Dos and Don’ts of Repairing Drywall
Drywall is tough, but it’s not indestructible. Over time, gypsum-board walls can sustain ugly cracks or holes. Fortunately, drywall is fairly easy to repair, but there is an art to it. Here’s what to do—and what to avoid—when fixing drywall damage so it’s indiscernible to landlords, homebuyers, or visitors.
DO use the right stuff.
When repairing minor scratches or dents smaller than ½ inch across, fill them with a thin layer of joint compound (also known as drywall mud). Apply using a 3- to 4-inch putty knife made for drywall work—rather than, say, the kind of narrow utility knife you’d use for wood putty—smoothing the filler till it’s flush with the wall. Cracks or holes larger than ½ inch require reinforcing mesh prior to spackling. If you apply joint compound directly to large gouges, the damage will reappear as the house settles and the joint compound dries and crumbles.
DON’T waste time.
Avail yourself of pre-made products designed to simplify repair tasks. Patch kits with reinforced center panels and self-adhesive tape work great for smaller holes. A drywall compound and primer combo (such as 3M Patch Plus Primer, available on Amazon) leaves a surface that’s ready to paint.
DO remember neatness counts.
Use a box cutter or other sharp blade to cut random strands of mesh tape or frayed edges of wallboard paper around holes or cracks before applying joint compound. Otherwise your finished work will show bumps and other blemishes.
DON’T cut the cords.
Be safe and don’t cut into a wall to repair a hole until you verify that electrical cords and plumbing lines aren’t running through the cabinet behind it. If the hole is just a few inches wide, shine a flashlight into it to see what’s there. If you must enlarge the hole, carefully cut horizontally with a drywall saw—but avoid going deeper than an inch. It’s safe to assume that hot wires will be present near an electrical outlet, but don’t bet your life—or life savings—that homebuilders or renovators followed all electrical and plumbing codes. Wires and pipes are often found where they don’t belong.
DO keep it light.
Less is generally more when it comes to joint compound. A thin coat is easier to sand, and you’ll be less likely to remove too much while sanding and expose the patch. Also, for joint compound to appear flush with the wall near the damage site, “feather” the mud as you apply it. Hold the knife at a 70-degree angle, pressing harder on the outer edges of the mud as you move away from the center.
DON’T skimp on sanding.
If you cut corners on sanding, the repair site will be noticeable, so take your time. Once the repaired area is dry, use a fine-grit (100 or 120) sandpaper. After the first round of sanding, add a second layer of mud, spreading it about 2 inches beyond the boundaries of the first layer. Once dry, re-sand.
DO use protection.
The fine particulate of drywall compound could injure your lungs if inhaled. So always wear a dust mask when sanding drywall compound. Disposable gloves are also a good idea to protect your hands from the dehydrating effects of gypsum dust.
DON’T forget to inspect.
Think you’re done? Not so fast! Run your hands over the repair to ensure that it feels smooth. Then, with your temple against the wall, look for humps that might need more sanding.
Drywall Over Damaged Plaster
If you have cracked plaster, you can try to repair it. It is possible for an unskilled homeowner to repair the cracks, but to get a seamless look that mirrors the original wall, you will probably need to find a professional who specializes in floating plaster walls. One of the reasons that many people choose to simply hang drywall over a damaged plaster wall is because these plaster professionals are expensive, and they are getting more expensive as there are fewer and fewer of them. If you want to preserve the integrity of an old home and can afford the hourly rate, by all means have them redone—but if you just want a clean look that you can do yourself, hanging new drywall may be the best solution.
Drywall Over Damaged Drywall
The last situation that may require you to hang new drywall is when you have tried to remove stubborn wallpaper from existing drywall. Did all the face paper of the drywall come down with the wallpaper? Do you have big brown spots that are flaking? While these can be skim coated and repaired, it is very difficult to get them looking like new, so this is a great situation in which to consider re-hanging the drywall.
Drywall is often fastened to wall studs and ceiling joists with drywall nails, which have long, thin shanks and large, round heads. Occasionally those nails will lose their grip and pop through the surface. There are many reasons why nails pop, but it usually happens when the wood framing shrinks, the house settles, or the nails aren’t driven solidly into the center of the stud or joist. Regardless of the reason, the repair is the same (and don’t try to simply hammer it back in; there’s no guarantee it won’t pop back out).
Start by using pliers to yank the popped nail. Next, locate the exact center of the stud or joist. You can use an electronic stud finder, or a hammer and a finishing nail. For the latter, drive the finishing nail through the drywall until you pinpoint each edge of the stud or joist.
Should I have my damaged drywall repaired or go for complete replacement?
Once again, the answer is a decisive “it depends.” A small crack or minor damage such as “nail pops” — meaning nail heads that have pulled away from the wall studs and are popping through the drywall — is fast and simple to repair. In the case of a large hole or a serious problem like heavy mold infestation, where the spores may have spread throughout the drywall, replacement is usually the best option. (And be sure to clear up the source of that mold while you’re at it! If not, you’ll just end up with more damaged drywall.)
Cracks around Windows and Doors:
With windows and doors it is easy to see little cracks due to the continuous opening and closing. The problem could be the paint, faulty hardware, or cracked wood. What to do? Fix it. If you are a do-it-yourself (DIY) type of person, it is recommended to apply a self-adhesive fiberglass mesh tape over the cracks, then cover the tape with a joint compound, but make sure it looks seamless so spread the compound out at least 12 inches. Let it dry, then paint. A common rule of thumb with cracks is: tape, spackle, and paint.
Seasonal changes and age effects the settling of the home. Yes, your home moves with the weather! Wood expands and contracts. When there is moisture and heat, the wood expands, and when it is cold and dry, it will contract. This movement is normal, but sometimes – crack! When a home ages, the wood dries. Walls get brittle, and with all that movement over the years, walls can get stressed out.
Keeping this in mind, you may find a crack in the wall. There is a difference between plaster walls and dry walls in homes. I have seen both types of walls, and depending on what type of wall you have will determine how you will handle the crack. Assess the damage, and if you are unsure, bring in a professional. For drywall, a common DIY is again, to tape, spackle, paint.