Hanging Sheetrock: A Step-by-Step Guide to Installing Drywall
Drywall is the most common interior finishing material because it is inexpensive, easily sourced and most importantly, easy to work with. While finishing drywall as smoothly as a pro takes years of practice, drywall is a DIY-friendly material. If you make some mistakes, rest easy: they can be fixed with a few bucks and relatively little time.
Some steps of drywall (or “sheetrock”) installation are easier than others. Generally, the steps require more skill as you move forward in the installation process. The first step – hanging the drywall panels –is the step most accessible to newcomers/homeowners who wish to reduce the costs around small renovation or upgrade. As this article will detail further, there are a few best practices for hanging drywall that make finishing it far easier. Mudding, taping and sanding require a little more attention, time and precision. This is because the finishing phase becomes the wall surface that everyone will see, so it needs to be as perfect as you can get it.
If you are just learning how to work with drywall, start by hanging it. It is a skill within reach for most DIYers. If it goes well, you can try tackling the later, more difficult steps. If, on the other hand, hanging the rock feels like a good enough challenge, you can still hire a pro to do the finishing. Just be sure to go carefully – correctly hung drywall makes it easier for the finisher to get good results. Whether it is you or a pro, hanging drywall poorly will result in extra time and money spent on finishing.
Just like the old construction adage “measure twice, cut once,” you should be sure to walk through the steps that follow more than once. Having a clear idea of the whole process will help you work efficiently, saving time and avoiding mistakes. Also, consider renting a drywall lift or getting a friend to help you. Hanging drywall is more complicated when working alone as the sheets are heavy and can be cumbersome to manage on your own.
Hang the Ceiling First
Hanging a ceiling is relatively straightforward aside from the toll it takes on your body to hold the sheet up overhead. When you are marking your ceiling panels for fixtures, it can be helpful to label the sides of the sheet with points of reference (“living room side” for instance) to avoid any confusion as you lift and turn the panel. You should consider pre-driving your screws a little bit into the drywall before you take the piece up, as well. This makes it much easier to manage and attach the panels since you will not have to fumble around with the screws, measuring tape, and so on. Screws for drywall lids should be placed no closer than 16” from the wall. This allows the drywall to have a bit of flexibility to prevent ceiling cracks.
Generally, it is best practice to hang ceiling panels perpendicular to joists. By hanging them perpendicular, you create more points of attachment along the long axis of the panel which will help avoid sagging ceilings. The downside is that this creates butt joints, which require more skill to finish but a sagging ceiling is a much bigger, more noticeable problem than small finishing mistakes. If you are renovating an existing ceiling, make sure to mark where the center of the joist is, since the drywall seams will require attaching two sheets to the same joist. If allowed by your local code, products such as Trim-Tex Buttboard allow you to hang your drywall parallel with the joists making it faster and easier to finish with smoother seams.
Other than that, hanging the ceiling is similar to hanging the walls. Follow the steps below first for the ceiling and then for the walls to get great results.
Step 1: Measure and Cut
Measure the area you are hanging. If the wall or ceiling is shorter than a standard eight-foot drywall panel, cut the drywall roughly ¼” shorter than your measurement. If it is longer than a standard drywall sheet, you’ll hang one whole sheet and then cut a second sheet ¼” shorter than the difference.
When working in a commercial environment, regulations may require you to hang wall sheets vertically. In residential projects, you typically have the option to hang these sheets horizontally, which offers several benefits:
- Fewer seams to tape later so less to finish.
- Ability to hide studs that are bowed or uneven.
- Seams are within easy reach when taping/finishing.
For these reasons, it is recommended to install your sheets horizontally if allowed by zoning and other regulations.
Step 2: Position and Attach
Position your first sheet. For the ceiling, start in a corner with the panel tight against the walls. For walls, place the sheet tight against the ceiling and against one wall. Get a friend or drywall lift to hold the sheet in place while you attach it to the studs with drywall screws. Place screws starting from the middle and working your way out to the ends, with screws every 16 inches.
Repeat this process for each subsequent panel. Finish hanging all the whole sheets in one row before starting the next. If there is space left over that will need to be finished with a partial sheet, do your fixtures before finishing the gap.
Step 3: Mark and Cut Your Fixtures
As you work, you may hang sheets that cover windows, power outlets, or other kinds of fixtures that will need to come through the drywall. The best approach depends on whether the fixture is already in place.
- For fixtures that are not installed (such as a window or door that hasn’t been put in yet), cover the hole with a sheet of drywall but don’t attach it yet. Mark the corners of the hole with screws then use a saw or drywall router to cut out the opening.
- For fixtures that are already installed, take off the window or door trim. Plan your cuts by leaning the sheet against the wall and marking the top of the window or door by measuring from the ceiling. For windows, mark the bottom where it meets the drywall sheet. Cut out the hole with a saw or drywall router.
- For outlets or other electrical fixtures, start by marking the edge of the fixture with a dry-erase marker. Put the drywall panel in place and press it against the fixture until it picks up the dry-erase marker. Cut along the transferred ink to cut a perfect hole.
- If you have a spiral cutout saw, you can it use it for all these cutouts by removing the window/door/fixture (and disconnecting any wires) and then simply following the line of the existing hole. Depending on the size of the project, it may be worth buying this saw to make everything faster and easier.
Step 4: Finish the Rows
Cut a piece of drywall to fit the space between the ends of your last-installed sheets and the corner.
Step 5: Install a Ground Row
Odds are that neither axis will be an exact fit for whole sheets of drywall. On walls, for instance, two rows of drywall panels will not reach the floor unless you have very low ceilings. After you finish your rows, add a partial row to fill the last gap. For walls, you will need to cut sheets to the right height to fill the space between the already hung drywall and the floor, leaving about ½” of space above the floor. Sometimes this gap will need to be large depending on what kind of flooring you are putting in, so knowing the thickness of the floor to be installed is important before hanging the lowest level of drywall. This gap will also help avoid cracking and other problems from bumps in the floor. The gap will not be visible since it will be covered later by the baseboard.
Step 6: Finishing Outside Corners
Outside corners can be easily finished by installing one side of the corner with a slight overhang. Once the panels are fixed in place, simply cut off the bit that sticks out, following the line of the corner, to get a perfect, tight fit. Add a corner bead to protect the raw edges of the corner from damage that can lead to cracking and other expensive repairs.
For more details on installing both inside and outside corners, check out our guide to corners.
Step 7: Spot Your Screws
Run your taping knife gently over the edges of each sheet. If it catches on any of the screws, they are not screwed in deep enough. Sink them in a bit deeper. They should create a small dimple in the drywall without breaking the paper.
That is it! You are ready to hang some sheetrock and transform your space! Work slowly until you get into the rhythm of it – a little attention now will save you lots of corrective work later. Be precise in your measurements and when placing the drywall sheets. The better and cleaner your hang job, the easier it will be to finish your project with tape and mud. When you are ready for the next step, be sure to get the right tape for the job.