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How to Install Drywall

Pro Referral > Home Guides > Drywall > How to Install Drywall
How to Install Drywall

Drywall is the most commonly used interior wall board or sheathing material in modern construction. Though traditional-style plaster finishes are still very popular, drywall (also known as sheetrock) provides an economical and quick-to-install alternative that offers a smooth and stable base for texture, wallpaper, paneling, or paint. Installing sheets of drywall is a fairly labor-intensive job, but it is a good DIY project for anyone with intermediate home improvement skills, a few basic tools, and a willing helper.


Choose the Right Material

Drywall sheets are essentially panels of gypsum pressed between sheets of paper. The material comes in a few thicknesses, so be sure to use the right type for the job at hand. Local building codes may dictate what is required for different applications, but in most cases it is appropriate to install ½” thick drywall on walls framed 16 or 24 inches on center and on ceilings framed 16 inches on center. Thicker 5/8” material is generally required for ceilings framed 24” on center and in firestop applications, such as on garage ceilings and walls that are adjacent to living spaces. In damp areas, like bathrooms and basements, choose moisture and mold-resistant drywall or “green board” to minimize the potential for mold, mildew, and damage from dampness.


Materials Skill Level Estimated Time
• Drywall sheets Intermediate 2 to 8 hours
• Drywall screws
• Screw gun, drill, or impact driver
• Tape measure
• Chalk Line
• Drywall or T square
• Utility knife
• Drywall or keyhole saw
• Drywall kicker or flat bar and block
• Drywall lift or deadman
• Work benches or platforms

Drywall sheets are typically four feet wide and are sold in various lengths, though eight and twelve foot panels are the most common. You can cover a lot of ground using twelve-foot sheets, but they can be pretty unwieldy, especially in small spaces. If you don’t have much experience hanging drywall or don’t have extra help to get the job done, it may be easier to handle shorter eight-foot pieces.


Plan the Layout

The more seams there are on a wall or ceiling, the more challenging it will be to get a smooth surface when taping and finishing. Planning ahead can help you minimize the number of seams by using as many full sheets as possible. When buying material to cover the square footage of the room, plan for an extra ten percent so you won’t be tempted to fill in small or tricky spots with scraps. Cobbled-together sections can be difficult to finish well since the seams tend to be irregular and more screws than usual are installed in close proximity to one another.


Consider the height of your walls, horizontal seam placement, and the amount of manpower you will have when planning as well. If you will be on your own or if you have high ceilings, it may be simpler to stand panels on end for the walls than to hang them in two courses horizontally.


Similarly, if you have walls taller than the standard eight feet, you may want to split the horizontal seams in a way that accommodates your plans for finishing or trim. For example, if you have a ten foot high wall and plan to install 36” wainscoting at the bottom, hanging a full width sheet for the top and second course would leave a two-foot wide course at the bottom with a seam that will be hidden by the wainscoting. Alternatively, without wainscoting, installing a three-foot-wide course at the top and bottom with a full four-foot-wide course in the center would leave two horizontal seams to finish, but they would be farther above and below eye-level.


Get the Right Tools for the Job

Since drywall sheets are fairly heavy and difficult to maneuver, it can be tough to install full sheets or large pieces without some extra hands and the right tools. If possible, enlist the help of a friend who will be able to work with you to carry and position the sheets and hold them steady while you screw them in place.


In the absence of an accomplice, you may be able to get the job done with some simple bracing built with 2x4 lumber. A “deadman” is essentially a T-shaped brace that can be positioned to support drywall pieces on the ceiling once you hoist them in place, and you can build one pretty simply. If you have a big job ahead of you, it may be worth renting a drywall lift which raises and supports the sheets with the turn of a wheel, making the job much less labor intensive.


When it comes to the lowest course of drywall, a drywall kicker or a simple flat bar and block of wood makes a perfect lever for lifting the sheets to butt against the previous course. And finally, using work benches or a plank supported by two stepladders makes a more stable working platform than stepladders alone. For attaching the drywall to the studs, a screw gun designed for the purpose is faster than a standard drill and sets the screws at the correct depth, but a drill or impact driver will get the job done as well.


