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Giving Walls a Drywall Update

Construction How-To, drywall, Drywall, Wall Coverings, walls May 13, 2004 Matt Weber







When faced with old, damaged plaster walls, one technique to dress up the room is to install drywall over the existing plaster. A drywall overlay gives the walls a smooth, fresh surface that’s ready for new paint, paper or trim.

This is a common technique used among professional contractors hired to renovate houses bought under foreclosure. For example, real estate companies that invest in foreclosures often deal with houses that are more than 50 years old and exhibit serious signs of aging. The high cost of installing new plaster, or demolishing the existing walls, drives many such companies to hire contractors to overlay drywall as a practical, economical and attractive means to update the home.


First Things First

Before jumping into the project, be aware of a couple of side effects of a drywall overlay. The thickness of the drywall material will make the walls encroach into the room. This means the edges of woodwork such as crown molding, door jambs and other trim can appear “swallowed” by the walls if left in place during the installation. As a speedy cost-cutting measure, real state companies sometimes specify that the trim be left as is, but most homeowners will probably want to remove the jambs and install extension jambs to keep the intended look of the woodwork. Keep in mind, though, that extending door casings too much can sometimes interfere with the door swing.

To avoid the “swallowed” look on crown molding, you can first remove it and then install new molding over the drywall. However, removing the molding from old plaster can sometimes cause the plaster to pull out in large chunks, giving you a new repair project. If you can leave the molding in place, and install the overlay so the transition where the sheet meets the molding still looks good, then that might be your best bet.

Always remove the baseboard prior to installing the drywall. Also, electrical outlets and switches may need to be updated to code, usually with extension rings. Check the National Electric Code for the latest specifications.


Getting Started

The basics of hanging drywall don’t require a great deal of technical skill, but accomplishing a professional-looking finished job does require a little finesse.

First, gather all your necessary tools and materials at the jobsite. Gypsum-board drywall is generally available in 4-by-8- and 4-by-12-foot sheets. Thickness ranges from 3/8, 1/2 and 5/8 inch, but 1/2-inch sheets are recommended for wall coverings. Joint compound is available in 1- or 5-gallon buckets. The 5-gallon option is the most economical.

It’s also a good idea to recruit some assistance to hang the drywall. The sheets can be large and awkward to handle, and having a partner will speed up the project and make the job much easier.

Drywall sheets should be installed horizontally, starting at the top of the wall. Mark the locations of the studs on the existing plaster walls to help you locate them later. Use a caulk gun to apply a liberal amount of Liquid Nails to the old wall surface. Raise the sheet and position it flush into the upper corner of the wall, covering the Liquid Nails. Once in place, fasten the sheet into the studs with drywall screws spaced about 18 inches apart. Be sure to countersink all the screws. After the Liquid Nails has set up, the drywall will be firmly attached to the plaster.


Apply Liquid Nails.


Hang the sheet horizontally, starting from the top.


Fasten with drywall screws.

Next, install the sheet at the bottom of the wall in the same manner. Leave a 1/2-inch gap between the sheet and floor to compensate for any unevenness in the flooring. The gap will be concealed by the baseboard.


Hang the bottom sheet and cut it to fit.