How to Replace Ceiling Drywall

ceiling repair
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Of course, you don't want to replace that drywall on the ceiling. Drywall installation often rates on the list of least favorite jobs--and that's for walls. Ceilings are worse. You're doing this out of necessity, not out of love.

What has happened might be that a section of drywall is saggy, warped, droopy, broken, moldy, or wet. You have assessed the problem and determined that this is more than just a spot repair. The problem extends so far that it's best to remove an entire...MORE 4'x8' drywall panel, or at least a large section of it, and replace it with a new panel of the same size.

Here are a few procedural tips that will make the going a bit easier:

  • 01 of 05

    Clear out Insulation in Attic

    New Roof Loft Insulation
    P A Thompson / Getty Images

    Above you is an attic. Chances are, your attic has insulation. You also have an access door that leads up to the attic.

    You will often find this access door in a coat closet or bedroom closet. Put a ladder up to it, push the door open, and set it aside.

    Hopefully, your insulation is long batts (strips) of fiberglass insulation. This insulation will be easy to clear.  

    Don gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, and mask. Plug in a work light from down below and bring it up with you. Move the batts to the...MORE side. You only need to remove insulation from the area that will be repaired--not the entire attic.

  • 02 of 05

    Loose-Fill: Do You Have Asbestos?

    Identify Asbestos Insulation in Attic
    Photo Illustration © Lee Wallender

    If you have loose-fill attic insulation it might contain asbestos. Loose-fill, on its own, does not necessarily indicate asbestos. You can have loose-fill fiberglass or cellulose, neither of which contain asbestos. Vermiculite insulation will be in pellet form and have a mica-like sheen.

    Loose-fill insulation is difficult to move or remove. Since you're removing only 32 square feet, you can do this by hand (for whole-attic removal, you can hire a company with special vacuums made just for...MORE taking out this type of insulation). Scooping with a dustpan and placing the insulation in large contractor's bag is an efficient way to remove the material.

  • 03 of 05

    Remove Drywall

    Where to Cut Ceiling Drywall to Be Removed
    © Lee Wallender

    With the area clear, you can see the perimeter of the drywall to be removed. Edges will mostly be attached to ceiling joists. You may encounter some hanging edges supported by a strip of drywall that bridges to the adjoining sheet. Take note of these hanging edges because they will not be picked up by the stud finder.  

    Go below. Identify places where the drywall is attached to joists by using a stud finder. Outline your planned "cut edges" with painter's tape.

    Removing drywall without...MORE damaging adjacent areas is difficult and there is no one way to go about it. Follow these suggestions:

    • From below, punch into the center of the drywall with your reciprocating saw and slice away strips until you meet a stud. Then pull these strips down by hand.
    • If you are removing a section whose edge hits the bottom of a joist, you can pull straight downward. It will separate from the adjacent section of drywall at the joint. After the joint compound breaks away, cut through the embedded tape with a utility knife.
    • Remember that you've still got attic access. It's often easier to be above falling debris than below it. You will have less control and it will be more dangerous, but it is definitely cleaner.
    • If the section of drywall bridges a joist, but you only want one side of the drywall removed, cut with your reciprocating saw alongside the joist. Be sure to cut the inner portion so that the adjacent section of drywall is still supported on the joist. In the adjacent image, the section of drywall that remains is on the right; the portion to be removed is on the left.
  • 04 of 05

    Create Nailing Strips for New Drywall to Attach To

    All the old drywall is gone. But you've got a bit of an obstacle.

    In some instances, you will have no exposed joists on which to nail your new sheet of drywall. The edge of your drywall can't just hang out in mid-air; it has to be attached to something.

    The solution is to create a new surface--which we call a nailing strip--to attach your drywall to.

    Nail 2x4s or 1x1s alongside the joist. Make sure that the bottom of your wood nailing strip matches the bottom of your joist. If there is any...MORE deviation, your new drywall panel will not be level with adjacent parts of the ceiling. No amount of mudding will fix that.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Install New Drywall Panel

    Now you have a surface ready for the new sheet of drywall. Recommended drywall thickness for ceilings is 5/8” to deter sagging.

    Installing a sheet of ceiling drywall by yourself is exceedingly difficult. You can find countless YouTube videos of people doing this alone, and while it can be done, a second pair of hands is recommended.

    Once the sheet is in place, follow standard drywall installation procedures:

    1. Fasten with drywall screws.
    2. Embed your paper tape in joint compound.
    3. Mud over your tape with...MORE another layer of compound. If you're worried about dust, you can use the low-dust compound.
    4. Apply one or two more layers of the compound, as needed.
    5. Sand with a pole-mounted sander.