Whether doing a remodel or new construction project and in the process of choosing the best drywall contractor caution is the word of the day. Drywalling is a craft that requires skill and several years of on-the-job experience to master. Today, we’re sitting down with expert drywall contractor Jimmy Holmes owner of Drywall-Specialist that says drywallers are a dime a dozen and most talk a good game and for many that's the only thing they are actually good at.
Picking a drywall contractor
Do your part when searching for a drywall contractor. Whether you find someone through your own research or get a referral, you should always start with a conversation and ask the same questions:
- How long have they been in business?
- Who have they done work for?
- Can you visit a few job sites to see their finished work?
- Do they include a one-year walkthrough after the job is complete?
The answers to these questions will give you a good idea if a drywall contractor is the right fit and—nearly as important—they’ll tell you if you can communicate clearly and easily with each other.
Watch out for red flags
Always look out for yourself and your project by working with an established drywall contractor—that means making sure they’re licensed, bonded, and have an established line of credit with their supplier. If you can’t find their license and bonding information through your state, or if they ask you for a down payment before delivering any materials to your home, you may be taking on an added financial risk.
Paying for a drywall project
Payment schedules can vary slightly from contractor to contractor, but you can typically expect to pay a portion upon delivery of materials to the job site (usually to cover the cost of materials) and the rest upon job completion (as we mentioned above, if your drywall contractor is requesting any amount of payment before supplies are on the job site, this may be a red flag). Before making your final payment, be sure to do a thorough walkthrough with your contractor to make sure you’re satisfied with the work.
The drywall installation process
A drywall job should always start and end with a walkthrough of the job site with your contractor. The first walkthrough will give your contractor the details they need to quote the job, and the final walkthrough will give you an opportunity to make sure you’re satisfied with the work before writing a final check. You should also plan to do a walkthrough midway through the project after the sheetrock is hung and before taping begins.
The duration of a drywall project depends on a lot of factors: the size of the job and the temperature at the site are two of the biggest (the job site needs to be at least 65 degrees for drywall to dry efficiently). On average, you can expect about two weeks of waiting time from the job start until you’re able to start painting.
Prepare for the initial walkthrough
During the first walkthrough, your drywall contractor will be looking closely at the framing to identify any challenges—truss lift, bowed studs, crooked walls, etc.—and help you develop a plan to correct them before beginning to hang sheetrock.
Address walls that aren’t plumb
It is normal for the drywall contractor to find framing imperfections during the first walkthrough. Either you or the drywall contractor will want to correct as much as possible before the hanging begins. This is best done by using an eight-foot level (or straight edge) to check for plumb and straight—anything off by up to 1/16" can be easily fixed with butt strips. Anything beyond that will require a more creative approach.
If you still see humps in walls or ceilings after the drywall is hung, many times the tapers can use mud to “float” out around the problem area and achieve an acceptable solution.
Pay attention to borings
Your studs will likely have borings in them to run electrical lines through the walls, and it’s important to note where they are and how centered they are in the stud. Although you would prefer more, if you have at least ¼” between the edge of the boring and the edge of the stud, that is usually considered “safe.”
Sound and fire codes
The drywaller is not responsible for adhering to sound and fire codes. You should plan to talk to your local building officials to understand your local fire code requirements and any special circumstances your project presents. In general, standard fire code calls for ⅝” drywall in the garage ceiling and ½” inside the home.
When it comes to sound, the drywall materials you use will all come down to budget and preference.
- Choose ⅝” drywall if your priority is sound deadening
- Choose ½” drywall if your priority is cost-efficiency
More options for sound deadening
If you’re worried about sound traveling throughout your home, adding insulation or sound board can be an effective solution. Using ⅝” drywall throughout your home can help with sound, but will cost significantly more than using ½”. If you're concerned about sound deadening, talk to your contractor to decide what solution is best for your home.
Drywall products and finishes
As a homeowner, you don’t have to be too concerned about the products or brands your contractor is using. Most products are similar; ultimately, product selection will come down to your contractor’s personal preference and what they’re most comfortable working with.
Different levels of drywall finish
Hanging drywall may be relatively straightforward, but finishing drywall takes experience and craftsmanship. Drywall professionals use a finish code to break down the five levels of finishing.
