls and ceiling of a single room would result in 132 feet of joints and butt joints, and that’s not counting the joints at the room’s four corners or where the ceiling meets the walls. The distance is 48 feet longer than it would be with 12-foot boards. That’s a mountain of extra sanding labor after all that additional taping and Spackle. If possible, use the giant boards available.

You should put up your ceiling boards before anything else. We’ll need three panels to cover our sample room’s 11′ 6″ width. Take a diagonal measurement from corner to corner, and then repeat the process with the other two corners. A square room has identical dimensions on all four walls. If one sheet is significantly longer than the other, you should adjust the first sheet’s length such that its outside edge rests flush on a ceiling joist. This is essential for ensuring enough support along the drywall’s perimeter. After the first full sheet has been cut and installed, the next two rows should go up without a hitch. Since three complete sheets would be twelve feet, some material must be cut from the long edge of the third row to fit into the 11′-6″ opening. Each of the three papers I used to measure the room would need 6 inches cut off the 4-foot wide end. When using screws, it is recommended to place them at eight-inch intervals along the perimeter and to use double screws at the same distance apart in the fields. This ensures the drywall is adequately supported and won’t sag over time.

Our test area has 12-foot-long walls in one direction and 11-foot 6-inch walls in another. The first sheet should be laid horizontally at the floor level, and the wall should be twelve feet high. The top border of the lower sheet will support the upper sheet as you secure it. The four sheets that create the 11′-6″ walls must be trimmed 6 inches. The walls are secure, with only eight inches of screwing along the edges and twelve in the fields.

At least one coat of tape and Spackle is required for fire rating in any occupied residential space. Maintain order! Avoid leaving splatters, ridges, and lumps. A smooth finish cannot be achieved by sanding dried Spackle. It will take three coats of Spackle; each sanded in between, before you can paint the space. The result of your sanding should be completely smooth. The more careful you are, the nicer the painted room will look.

A four-inch and a twelve-inch Spackle knife are the bare minimums you’ll need among the many tape and Spackle instruments available today. Carrying a Spackle tray, which resembles a cake pan, in one hand while working allows you to have both knives handy. Taping rapidly with minimal sanding is a skill that can be mastered with practice.

The butt ends of drywall sheets should never be butted against each other. Taping a butt joint requires excellent precision, and even the experts struggle. Never put pressure on a butt joint. Refresh your equipment by washing it after each usage. Spackle should never be allowed to dry in a pan or on cutlery. Once it has dried, it is incredibly challenging, if not impossible, to remove it without permanently damaging the tool. I hope you have great success with your first drywall job.

Pete, the helpful Construction Inspector

Structured Inspection and Code Enforcement System (BICES)

Pete has worked as a building inspector in the public and private sectors for over 30 years. He has experience in both the office of building design and the field of construction in the Eastern United States, having worked on a wide range of projects from schools to treatment plants, individual residences, and condo projects to major residential landscaping projects. In 2006, he and two other inspectors started Wagsys LLC to provide software for local governments’ building departments, planning boards, and zoning appeals boards.

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