Drywall, also sometimes called plasterboard or gypsum board, is prefabricated panel board that is hung in sheets and used to finish walls and ceilings in residential and commercial construction. You may better recognize drywall as the surface you put your interior wall paint on. Before drywall came along, tradesmen crafted walls out of plaster, laboriously applying multiple layers of lath and wet plaster to form walls. Now, professionals can install drywall in homes, multi-unit buildings, commercial properties or offices to finish a room or space after new construction or remodeling.
Contractors and drywall specialists tackle drywall installation for basements, garages, bonus rooms and entire interiors on new construction jobs. In addition, these pros can help with popcorn ceiling removal, water damage repair, hole repair and drop-ceiling installation. Most are skilled at taping and sanding joints, spraying texture, and removing and replacing old drywall. It's important to hire a skilled drywall professional, as the texture of your new walls depends on their ability to properly smooth (or create the desired texture on) the final surface. Dents, dips and tape seams from poorly installed drywall can be very noticeable, especially after painting.
Because drywall contractors focus solely on drywall, they can give more accurate price bids for drywall projects than general contractors who work on a broader scope of tasks. A general contractor will handle project management, but will also charge a markup for themselves on top of the drywall subcontractor's fee to cover their cost of doing business, increasing your final cost. Several factors affect the overall average cost of drywall installation.
Labor, material and prep
Drywall professionals often quote a set firm price or price range after doing a site visit and determining the approximate labor costs, material costs (such as wallboard, joint compound, drywall boards and more), square footage and prep work required. If you want a special smooth finish for entryways or sunlit areas, that may add to the overall cost. Typically after a first visit, the drywall professional prepares a quote based on how long it will take for the work plus labor costs. From this base price, they may also add travel and materials to account for working in a setting with multiple subcontractors where the scope of work can sometimes shift. Some professionals generate drywall estimates based on a set cost per square foot, and some base quotes on a combination of time required and the size of the job. Here are a few average national project cost examples:
- Drywall installation for one or two standard-size rooms: $900-$1,500
- Hang and tape an outbuilding with about 40 drywall sheets at 75 cents per square foot: $1,450, including 3.75 days of work
- Scrape a popcorn ceiling in a kitchen, repair cracks in walls and prime: $475, including three short days of work
- Install a drop ceiling in one room at 93 cents per square foot: $375, including 1.25 days of work
Popcorn ceiling removal
Many popcorn ceilings installed from the 1930s through the 1980s pose a potential health hazard because they often contain asbestos. The cost to remove a popcorn ceiling can vary, depending on the complexity and size of the job. A typical drywall installer might charge approximately $1.25 per square foot to scrape, tape, sand, prime and paint a ceiling. The cost can drop 25 cents per square foot if customers do the painting themselves after drywall installation.
You may be able to do minor (or major) repairs instead of replacing your drywall. Nationally, the average price to repair drywall ranges between $210 and $300. Drywall repair prices will depend on the size of the crack or hole in your wall or ceiling, the quantity of materials needed for the repair, and other factors such as mold or rot. Even the most cautious homeowners will likely see cracks and holes develop in their drywall over time. Roy Brothers Drywall charges $250-$350 to repair drywall without repainting. With painting, the total cost can be as much as $550. Roy of Roy Brothers Drywall says his prices may be higher than competitors because his company strives for a flat, long-lasting and overall high-quality finish on repairs. Some additional examples of drywall prices for repairs from other pros include these:
- Sand and texture five wall patches: $200 (45 minutes of labor and $40 for materials).
- Repair a 4-foot by 8-foot section of wall: $225 ($150 in labor and $75 for materials).
- Replace drywall in an entire bedroom: $1,500 (price varies depending on the number of windows, whether there's metal trim, etc.).
Drywall can be damaged by factors that are out of your control, like when your house settles or there's a minor earthquake. But typically drywall has a long life once installed and can be fairly hardy if properly cared for. Try these preventive measures to protect your drywall and save yourself some repair money:
- Be careful when moving furniture. Banging into your walls with beds, dressers and chairs can lead to cracks in your drywall.
- Install art carefully. Make sure to use a stud finder to prevent tears in the wall that can occur if you hang a piece of art or other heavy item without support.
- Fix water damage fast. Leaks and wet drywall never improve. Wetness often indicates a plumbing or roofing issue, but regardless of why, wet drywall can lead to mold, which you want resolved immediately.
New construction versus remodel
Expect lower drywall installation costs when you're building your home from the ground up. Installing drywall in a newly constructed building is much cheaper per square foot or per board than installing it during a home remodel. Work during a home remodel is often divided many different workspaces throughout the house. The drywall pros also must work around other contractors who are doing their work simultaneously, making the process slower and more labor-intensive. It's much easier when the walls are new and the drywall contractor can put up eight to 12 boards per hour unimpeded.
