How to Drywall in an Attic - Safety and Preparation

A hand applying drywall.
  • 4-6 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 50-200
What You'll Need
Safety goggles
Face mask
Stud finder
Pry bar
Nail guards
Insulation material (optional)
Measuring tape

When installing drywall in an attic, know how to prepare and ensure safety during the process.

Learn About Drywall

Drywall, often called gypsum, wallboard, gyp board, or plasterboard, is made of a crumbly, fire-resistant substance called gypsum. It is wrapped in a thick, paper coating, and, besides being durable, is easily cut, trimmed, and repaired. It can be used to cover conventional bare stud walls or damaged lath and plaster walls.

Because of its unique construction, drywall can be cut, sawed, drilled, bent, nailed, glued, screwed, painted on, and papered over.

Standard drywall comes in varied thicknesses: 1/4 inch, 3/8 inch, 1/2 inch, and 5/8 inch material. Thinner drywall offers the advantages of being lightweight and easy to manage. Thick drywall is stiffer and tends to go up flatter, with less waving. The most commonly used drywall thicknesses are 1/2 inch and 5/8 inches thick. Check local codes for specific requirements of your area.

The standard panel is 4x8 feet, although 10 foot and 12 foot panels are available. Moisture-resistant drywall is called "greenrock" and is specially treated for use in bathrooms and other damp areas. The long edges of the panels are tapered to compensate for the thickness of mud and tape used to finish the seams. Drywall panels have one rough and one smooth side. It is the smooth, gray surface you want to face outward.

In addition to being easy to work with, drywall is inexpensive. It can be difficult for a novice drywaller to end up with a smooth surface, though. Practice your finishing in a closet or other area of low visibility. You may find a textured finish to be much easier. Once in place, the drywall can be painted or papered (unless it is textured) which makes it ideal for new interior-design effects.

Most Common Mistakes

drywall with mud and tape

The single most common mistake in any project is the failure to read and follow the manufacturer's instructions for the tool or material being used.

Another frequent mistake is neglecting to make provisions for insulation, ventilation, moisture control, and wiring prior to the installation of drywall.

Neglecting to install nail guards where wires or pipes run within the studs, so nails or screws cannot penetrate them is another issue to address.

In addition, avoid placing seams at door corners. Other issues include not sanding between layers of drywall compound, driving nails too deep, such that they break the paper on the panels, not using drywall nails, not sanding the final coat of compound to a smooth finish, not butting two panels of drywall at the beveled factory edge, and dinging or damaging the edges of the panels.

Another common error is contaminating the compound with debris or dried chips of compound.

As you complete the project or while in process, remember to get the nailing pattern inspected (check local code) before covering the nails with compound and tape. Also have the insulation and utilities inspected (check local code) before covering them with drywall.

More examples of mistakes common when working with drywall is not completely covering the tape with compound, not applying the ceiling drywall before applying the drywall on the walls, not butting sheets at a stud or rafter, applying the drywall sheets with the wrong side exposed, and creating more seams than is absolutely necessary (i.e. using small scraps).


As you exercise your Do It Yourself skills, develop safe work habits and stick to them.

Drywall is heavy and therefore awkward to lift and maneuver. It is best to work in pairs, especially when working on ceilings and high areas. Be careful when lifting, so as not to cause unnecessary strain.

Also ensure power tools are properly grounded and use the appropriate tool for the job. Keep blades sharp since a dull blade requires excessive force, and can slip and cause accidents.

Protect your eyes from gypsum dust by wearing safety glasses or goggles. The proper respirator or face mask is recommended when sanding or sawing.

Observe proper use of stepladders. Never climb higher then the second step from the top; use a taller ladder instead. Be certain the spreader bars are locked in place and both pairs of legs are fully open. If leaning the ladder against a wall, a safe distance between the wall and the feet of the ladder is one quarter the height of the ladder. Do not use an aluminum ladder near electrical wires.

When setting a plank between ladders as a scaffold, be sure it extends a foot on each side and is clamped or nailed to its support.

Use the proper protection, take precautions and plan ahead. Never bypass safety to save money or rush a project.

Note: Check local code and building requirements before beginning work.

Preparing the Walls

man installing drywall on a ceiling

All electrical and plumbing work (such as installation of new outlets or fixtures) should be completed prior to installing the drywall. This includes phone and cable TV lines or alarm systems, as well. Remember to place nail guards over studs to protect wires and pipes.

Dampness in the walls or ceilings due to faulty plumbing or poor ventilation should be corrected. Also complete any needed insulation upgrading or installation prior to drywalling.

Make the job easier by marking the location of all wall studs on the ceiling and the floor for your vertical nailing pattern reference.

If you are placing drywall over an existing wall, remove all the baseboards and note the locations of the nail holes in the wall surface. These nails will usually be in the center of a stud. Check this by drilling a hole (1/8-inch drill bit) into the wall above a nail to find the stud. When you are confident you have found it, measure over 16 inches (studs are usually 16 inches — sometimes 24 inches — apart) and drill again until you find the next stud. Mark the stud location on the ceiling and the floor for your vertical nailing pattern reference.

Note: Keep in mind, on a lath and plaster wall, you will need to drill through the plaster and one-inch-thick lath before you hit the stud.

Check to see if any studs (or rafters) are badly bowed and would cause the drywall to protrude or bow inward. This is especially critical around doors and windows where trim will later be applied. Correct these with shims or by chiseling, planing down, or even replacing before proceeding.