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Dean Johnson

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Insulation & Drywall Tips

Insulating and drywalling are the mundane steps that many people like to see done, but don't like to do. Both can be dusty, laborious, and installation is pretty basic for both processes.

Insulating is a crucial step in providing comfort in both winter and summer and there are some choices to make regarding R-value. Hanging drywall and mudding take a certain knack to get professional-looking results, so it always helps to learn a few new drywall tips.

In our climate, it's critical to maintain good airflow along the underside of the roof between the soffit vents and the main roof vents.

imgBefore insulating we first fit baffles between the rafters where they crossed the tops of the walls. The edges of the baffles fold in to create a short, three-sided box that goes up against the roof sheathing to keep insulation from jamming up against the sheathing.

The baffles create a channel for cooler air to circulate up from the soffit vents along the underside of the roof in the winter, which equalizes temperatures along the whole roof.

Otherwise, snow could melt on the upper part of the roof, run down and re-freeze over the colder eaves, creating ice dams which often lead to leaks and other roof damage.

imgWe used fiber glass batts to insulate the ceiling and the walls. And that's usually a pretty easy job for do-it-yourselfers.

One snag we faced was that our roof ended up with a pretty low pitch, so down where the roof meets the walls it was impossible to stuff in the full amount of insulation that building codes require in our city.

With the inspector's approval, we put in as much as we could down there and put in more than was required further up the roof where there's more room. It's definitely not an equal trade, but it does offset some of the heat we'll lose down by the eaves.

imgAs for the walls, we used batts designed for 2x6 construction which provide an insulating value of R-21. In fact, virtually all new construction in our area features 2x6 exterior walls because you can't fit the required insulation in a 2x4 wall.

One of the new 2x6 walls, however, is an extension of the old 2x4 exterior wall in the kitchen (which was built when insulation was not used and 2x4 walls were standard).

To make a smooth transition, we added 2" scabs to the old 2x4s to build them out to the same 5 1/2" actual depth of the new 2x6 walls.


Using A Drywall Lift

img When you're securing drywall panels to a ceiling. It's always smart in our opinion to stop first at your rental outlet and pick up a drywall lift like the yellow one we used (especially if you're working alone).

That's our first tip, and it's probably old hat for those of you who have done several drywall projects. But it really does save time, once you get the hang of setting the lift up and using it.

If you're doing a ceiling higher than 8', make sure to get a lift that extends that high because some don't go much higher than 8'.



Drywalling Kitchen Walls

If you're installing drywall in a room with 8' ceilings, the paneling pattern is pretty simple because the sheets are 4' wide and two of them neatly cover the full 8-feet of height.

But when you work with a ceiling higher than 8-feet (like the 9' ceiling on this project), you can plan how the panels lay out on the walls to both save on panels used and to limit the impact of drywall joints.

imgIn this kitchen, we knew that most of the walls would be hung with both upper and lower cabinets, so we planned the drywall joints to fall behind the cabinets so any variations at the joints would be less visible.

What we came up was the following pattern to cover the 9' high walls:

  1. A 3' wide piece up against the ceiling
  2. A 4' wide piece below that
  3. A 2' wide piece along the floor

That way the joint between the top and middle panels would fall behind the upper cabinets, and the joint between the middle and the bottom panels would fall behind the base cabinets.

We just cut a full sheet in half to make two 2' wide pieces and used both in the kitchen.

And after cutting 3' pieces for the kitchen, we used the 1' pieces left over from each cut to provide the middle pieces in areas where we won't have cabinets and where we used a more typical 4-1-4 pattern (4-footer on top and bottom, 1-footer in middle).

On 4-1-4 walls, you can then treat the top and bottom joints along the 1-footer as a single joint and blend that in as smoothly as possible with the full panels.

That creates a slightly raised area along the middle where you use joint compound to smooth out the ridge between the tapered edges of the full panels and the cut edges of the middle panels.

But you can avoid that if you're doing ALL your walls in the 4-1-4 pattern by getting a couple sheets of 3/8" drywall (if you're using 1/2" panels on the walls as we are) and ripping those into 1-foot widths for the middle. That way the build-up of joint compound won't be as noticeable and the cut edges of the middle panel will better match the thickness of the tapered edges of the 4' panels.


