Why Do You Hang Drywall Top To Bottom?


Someone once told me, “A neat job is the best job.” When it comes to any contractor work or DIY project you always want neatness to rule the day. That’s why anyone who hangs drywall will tell you to do it from top to bottom. Neatness is the biggest reason to hang drywall from top to bottom, but there are other good reasons as well.

Drywall should be hung from the top to bottom to ensure a tight joint with the ceiling boards. This assists in holding the ceiling in place and prevents cracks in the top corner. Avoiding a cut line at the top of the wall will ensure a perfectly straight edge at the most visible seam in the room.

Neatness is the biggest reason to hang drywall from top to bottom, but starting with the top panel of drywall also strengthens the edge of the ceiling board and can prevent cracks if the house moves slightly. 

Don’t let anyone tell you, ‘That’s just the way it’s always been done.’ Read through these reasons and tips for handing drywall from top to bottom and never have drywall problems again!

Why Do You Hang Drywall From Top To Bottom?

If you’ve never hung drywall before, it may seem easiest to start at the bottom and work your way up.

You may think to yourself: ‘If I place the edge of the sheet on the floor, I don’t have to hold it up; all I have to do is screw it in. And then, with the bottom sheet in place, I can use the top edge of that sheet to hold the next one up. I won’t even have to lift and hold the heavy sheets.’ 

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You would be correct it is easier to do it this way. The problem is that it is not only likely to end in an untidy finish, but it may also end up taking you longer because this way will often mean cutting small strips of drywall to fill in gaps at the top or trimming edges that don’t quite fit in square!

If, however, you always work from top to bottom you are guaranteed to get a nice tight joint with the ceiling. This means no cutting thin strips and scribing it in. 

NOTE: Filling in the top corner joint opens up the possibility of cracks forming, but when you start with the panel closest to the ceiling, there is no need for fillers in the first place!

When that first top sheet is in, it is easy to fit the next sheet tightly to the edge of the upper one. Because most drywall boards are tapered at the long edge to make space for the tape and filler it also allows for those seams to be completely invisible.

Any gap left at the end is at floor level and may be concealed by baseboards or carpets. If necessary, a strip of drywall can be used, but this will be easier to patch and hide than a strip at the top.

Benefits Of Hanging Drywall Horizontally

You may also say, skip this hassle altogether and just hang the drywall vertically, but keep in mind these reasons why a horizontally hung wall is better:

For walls nine feet high or less, horizontal drywall means fewer seams.
  • Hanging the drywall horizontally reduces the lineal footage of seams by as much as 25%. Fewer footage seams mean less taping, sanding, finishing, and a better-looking end result.
  • 12-foot lengths of drywall may even cut down on seams even more. If the entire wall can be covered with one 12-foot length rather than joining two together with butt joints, there will be far fewer screws and seams to fill. Some drywall manufacturers even have drywall in 16-foot panels that are 54 inches wide to fit nine-foot-high walls.
  • Hanging drywall horizontally also hides uneven studs by allowing the drywall to flow better over the framing. Bowed studs don’t matter as much in a horizontal fitting compared to drywall hung vertically. If the seam of vertically hung drywall is laid on a bowed-out stud, the whole seam would be pushed out because of the bump in the wall.
  • Getting into the top and bottom corners of a wall requires a good deal of up-and-down ladders and lots of crouching. A horizontal seam that is 48-54 inches from the floor is much easier to finish uniformly, it may not seem like much, but when finishing a whole room or every room in a house this can add up!

Pro Tip: Hang The Ceiling First

You may wonder why professionals hang the ceiling first and then hang drywall on the walls after. They do this for a secure ceiling installation:

The wall drywall ‘pinches’ the edge of the ceiling board between its edge and the ceiling joist or ceiling backing. If you hang the walls first, it will be difficult to get the gap for the top piece to sit right.

If you hang drywall on the walls before the ceiling you may also have a much harder time cutting the ceiling sheets without making messy edges if the room is not perfectly square, which many rooms are not!

TIP: Use a drywall lift when installing the ceiling. Drywall is heavy stuff, so save your back for hanging the wall by renting a drywall lift for the day. Especially if you are installing 12-foot sheets, which can weigh as much as 82 lbs. (compared to a 4×8 sheet that weighs 55 lbs.), a drywall lift can mean the difference between finishing on time or running over time. 

If you are hanging ceilings and drywall solo, a drywall lift is indispensable as it can tilt from vertical to horizontal. Wheels make it highly maneuverable and allow you to load a sheet, roll it into position and crank the sheet up into place. Its main use is to help hang ceilings, but it can also be used for wall placement.

Here’s an article I wrote about which drywall to use for ceilings.

Are There Exceptions To Hanging Drywall Top To Bottom?

Most of the time, the best way to hang drywall is from top to bottom, but there are a few exceptions to the rule. One of these is when hanging drywall in a vaulted room

Because there isn’t usually a ceiling board to come flush with the top edge of the wall in a vaulted room a different finish is required. In this case, it may be easiest the work from bottom to top instead. Starting at the bottom will give you a way to measure the angle of the wall and ceiling when you get to the top.

Hanging a wall in a stairwell is also an exception. Because the steps will need to be cut out of the drywall, it may be easiest to measure and cut the steps in the drywall first, then place it on the top edge of the lower board and slide the board into place.

In some instances, hanging drywall in a commercial setting will require vertical drywall rather than a horizontal hang, so the debate about starting at the top or the bottom goes out the window. 

On some commercial jobs, fire codes require that the drywall seams fall on the entire length of the framing, meaning the drywall must be hung vertically in these cases.

Selecting The Right Drywall For The Job

Three basic types and thicknesses of drywall are used in most jobs:

  1. Half-inch is used for framing spans of 16 inches or less.
  2. Five-eighths-inch (sometimes called Type X) drywall is used for spans up to 24 inches on ceilings. This is usually fire-resistant drywall and is often used between a house and an attached garage or other areas where fire-resistant drywall is needed.
  3. Water-resistant and mold-resistant half-inch drywall is used for humid areas such as bathrooms and basements where mold might be a concern.

Drywall thickness is important to note because doors, window jambs, and electrical outlets are usually set up for 1/2-inch drywall. Thinner drywall, for example, three-eighths-inch or one-quarter-inch, is sometimes available but is usually only used when hanging a curved wall or for patching jobs. 

REMEMBER: Always check the job requirements before purchasing the drywall to avoid delays. The old saying, “Measure twice, cut once.” applies here too!

Conclusion

Drywall should always be hung from top to bottom. Not only is the finished job going to be neater, but the chance of cracking will also be less, and the wall will support the edge of the ceilings better.

It may be more difficult to do it this way, but with the help of a drywall jack (or someone else to help you), the results will be much better every time!

John

I love fixing up my own home and I set up this blog to help others do the same.

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