Sheetrock 101: what every DIYer should know

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ March 11, 2013

What do finishing a basement, adding onto your home, and repairing a plumbing leak have in common? If you're a DIYer, there's a pretty good chance you'll be working with sheetrock on each of these projects.

So what do you need to know about this material that's such a big part of most remodeling jobs? Well for one thing … while you'll probably never be as proficient as a professional contractor, once you know a few basics, sheetrock is fairly DIY-friendly.

Getting started with sheetrock

Installing and finishing sheetrock are tasks that become easier with practice, but every DIYer has a first time. Here are a few basics that should help you get started:

  • Thickness -- While most sheetrock in homes is ½-inch thick, don't assume that it's all going to be that way. Partitions that are considered to be fire separation walls are normally drywalled with 5/8-inch boards. If you live in an attached town home, there's a pretty good chance the side walls will have the thicker board. The same is true with the material used in many garages. The 5/8-inch board often has a fire rating.
  • High moisture areas -- Moisture resistant sheetrock known as "green board" was often used for tub and shower surrounds, but is no longer considered the best choice. If you're remodeling or adding a bathroom, WonderBoard, Durock or Aqua-Tough panels are better at resisting water damage.
  • Support -- Even small pieces of drywall used for repairs need proper support if you want the patch to last. At least two sides should rest over framing and if possible, install blocking so that all four sides have adequate support. When doing a repair, you may need to trim back the existing sheetrock to expose about half of the face of the adjacent wood wall studs or ceiling joists.
  • Fastening -- Drywall manufacturers normally provide specific fastening requirements for installing their materials on their websites. The specifications are based on the material thickness and the type of framing where it will be applied. While these recommendations are for full sized sheets, they can also be used for smaller repairs. When drywalling an entire room, keep in mind that local building code often dictates how the board should be fastened.
  • Sizes -- Sheetrock is normally 4 feet wide, but can be 8-, 9-, 10- or 12-feet long. If you're working by yourself, buying 8-foot boards is almost always a good idea. A 4-by-8 foot piece of ½-inch sheetrock weighs about 50 pounds. While that might not seem like much, it can feel much heavier when attempting to fasten it to a ceiling.

Another tip that may make your sheetrock project a little easier: many distributors can deliver board on a boom truck. If you have a window that can be removed or an exterior door near your project, the drywall can be placed right inside your home.

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