What Type of Drywall to Use in a Basement
So you’ve decided to finish your basement and you want to do it right but you’re unsure of the best approach. Drywall is, of course, an almost universally popular construction material because of its relatively low cost, natural fire resistance, and ease of working. But is it right choice for a basement? And what should you make of all the different kinds of drywall out there – are some a better fit than others for the basement environment? Read on to learn everything you need to know about choosing drywall for a basement remodel!
A Unique Environment
One of the first factors to consider when finishing a basement is the nature of basements generally. Because they are, by definition, underground (or at least partially underground), basements are prone to humidity. What this means for your renovation or construction project is that even though they are often cooler than the rest of the house, basements are a natural environment for mold to grow.
Fortunately, advancements in drywall materials give you a range of options that can help reduce the growth of mold in your home. Due to the often damp conditions of the basement, be sure to choose sheetrock that is at least moisture-resistant (often call greenboard) but be on the lookout for products that are specifically resistant to mold and mildew (some kinds of purple board). These products use a fiberglass net in place of the usual paper backing (or in some cases have no backing at all). The idea is that by removing any organic materials that the mold can feed on, mold will have a harder time surviving and growing.
Still, keep in mind that these products’ warranties generally do not cover mold growth – that is, while it is harder for mold to grow on these boards, it is not impossible. Remember, too, that the sheetrock is only part of the equation. If you want to get serious about mold prevention, you’ll want to use mold-resistant materials in every part of the job (such as mold-resistant joint compound).
Why is Your Basement Finished?
Another important consideration is how you intend to use the basement once your project is done. If it’s mostly for storage or the like, you might not need to worry about the drywall selection apart from the mold considerations discussed above.
On the other hand, lots of finished basements are destined for a more specific purpose, such as a game room, a home theater, and so on. In these cases, you may want to consider using thicker-than-average drywall (5/8”) as it provides better sound insulation than standard half-inch board. If noise is a really big concern (such as for a music room) or if you have a lot of space to cover, you can get even better soundproofing results more cheaply by using standard ½” boards and filling with R11 insulation.
If your primary use for the basement is for utility (laundry room, boiler/furnace, etc.) or as a workshop, you should check your local codes, as they may require you to use fire-resistant type-X drywall, at least for the areas near fire hazards like the furnace or certain tools.
How is the Basement Accessed?
The entrance to the basement is an important but often overlooked aspect of the selection process. While 8-foot drywall panels are the most common, sheetrock is available in lengths up to 12 feet. This can be either a huge advantage or a serious problem, depending on your situation.
Many pros prefer (and recommend) working with 12-foot panels because they can reduce the number of seams and butt joints – and lots of time and energy in the process. This is a great approach in general but can get tricky in basements, due to the variety in the way basement ingresses are designed.
If your basement has a walk-in access (such as from a backyard that sits below the house), go ahead and grab those 12-foot panels! The same is true if your basement access involves a direct line down a flight or half-flight of stairs. Where things get tricky, however, is if your only basement access is through an inside stairwell. In that case, you should opt for standard 8-foot panels because the longer boards often can’t make the turn at the landing – and there’s nothing worse than wasting a bunch of money on materials you can’t get onto the jobsite!
How Far Apart are Your Joists?
One final consideration is the distance between your ceiling joists. Lots of ceilings are built with joists that are 16” on center and you’ll want to use the standard ½” boards in these because of its better sound insulation and durability. If, however, your joists are 24” on center, you’ll probably want to use 3/8” boards for the ceiling. The half-inch boards are simply too heavy and will usually sag in between the joists. If sound transfer from above is a concern, use the lighter 3/8” panels anyway and fill in with R11 insulation to control the noise.