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Drywall Buying Guide

An image of a man in a hardhat working on drywall installation.

Updated February 4, 2022

Valerie A.

By Valerie A.

Drywall installation is a principal part of the construction of a home. Whether you’re framing out a new build, renovating an existing home or making repairs, using drywall for interior walls and ceilings is a must.

What Is Drywall/Gypsum Board?

A man spreading joint compound on drywall.

Drywall, also known as plasterboard, wallboard, gypsum board and Sheetrock® (a trademark of a company that produces one brand of drywall) forms the walls and ceilings of many homes. Drywall consists of gypsum wrapped with a paper facing. The panels are cut to size and designed to be fastened to wall studs or ceiling joists.

Drywall Thickness and Sizes

Drywall thicknesses range from 1/4 inch to 5/8 inch. Building codes may specify a thickness for a specific type of application, but here are some common uses.

  • 1/4-inch drywall isn't strong enough to provide good support alone, but you can install it over a surface that's already in place, such as for a repair. It's thin enough to bend so it works in arches or curved walls. Double it up to create a 1/2-inch-thick surface.
  • 3/8-inch drywall was common in interior walls at one time but is no longer the standard. Like 1/4-inch panels, it can be used over existing panels for repair and in some curved applications but doesn't offer the strength of 1/2-inch panels.
  • 1/2-inch drywall is the most versatile board and common thickness for the 16-inch on-center interior walls in most homes. It offers a good balance between strength and weight.
  • 5/8-inch drywall is a heavier product that resists sagging in ceilings and in 24-inch on-center walls. The added thickness also improves soundproofing. You’ll often find fire-rated drywall in 5/8-inch panels. Because of its excellent soundproofing qualities, 5/8-inch works well in bedrooms and living areas, however, it’s costlier than drywall that's 1/2-inch thick and smaller.

The standard size for drywall panels is 4 feet wide by 8 feet long, and usually you won't find panels that are longer.

Drywall Types

While standard drywall works well for bedrooms and living rooms, there are other types of drywall that work well for specific parts of the home.

Mold- and Moisture-Resistant

Mold- and moisture-resistant drywall panels are paper-faced or paperless, have a special coating that deters moisture and helps prevent the growth of mold and are an excellent choice for humid environments, such as bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms.

Fire-Resistant

While not totally impervious, fire-resistant (or fire-rated) drywall, also known as Type X, contains glass fiber and other materials to help it endure flames longer than other drywall types. It’s typically used in the laundry room, stairwells, garage or near furnaces.

Backer Board

Similar to drywall, backer board (also known as cement board) is a thin layer of concrete with fiberglass mesh. Because it’s moisture-resistant, it’s ideal for high-moisture areas, such as bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms. Backer board is usually installed under tile, but it’s also used under floors and counters.

Drywall Tools

A drywall screw.

As a do-it-yourself project, drywall installation isn't extremely difficult, but it might help to look at How to Hang Drywall for helpful suggestions. There are some essential tools you’ll need to take your space from bare to there. From drywall knives used to spread joint compound to carriers to help you move drywall panels with ease, the right tools will make your job easier.

Drywall Tape Reel

The drywall reel holds and dispenses the drywall tape.

Drywall Roll Lifter

The drywall roll lifter lifts a sheet of drywall off the floor and holds it in place while you attach drywall to the stud.

Drywall Panel Carrier

The drywall panel carrier makes it easier to carry a sheet of drywall and prevent damage.

Circle Cutter

The circle cutter is used to score and cut circular holes in drywall.

Knives

A taping knife (also known as a joint knife) is a wide-blade tool used for applying, spreading and smoothing joint compound. A knockdown knife is a wide, squeegee-type blade used to create wall texture.

Hawk

A hawk is a flat metal surface with a handle on the underside that holds the joint compound while you transfer the compound to the drywall.

Mud Pan

The mud pan is used to hold joint compound before transferring it to a hawk or trowel.

Trowel

The drywall trowel is a flat blade with a handle on the underside used to spread joint compound on the drywall.

Drywall Fasteners

Drywall fasteners attach gypsum board to studs or ceiling joists. The two most popular types are nails and screws.

Nails

Drywall nails have either a smooth or ring shank. A ring shank helps reduce the risk of the nail popping from the drywall, creating circular bumps.

Screws

Drywall screws are the preferred fastener for installing drywall and have better holding power. They have large, flat heads that help hold the weight of the panels and won’t pop out of the wall. When securing drywall to wood studs, a coarse thread screw works well, while a fine screw works best with steel studs. Drywall screws have a phosphate or vinyl coating, making them fairly corrosion-resistant.

Drywall Materials

A vinyl corner bead.

Corner Bead

When creating outside corners on drywall, corner beads are used to create a neatly finished look and protect the drywall from damage. They’re applied using joint compound or fasteners.

Drywall Framing

As the name implies, drywall framing forms the structure that supports the drywall to create the finished wall. Standard dimensional wooden 2 by 4s or metal studs are used when framing.

Drywall Joint Compound

Drywall joint compound, also called drywall mud, is a gypsum-based powder that, when combined with water, forms a paste used to seal joints in drywall, and fill cracks and holes in drywall and plaster surfaces.

Drywall Tape

Drywall tape seals joints in drywall sheets. It's made of either paper (which is nonadhesive and requires joint compound) or mesh (which has a tacky backing and doesn’t require joint compound).

Drywall Patch and Repair

Four count of sandpaper sheets.

Drywall Patches and Repair Kits

These kits make easy work of repairing holes, dents and dings in ceilings and walls. For small mends, repair kits are an all-in-one solution that typically include a patch, spackling compound, putty knife and everything else you need to make a repair except the primer and paint. If you already have spackling compound, a putty knife, etc., you can opt to use single sheet patches.

Good to Know

Check out our video on drywall repair for more information.

Joint and Spackling Compound

While joint compound works to patch holes in drywall, spackling compound is a better choice because it doesn’t shrink and dries faster.

Sandpaper

Use sandpaper to smooth out the spackling compound when doing drywall repair on holes in ceilings and walls.

Plaster Walls as a Drywall Alternative

An image of red and white bucket of plaster of Paris on a white background.

Although drywall is more common, there are many benefits to having traditional plaster walls, plaster ceilings and plaster moulding. Plaster of Paris creates an exceptionally hard surface, which offers great durability. It is also fire resistant and not as likely to succumb to water damage.

When in its wet state, plaster is a very moldable material and can be used to create beautiful architectural detailing, especially in older homes or newer ones with a vintage theme. Casting plaster into shapes and designs is typically a job for skilled artisans.

Plaster can also help soundproof a room in buildings with thin walls by causing sound waves to deflect off walls rather than being absorbed. This prevents the sound waves from traveling from room to room.

Plaster Variations:

  • Gypsum Plaster: contains a dry plaster of Paris powder fortified with the mineral gypsum.
  • Lime Plaster: consists of a mixture of lime, water and sand.

Plaster is applied using designated plastering tools.

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