Drywalling A job you can do yourself Though some jobs call for a professional, small projects or

Drywalling A job you can do yourself Though some jobs call for a professional, small projects or

Drywalling? A job you can do yourself Though some jobs call for a professional, small projects or those that don’t require perfection are ideal for a handy homeowner to try.

By Alan J. Heavens INQUIRER REAL ESTATE WRITER

Posted: July 06, 2003

Got some drywalling to do?

Call a professional. There are plenty of them around, and the vast majority appear to know what they’re doing.

But if you have a small project, are improving a space where the perfection patrol will never wander, or have some minor repairs to make, you might give it a try yourself.

There are two rules to follow if you embark on a job such as drywalling a room:

Always make sure you have another person working with you. A 4-by-8 sheet of half-inch or 5/8-inch drywall does not weigh all that much, but it is unwieldy to carry and maneuver, and you are more likely to knock the edges into walls and floors, necessitating repairs.

Drywall the ceiling first (see Rule One). There are ways of getting around the two-person rule, but it tends to be harder on the back.

Why do you start with the ceiling?

Because the panels can be cut easily to fit in place, and the wall panels will fit so that they can support the ceiling edges, said Steve Hove, a veteran contractor and woodworking teacher at Mercy Catholic Vocational Technical School in Philadelphia.

Drywalling the ceiling can be greatly aided by renting a drywall lift for about $30 a day from the local home center. It holds the sheet in the exact place for installation.

Hove called drywall (basically gypsum sandwiched by paper) one of the most versatile materials in the contractor’s repertoire.

That versatility and the ease with which it can be turned into ceilings and walls have served, over the years, to reduce the costs of home construction and renovation.

«You can do almost anything with and to drywall,» he said. «If you drop it and break a corner, you can easily repair it. If you don’t want to repair it, you can toss it away, because it is so inexpensive.»

Remember the building boom of 1997 to 2000? Demand for drywall was high, and capacity low because a lot of plants closed in the recession years of the early 1990s.

Drywall prices went through the roof, so to speak — if you could find drywall at all.

But these days, depending on the dimensions and the source, regular drywall can run from $5 to about $10.

By dimensions, we mean thickness in inches ( 5/8, 1/2, 3/8 and 1/4) and size of sheet in feet (4-by-8, 4-by-10, 4-by-12, 4-by-14, and 4-by-16, or 54 inches by all those lengths).

Depending on your location and local building codes, regular drywall, even the thickest, might not be enough. You might need fire-rate drywall if the local code calls for it. If you are working on a bathroom, you will probably need moisture-resistant wallboard.

The gypsum in fire-rated board has additional materials to delay the spread of fire. Moisture-resistant drywall has properties designed to handle moisture and humidity.

Frankly, 4-by-8s are easier for do-it-yourselfers to handle, especially if necessity forces them to violate Rule One.

A tip from the pros: Longer sheets, fewer joints, less taping, less sanding, less dust.

Hang drywall sheets horizontally rather than vertically, because you use fewer sheets that way. And always try to stagger the butted seams.

How do you know how much material you need?

Lowe’s Web site (www.lowes. com) has an estimating chart that helps you calculate not only your drywall requirements, but also the amount of joint compound, tape, nails or screws needed.

Say you have 100 square feet of ceiling or wall you need to cover and want to use 4-by-8 sheets. According to Lowe’s formula, you need four sheets of drywall, 14 pounds of ready-mix joint compound, 35 feet of tape, and 168 drywall nails or 90 drywall screws.

Contractors always recommend adding 10 percent to 15 percent to the estimate, to compensate for waste.

Many contractors prefer nails to screws for securing drywall. But for do-it-yourselfers, who tend to make more mistakes, screws are easier.

First, because drywall screw heads are slotted, if you err, you can use your drill to remove the screw.

Second, in older houses, banging nails into walls often can dislodge other things, which means more repairs. Screws provide a kinder, gentler method of installation.

When you install full sheets of drywall across a framed wall of what you hope are studs that are 16 inches on center, you should work from the top down.

This not only means that you are working from the finished ceiling — after all, that was the point of doing the ceiling first — but you have the exact location of each stud.

By snapping a chalk line from the installed drywall to the bottom of the wall along the stud, you can make sure every screw goes into the stud.

Thickness and stud material determine which screws to buy. If you are hanging 5/8-inch board on wood studs, then 1 1/4-inch coarse-thread drywall screws work just fine.

Make sure you use a dimpler to embed the screws. A dimpler is a bell-shaped attachment with a screwdriver in the middle that you lock into the chuck of a screw gun. It breaks the paper surface to a depth that both holds the drywall to the stud and is easily filled with drywall compound.

Which drywall compound? The most versatile is all-purpose, which can be used for every coat. It’s the one with the green cover, and comes in 4 1/2-gallon containers.

And what kind of joint tape?

Drywall contractors are masters at paper tape. But the introduction of self-adhesive fiberglass joint tape has leveled the playing field. Stick it right on the joint, smooth it, and apply the coat of joint compound.

For corners, professionals can use paper. Do-it-yourselfers should buy metal corner bead, which can be cut to fit.

Cutting drywall is a snap, literally. Try to do as little as possible, however, because the ends of the sheets are tapered to accommodate taping and joint compound.

Hove is expert enough to do this freehand, but the do-it-yourselfer will need to use a T-square and a pencil.

Work on the finished side of the standing sheet of drywall (the whiter side). Use a utility knife to score along the pencil line, then fold the sheet along the score.

Hove runs his utility knife along the fold to score it, then folds the sheet in the opposite direction for a clean snap. Make sure the knife blade is sharp.

Utility boxes are a special case. When you have an electrician run wiring and install your utility boxes, be sure to tell him or her the thickness of the drywall you will be using on the wall and ceiling.

That way, the electrician will nail or screw the box to the stud so that the opening in the drywall will slide over the box and the switchplate will be flush with the finished wall.

If the electrician misses your instructions, you can move the box, which is inscribed with depth markers on the sides.

Locating and cutting the hole for a utility box is relatively easy if you think about what you are doing and keep a spare utility box on your workbench.

Go to the wall and measure to the top and sides of the box, and then transfer the measurements to the front side of the drywall.

Take the unused box, place the edges on each of the four measurements, and draw the box on the wallboard. Then cut along the lines and fit the drywall sheet over the box.

It should be a perfect fit.

If it isn’t, well, that’s why they make drywall-repair kits.

Contact real estate writer Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com.


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