Cutting Inside Corners

It's fairly easy to cut drywall by scoring the paper surface with a utility knife, breaking the gypsum along the scored line then cutting the paper backing to finish the cut.

imgBut what if you're cutting to fit around a window or something and you need to cut an inside corner? That's where you need both a vertical cut and a horizontal cut to meet part way in the same panel, leaving an L-shaped piece rather than a rectangle. If you try to score and snap the board part-way the sheet will break.

imgWell, the trick is to pencil your two cutting lines onto the drywall and then cut along one of them with a drywall saw down to the inside corner where that line meets the second line. A drywall saw has teeth especially designed to cut quickly through the gypsum base and the paper without binding.

imgThen you can use your utility knife to score along the second cutting line. Shorter lines can probably be cut free-hand, but on longer cuts it's always smart to use a straight-edge since it's easy to go off-line when you're in a hurry. And to get a good clean cut, it's helpful to run the blade over the line two or three times.

imgThen snap the board back away from the cut, to break the gypsum base along the scored line. Cut the paper backing along the break line to finish the cut. Not all cuts end up with perfectly straight edges, but you can use a utility knife to trim the paper edges straight and a drywall rasp is good for planing down rough gypsum edges.



Taping & Mudding

During the first taping and mudding application, it's easy for us do-it-yourselfers to use too much joint compound and to work each joint too much.

imgSo use just enough compound to fill each joint and create a thin bed of compound for the paper tape. Apply the tape, then spread just a thin layer over the tape to embed it. When it's set in the compound, move on. Don't try to make it perfect yet. That's why you scrape and sand later on.

After the first application dries, scrape down the high spots with your taping knife (6" blade) before starting the second application. That'll save a lot of sanding.

During the second application, you always have trouble getting both sides of an inside corner smooth. Our tip there is to do one side of the corner during the second application, get that perfect and walk away. Then do the other side during the third application.

Scrape again before the third application, and then apply the third coat of compound. We often thin this coat a bit to make it as smooth as possibly but check with your supplier or manufacturer regarding the particular compound you're using.


Using Drywall Stilts

img It's always a hassle moving a ladder or planking around a room when you're taping and mudding a ceiling, so we tried a pair of drywall stilts.

imgIt's not really a tip since we're not recommending that anyone else actually try this at home. There is a need for some personal coordination, and there's obviously the risk of personal injury no matter how graceful you might be.

But there's no question that once you get the hang of it, you can whip around a room mudding and taping at will without being anchored to a ladder.

It's kind of like clomping around in tall ski boots, and stilts put some stress on your legs just below the knees.


Customizing Ceiling Textures

img One interesting development during the early stages of planning was discovering the false ceiling in the old kitchen, which is just the kind of surprise you can expect from remodeling.

We punched a hole in the drywall and found that the original ceiling was at least a foot higher than the dropped ceiling framed in at some later date.

You might assume it was to hide pipes or damage, but we didn't find any. Someone just didn't like the old 9' ceiling. Needless to say, we decided to go back to the original height to match the rest of the house and the new addition.

imgThis home was built in 1907, so one of our main goals was to blend the new work in with the old as much as possible.

We decided to apply a texture to the new ceilings because the existing ceilings were textured. The dining room was more like a stucco finish than a ceiling texture.

So in order to match the old one, we had to improvise a bit with a trowel and a knockdown knife.

imgFirst, we mudded and taped the ceiling joints so those were taken care of, along with those on the walls. Then we thinned out some of our joint compound with water.

We globbed some of that thinned out compound on a hawk and used a trowel to daub it on the ceiling. Then rather than using the trowel to smooth out the daub, we pulled the trowel straight down, which created little peaks of compound and raised the texture a bit.

imgThen after letting the compound set awhile, we came back with an 8" drywall knife and drew that along the surface to remove the highest peaks but still leave a random, textured pattern like the one in the dining room.

We let that dry and then primed and painted it without sanding to keep from losing any more of the texture.


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