How to Master Wall Repair and Construction

Whether you're removing a wall, adding a wall, or doing a little bit of each, this handy guide will provide you with the basic knowledge needed to frame, build, and renovate a wall.

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Sometimes a remodeling project involves removing a wall to open up a larger area. Other times it may mean adding a wall to redefine a space or create new living areas. Some projects combine partial demolition and new construction. Either way, it's helpful to have some knowledge on how to work with walls. This piece will walk you through the basics and introduce you to some beginner projects. 

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Take the Time to Prep

Before you start swinging a sledgehammer, understand that demolition does not mean destruction. Demolition is carefully planned removal that can involve special techniques to salvage moldings and other components for reuse. In addition, demolition involves planning to protect adjoining surfaces from damage. In short, smart demolition prevents unintentional destruction.

Despite the mess and heavy work that go with demolition, many people enjoy it. Progress is immediately evident and smashing things has a genuine therapeutic value.

Use the Right Materials

Framing new walls can also be a relatively speedy process. When you choose traditional wood studs, you'll generally find that it's easiest to build the wall flat and then raise it into position. Selecting metal studs means you'll probably install the top and bottom plates first, adding the studs between them to frame the wall into place.

As you build, check often that your work is plumb and flat. Investing a few minutes in inspection will make drywalling easier.

After you've added utilities to the wall, you'll be ready to insulate. On exterior walls, you'll need the thermal and vapor barrier properties of insulation. In interior walls, insulation can deaden noise from gurgling drains or a cranked-up sound system.

Understand the Drywalling Process

Drywalling is another step that shows initial progress rapidly. When you work methodically, you'll hang sheets of drywall efficiently, covering large areas with surprising speed. After that, joint taping and sanding can consume several days, but much of that is simply waiting for each coat of joint compound to dry. After you sand the final coat, your new wall is ready for primer and paint.

Find Out How Much Drywall You'll Need

Master Basic Projects

How to Remove and Save Moldings

The first pieces to come off a wall are the last pieces to be reinstalled—the moldings and other pieces of trim. It can be worthwhile to remove them carefully for reuse, especially when dealing with the ornate woodwork found in older homes. Matching new replacements to old woodwork can be expensive. The challenge is to remove the moldings without damaging them or anything else that will remain. Work slowly and methodically, prying the pieces loose from the nails that hold them.

How to Remove Existing Drywall

After the moldings are out of the way, the next step is to remove the drywall or plaster from the wall. Before you start smashing the wall with a hammer, find out if there are any pipes, ducts, or wiring inside the walls. This is a messy job, so work carefully to avoid creating excessive debris and dust. Remove drywall in large pieces. Start near the top of the wall and work down, prying the drywall free of its fasteners as you go. Drywall is inexpensive, so don't try to save it for reuse. Provide plenty of ventilation and give the remover the recommended time to do its job. Be sure to wear a dust mask rated for fine dust, not just nuisance dust.

How to Remove Old Plaster

The walls of many older houses are covered with plaster rather than drywall, so depending on the age of your home, you may need to work with this material instead. Plaster is applied as a wet paste over a series of thin wood strips called lath, which are attached to the wall studs. The plaster is squeezed between these thin pieces, oozing into the wall cavities. When the plaster dries, this ooze—called keys—holds the plaster to the wall.

More recently installed plaster uses an expanded metal mesh rather than wood lath. Use tin snips to cut through the metal mesh. The most difficult aspect of removing plaster is avoiding damage to adjacent areas.

Before you begin removing plaster, turn off any nearby circuits at the electrical service panel. Remove all receptacle and switch cover plates. Wear a dust mask rated for fine dust.

How to Frame Doorways

At some point in your home's life, you'll wish you had a door in a different spot. Installing one all by yourself isn't that difficult, but it's crucial that the door is properly framed. Framing a doorway is similar to framing a solid wall, with a few added elements. Like the rest of the wall, it is easier to make a rough opening for a doorway while the wall is flat on the floor, if you have the room. Select the straightest studs you can find for framing doorways; this will avoid problems later.

How to Insulate Your Walls

In exterior walls, kraft-faced fiberglass insulation helps control temperature and humidity inside the structure. But insulation also has a role in interior walls. Woven between 2x4 studs on 2x6 plates, unfaced fiberglass helps deaden sound between rooms. Adding insulation is an important project that can add an extra layer of comfort to your home.

How to Hang Drywall

Drywall is the most basic tool used in wall building and repair. You can attach drywall to the framing with nails or screws. Nailing is the faster method, but nails sometimes pop loose later, creating small bumps on the wall surface. (Nail pops occur when studs dry, forcing nails out a little, or if the drywall wasn't nailed tightly to begin with.) Screws cost a bit more in time and money, but they rarely produce pops. Screws must be used when working with steel studs.

Another option is to hold the drywall in place with construction adhesive. This allows you to use fewer nails or screws, reducing the time needed to fill fastener dimples. Adhesive also makes a stiffer wall and reduces nail pops.

You must also decide whether to attach the rectangular sheets horizontally or vertically. Most drywall installers prefer to run the sheets horizontally, which makes a stronger wall, especially over steel studs. In addition, this method places long joints about 4 feet up from the floor, a convenient height for finishing. Stagger the vertical seams if you can; doing so makes the wall stronger.

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