Get Started

With a strategy in place, follow the basic steps below to install drywall on ceilings and walls.


  1. 1.Find a Starting Point

    On new construction jobs, starting drywall in a corner typically gives a straight line to run from, but older buildings are less likely to be square. In any case, it’s a good idea to measure the ceiling to see how square the room is so you can plan for seams and irregularities before you start hanging sheets.


    Find the center of perpendicular walls at the ceiling and snap lines with a chalk line to find the center point. Use the lines as a reference point to measure out toward the walls. If there is irregular spacing along the wall, decide how to position trimmed pieces to minimize seams and gaps where the ceiling meets the walls.

  2. 2.Attach Drywall to the Ceiling

    If practical, install full sheets before trimmed pieces. Position a sheet with its length perpendicular to the joists and support its weight while you secure it with screws along the joists. Local codes specify correct spacing for screws, but eight inch intervals is usually adequate (six screws along the four-foot width of the sheet).


    Secure a screw close to each edge, with the rest spaced evenly between. Continue installing adjacent sheets, orienting them so their beveled edges and butted ends meet like edges, until the ceiling is covered. Trim sheets to fit and to accommodate electrical boxes, vents, or other features with a utility knife and keyhole saw.

  3. 3.Attach the Highest Wall Course

    Trim sheets if necessary to distribute seams on higher than average walls. Hold the first sheet against the ceiling in a corner and secure with screws, spacing them eight to twelve inches apart. Orient the sheets so the beveled edge will butt against the sheet below it. Continue installing adjacent sheets along a wall or around the room, trimming and cutting as needed to accommodate electrical boxes, doors, windows, and other features.


    Avoid positioning seams above the corners of windows and doors. If it’s necessary to land a seam near a window or door, try to center it over the opening to minimize the likelihood of cracking later.

  4. 4.Attach Additional Courses

    With the top row of drywall sheets in place, install a second row around the room in the same manner, orienting the sheets so beveled edges or butt ends meet the same type of edge on previously installed sheets.


    Butt the sheets tightly against those above, but staggering vertical edges so there are no seams that span the entire height of the wall. On the bottom course, use a lever or drywall kicker to lift the sheet and hold it in place while you drive screws in to secure it.

  5. 5.Cuts and Trimming

    Though very rigid, drywall sheets cut easily with a utility knife or keyhole saw. To make straight cuts to trim a sheet to size, measure and mark the sheet. Using a drywall square as a straight edge, score the paper facing with a sharp utility knife. It’s not necessary to cut all the way through; snap the sheet back at your cut and slice the paper on the opposite side to complete the cut.


    To cut notches or holes for boxes, vents, and other obstructions, measure the location and size of the cut on the wall or ceiling before installing the sheet, using an adjacent sheet or wall as a reference point. Transcribe the measurement to the sheet and use a keyhole saw to puncture the drywall and cut out the needed opening.

Level of Difficulty

Installing drywall is a good job for most intermediate-level do-it-yourselfers, though it can be labor intensive and comes with a bit of a learning curve. Although finishing the drywall with tape and joint compound is what will give it a smooth surface, the better the installation job is, the easier it will be to get an even, crack-free finished product. The work can go smoother and faster with the right tools, and most specialized equipment, like a screw gun, drywall lift, kicker, and benches or staging can be rented, saving you the expense of adding them to your collection if you won’t be needing them regularly.


Drywall Installation Service

Professional drywall installers can make hanging the stuff look effortless and can get the job done in record time. If you aren’t up for the project, or just want to save yourself the time and energy, look for a drywall installation pro to take on the job. Our Pros are independent contractors who have been background checked and evaluated by our in-house team to verify they have the skills and experience to provide a quality job, as well as the licenses and insurance required by their states. Find a Pro today and get your project rolling!

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