- Level 1. Drywall joint tape has been embedded in the joint compound, but nothing further has been finished
- Level 2. A thin coat of joint compound covers the tape and drywall screw holes. Typically garages or areas where you’re planning to tile will have a level 2 finish.
- Level 3. A coat of joint compound is applied to the tape and screws. If you’re planning to apply a texture to your walls, this is an acceptable level to stop at.
- Level 4. A third coat of joint compound is applied to the tape and screws and then sanded down once dry. If you’re planning to paint or wallpaper, this is an acceptable level to stop at.
- Level 5. Mostly reserved for commercial applications, this is the highest level of finish and usually involves applying a skim coat.
Common drywall mistakes
The most common mistakes usually come down to temperature or precision.
- Heat. Drywall mud requires a heat source to dry as designed. You want to create an environment that sits between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature drops too low, the mud will crack and the work will need to be redone.
- Precision. Contractors should triple-check the measurements of your home’s openings—doorways, windows, skylights, and lighting holes. One wrong measurement can require a whole new piece of drywall, so making an extra effort to ensure your measurements are correct can save time and money down the road.
Don’t cut corners
If you’re hiring a contractor to drywall your home, have them drywall the entire home. Drywall work requires a lot of start-up cost no matter the size of the project (consultation, materials, masking, etc.).
It’s common to see cases where a homeowner decides to leave a garage or basement out of a professional drywall project to shave costs down, with the intention to complete it themselves. Often, they don’t get around to doing the work and end up bringing a professional back in to finish the job—which costs significantly more money than it would if it were completed with the rest of the home.
Be aware of movement and settling
Houses built with trusses can see ceilings lift and settle as temperature fluctuates throughout the year. If your drywaller doesn’t address this during the installation of the drywall, your walls may experience cracking over time.
Your drywaller can install angle metal in the middle of the house to help control movement in these areas and avoid cracking in the future.
Ask for a one-year walkthrough
You should expect your drywaller to include a one-year walkthrough as part of your contract price. During this walkthrough, your drywaller will address any imperfections that come up during the first year—screw pops, small cracks (hairline cracks in the angles), etc.
Things to be aware of
Updating your walls from a textured finish (i.e., popcorn finish) to a smooth finish is entirely possible, but be aware that it can be a lengthy, messy job. If the texture has been painted over, your drywaller will have to chisel it down by hand before applying a smooth finish. If it hasn’t been painted over, your drywaller should be able to remove it with a simple water application. Ultimately, the level of involvement depends on what your drywaller finds underneath the finish.
Special concerns with bathrooms
If you’re planning to have tile in your bathroom, be sure to communicate this with your drywall contractor. Tile application requires a proper tile backer board, which needs to be installed before tiling begins.
As far as using specialty drywall products in bathrooms, today’s standard drywall product is fibrous enough to hold up well in bathrooms, so typically no need to be concerned if your drywaller doesn’t mention using a bathroom-specific board.
It’s common to find nails used to fasten drywall in older homes, but today’s standard is to use screws, as they hold up better against vibration. In today’s drywall projects, expect your drywaller to use 1 ¼” screws in areas with ½” drywall and 1 ⅝” screws in areas with ⅝” drywall. For foundation walls, your drywaller may choose to use an adhesive like Liquid Nails to adhere the board to the concrete surface.
What to look for in the final product
After hanging the sheetrock, your drywaller should do a walkthrough with you to make sure walls and windows are plumb and lights are in the correct place. This is the time to ensure you won’t have to rip anything out or patch anything up after the job is done, which can come with a hefty price tag.
Additional costs to be aware of
Certain pieces of a drywall project can incur costs more quickly than others.
- Finish. Generally the higher the level of finish, the more costly the job.
- Window wraps. How much metal you need, how many sides you need to install sheetrock, and whether your openings are wood or sheetrock are all areas where price can increase.
- Fireplace wraps. Similar to windows, wood versus sheetrock and metal wraps require different amounts of labor to install and can increase costs accordingly.
Drywalling is a big project and we can’t stress enough how critical it is to enlist the expertise of a trained professional. We hope our discussion with Darryl gives you a solid place to start your next drywall project. For more drywall resources, check out our DIY drywall patch guide and this article on how to repair screw pops in drywall.