5 Easy Solutions to Common Drywall Problems

Woman with drywall sanding tool
Susan McDougall Photography / Getty Images

Installing drywall yourself can be a good DIY project for a number of reasons. Drywall installers are often in short supply. And if you do get a good installer to come to your house, the fee may shock you, even though this is not a rocket-science task. This is a job you can do yourself, but keep in mind some mistakes that DIYers often make: 

1. Drywall Paper Are Oversanded

Problem: In the zeal to achieve a smooth surface, many DIY drywallers vigorously sand the dried mud compound and joints But when you sand too far, you risk the chance of actually sanding into the paper or fiberglass tape covering the seams, or even into the surface of the surrounding drywall, compromising the integrity of the installation. Many DIYers end up retaping seams because they've been too aggressive in their sanding. 

Solution: Check sanding progress by installing a light at a low angle to the wall. This will highlight any rises or bumps.

2. Drywall Screws Are Driven Too Far, Puncturing the Paper

Problem: This is a very common problem--the screws or nails driven too deep, so that they break the surface of the paper face of the wallboard. This is a bigger problem than you think, because once the paper face is broken, much of the holding power of the screw or nail is lost. 

Solution: Drive the screw head exactly to the surface of the paper cover. Then give it just a quarter-turn or half-turn extra to push it just a bit below the surface. Also, special drill attachments are available which regulate the depth of the screw. If you're using a screwgun, the tool has a clutch that allows you to set the depth of the drive. If you do puncture the paper, don't bother with removing it; just drive another screw near the failed one. 

3. Misaligned Holes for Electrical  Boxes

Problem: This is common and pervasive. It's exceedingly difficult to cut a hole in a sheet of drywall and expect for it to perfectly line up with an electrical receptacle that has already been nailed onto the stud. Professionals are good at making the correct measurements; they do this every day. But what about the DIYer?

Solution: There are many ways around this, but here are three. First, there is the old trick of slathering lipstick on the edge of the receptacle, pressing the sheet of drywall against it and then cutting along the lipstick impression. This is not the best solution, but it will work if you have no other options available.

A second way is to run the electrical cables first and twist the ends together, but don't install the receptacle yet. Mark the location of the receptacle with a square of painter's tape on the floor. Then, install the drywall. Only after it has been installed do you cut a hole. Doing it this way requires that you use retrofit (old work) electrical boxes, rather than the kind that attaches directly to studs. 

The third method is best, but it does involve purchasing a special tool called a Blindmark. A magnetic insert goes into the receptacle, and then drywall is installed. With another magnetic piece--which happens to be the same size as a receptacle face--you locate the insert. Draw an outline around the second magnetic piece with a pencil and cut around the outline. Perfect holes usually result. 

4. Drywall Joints Are Too Tight

Problem: This doesn't sound bad, but it is. If you have two adjoining sheets of drywall that fit snugly side-by-side, you risk breaking off drywall in ways that you didn't imagine. Not only that, but you have to allow for expansion and contraction of the underlying framing members. Natural seasonal expansion of the wood framing can crack drywall joints that are too tight. 

Solution: Unfortunately, there is no retroactive fix. However, during installation, be religious about keeping that 1/8" space between sheets by using a guide. The blade of a drywall square is about 1/8" thick, and does the trick. Thin strips of wood can also be used as spacing guides. 

5. Failed Drywall Joints

Problem: Ideally, all joints between drywall panels would fall over framing members, where both edges can be screwed down securely--top, bottom and on both sides. This isn't always possible, though, and in situations where a seam between panels falls over air--known as a hanging joint--failure of the joint is quite likely. 

The temptation is to just lay down the tape and mud it over and pray for the best, but this ad hoc fix rarely works. In a matter of months, such joints will fail, creating visible cracks.  

Solution: To the degree possible, avoid hanging joints wherever you can. And remember, the longer hanging joint, is, the more likely it is to fail. So for situations like very tall walls, cover the wall with long panels installed horizontally, so that the hanging joints are supported by studs every 16 inches. Any hanging joint more than 16 inches in span is likely to fail though, so another alternative is to nail in an extra stud or sleeper blocking to provide a surface to nail the joint.