How to Drywall Access Panels

Give yourself a no-demolition route to faucets, drains, and valves with access panels.

Intro

In a bathroom, an access panel is the no-demolition route to the back of faucets, the drain for a bathtub, and the mixing valve of a shower. When it's time for repairs and replacements, access is a snap instead of adding hit-and-miss wall demolition and patching on top of the plumbing chores.

Access panels are particularly helpful when you're converting utility spaces like a basement, attic, or garage into a living area. By installing access panels, you preserve the ability to find and easily reach shut-off valves and drain cleanouts.

But you don't have to limit the panels to plumbing applications. You can also utilize them for easily reaching breaker boxes, electrical junction boxes, runs of telephone and data cable, plus other uses.

You can purchase metal and plastic access panels in a wide variety of sizes -- from fist-size to large enough to permit an average-size person to crawl through. Some styles of purchased panels permit a choice between easy surface mounting or flush mounting. Flush mounting is slightly more difficult but much less visible.

Checklist

Time
20 minutes to install a small access panel

Tools
Tape measure, level, jab saw, caulking gun

Skills
Leveling, cutting an opening in drywall

Prep
Identify location for panel.

Materials
Purchased access panel, drywall panel adhesive

Surface-Mounted Panel: Step 1

Surface-mounting an access panel is quick and easy. At the chosen spot, level the housing on the wall and trace its outline with a pencil. Using a jab saw, cut out the hole.

Surface-Mounted Panel: Step 2

Squirt a small bead of construction adhesive along the rear perimeter of the flange, and press the housing into place. The door simply snaps into position. If you paint the plastic the same color as the wall, caulk the edges of the housing to help blend it into the wall.

Flush-Mounted Panel: Step 1

Level the housing for the flush-mounted panel on the wall and trace its outline with a pencil. Using a jab saw, cut out the hole. To get the best fit, keep the edges of the cut square to the surface of the wall.

Flush-Mounted Panel: Step 2

For flush installation, the entire housing goes into the hole and is held by construction adhesive between the flange and the back surface of the wall. Test-fit the housing before applying adhesive. The housing shown is designed for a flush fit in 5/8-inch drywall. If your walls are thinner, add flat shims between the flange and drywall.

Flush-Mounted Panel: Step 3

Fill any cracks between the housing and the wall with drywall compound. Sand smooth, and paint the housing and panel to match your wall. The finished result is barely noticeable.


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