Drywall comes in a variety of thicknesses and grades. Sheetrock is the brand name of a type of drywall, although the names Sheetrock and drywall are often used interchangeably. Standard residential sheetrock is ½-inch thick, for example. Garage walls adjacent to a living space are typically ⅝-inch thick to serve as a firewall. Most contractors will use firewall-grade materials on the ceiling of a garage as well. Green and purple sheetrock boards are mold-resistant (MR) for use in areas where moisture can accumulate, such as bathrooms and basements. Regular sheetrock is gray or white. The sheetrock manufactured today is about 30 percent lighter than it used to be, so hanging isn't as physically demanding. However, the fire-rated ⅝-inch sheetrock is not available in the 30 percent lighter material. Drywall mud or joint compound (also known as drywall compound) is a white powder of primarily gypsum dust mixed with water to form a mud the consistency of cake frosting, which is used with paper or fiber joint tape to seal joints between sheets of drywall to create a seamless base for paint on interior walls. Mud also comes in several options: lightweight, general-purpose and ready-mix (powder). Professional contractors should know to use screws to hang drywall; ¼-inch coarse-thread drywall screws are the most common and will recommend the best type of drywall mud.
The cost for materials can be anywhere from 15 percent to 50 percent of the total project cost, depending on the size of the job. For example, a patch job requires much more labor (tooling up, travel, unloading, work, packing up, repeat) than materials (handful of screws, small scrap piece of sheetrock, leftover mud, tape, etc).
Minimum service fee
Many drywall repair professionals will charge a minimum service fee no matter how minor your drywall repair. This minimum service fee ensures that the contractor's business operating expenses are met. For each drywall job they take, even if it's only repairing a small crack, they still have to send at least one skilled labor, send out a company vehicle, supply the appropriate tools and materials, and account for the worker's travel time. Depending on the city and the company, the minimum service fee can vary. For example, a drywall company could charge $100-$150 for a minimum service fee. Drywall companies must also account for business overhead: the cost of labor, insurance, tools, gas, vehicles and vehicle repairs, marketing, business administration, and more. The regional cost of living and labor rates also affect project costs.
Hiring a drywall contractor
Whether you are installing drywall in your new custom home, replacing drywall as part of a home remodel, or doing a minor drywall repair, finding a trustworthy professional is the key to success. A general contractor handling your new home construction or remodel will hire the drywall subcontractor, but if you are acting as your own project manager for your home remodel or new construction, this task will fall to you. Before you contact any pros, do online research to find someone with good reviews and solid standing in the community (with no complaints through formal licensing bodies). Confirm they have a legitimate business operation and are properly licensed and insured. Different states have different requirements; some states have no contractor license requirements, while states like California require that drywall installation professionals doing jobs larger than $500 have a drywall contractor license that must be updated annually. Next, verify that the contractor's license is valid via your state's searchable database. This search will also let you know if any formal complaints have been issued against the contractor. You should also verify that the company's insurance is valid so that you'll be protected in case of an accident at your home. After you have identified two to three viable candidates, contact them for quotes. If you have a smaller drywall repair project and the pricing is in line with your area, you may not need multiple quotes and may be able to settle on the first quote you receive, but for larger jobs with thousands of dollars on the line, it pays to get two to three bids. For more, check out our tips for smart hiring.
Don't hire your drywall contractor based solely on price. Make sure the company's reputation is good and that they have satisfied customers that you can contact for references. You also want to be able to easily communicate with your point person. If the drywall contractor answers your questions with confidence and respect (and you in turn treat them respectfully) the project will go more smoothly if communication is poor. Once you feel confident in the company's services, get everything in writing with a clearly worded contract. The contract should outline the scope of the drywall installation project. Specify the total square feet you need covered or number of sheets to be installed. The contract should outline the type of drywall (such as mold-resistant in bathrooms, firewall-grade in the garage, etc.). You will also want to include a cost breakdown showing the projected cost of the different materials and the cost of labor. Confirm how payments will be made during the project. For smaller projects, you may pay a deposit to secure the contractor's work and then a final payment when the job is complete. For larger projects, such as installing drywall throughout a new 5,000-square-foot home, you'll want to pay in installments. Be very wary of a company that needs to be paid in full upfront. Include the approximate start and finish dates of the project in the contract, knowing that dates may change slightly as a result of unexpected developments like repair work. Clarify whether the contractor will obtain any permits needed and also state in writing if they will haul away any old drywall or other project refuse.
- Drywall is easy to mess up. The less you know, the harder you need to work, so it often pays to hire a pro.
- Read client reviews and follow up with references to make sure you're choosing the right pro for your project. For more, check out our tips for smart hiring.