Estimating How Much Drywall You Will Need

This story shows how to estimate the amount of drywall needed for your job.
Estimating and Optimizing Drywall

Before you order drywall for your project, measure and sketch the ceiling and each wall. The few minutes it takes to develop the materials list and installation plan pays big dividends. First, you'll have a definite work strategy so you'll start hanging the drywall with confidence instead of making it up as you go along. Second, you'll minimize the length of seams, and that means less time and materials required for taping, mudding, and sanding. Third, you'll minimize or even eliminate time-consuming butt seams.

Whenever possible, cover small areas with a single sheet of drywall. Finishing the panel will be straightforward because you simply need to cover the heads of the fasteners.

The horizontal guideline
Horizontal application of wall panels is a good idea for several reasons. By uniting more studs with a single sheet, you produce a stronger structure. The strength gains another boost because drywall is stronger along its grain than across it. You also don't have to be so concerned about perfect spacing of studs. (With vertical application it's an absolute necessity so the panel's edge lands on the centerline of the studs.) And running an unbroken horizontal sheet above doors and windows minimizes the chances for stress cracks in coming years that can radiate from the corners of these openings.

Plus, horizontal application reduces the length of seams you need to finish and makes it easier to finish them. To reach the full length of a vertical seam, you'll spend some time on a stepladder and some time on your knees. With a horizontal seam, you get to keep both feet planted on the floor.

Taming the tall wall
High ceilings are common in many older homes and are surging in popularity in new construction. Garages are another area where you'll commonly find high walls. Drywall panels that are 54 inches wide are a great choice for covering walls up to 9 feet high. One drawback: You probably won't find these wide panels in lengths over 12 feet.

Unavoidable butt seams
Horizontal installation can sometimes make such a dramatic difference in finishing that getting longer sheets into your work site will pay dividends in reduced installation time. Even if you need to temporarily remove window sashes to stuff panels through that opening, you'll probably still save time -- plus have smoother walls.

But sometimes, small windows, narrow hallways, and other obstacles dictate the hanging of short panels. That makes butt joints unavoidable. Long walls also make butt seams inevitable.

Even though butt seams are more difficult to finish than tapered edges, you'll still find that horizontal application makes sense. To make the butt seams easier to hide, consider using a back blocking technique.

Optimizing the yield
When you compare the amount of trashed material to the amount that's installed, drywall is probably one of the most wasteful construction operations. But on a square-foot basis, it's probably the least expensive construction material in your house. When you're developing the installation plan, look for ways to juggle the commercially available lengths to minimize waste.

Vertical Panel Application

Vertical panel application is acceptable, but the horizontal seamline is 25 percent shorter and much easier to reach. Compare Wall B and Wall C, and you'll see that vertical application generates 16 linear feet of seams in the field of the panels; horizontal application cuts that down to 12 feet.

Horizontal Panel Application

Horizontal application can sometimes cut your finishing work nearly in half. Wall D has 18 lineal feet of seams in its field; Wall E has only 10 feet.

The drawing of Wall F shows 32 linear feet of seams within the field. Wall G has 20 feet of edge seams and 8 feet of butt seams. Note that the vertical butt seams in Wall G are staggered to make them less visible. Your materials list for Wall G would show two 16-foot panels and one 8-footer.


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