Over the weekend we wrapped up our adventure in finishing the drywall in the laundry room. It was a humbling experience, but we’re feeling nothing short of glorious about how it turned out. In fact Sherry and I spent a few minutes doing this in there on Sunday.
Project Completion Euphoria. It’s a real thing. And it can make a grown man twirl.
We’re not ready to put “pro drywaller” on the ol’ resume quite yet, but I do think we’ll go into our next drywallstravaganza with a lot more confidence. We devoured YouTube videos and online tutorials for about an hour one morning, and quickly learned that there seem to be just as many variations on proper technique as there are opinions (reminder to self: never read YouTube comments). We finally decided to generally follow this video, since it was clear and seemed consistent with the most common advice. So this post will show you the process we went with, and what techniques seemed to be the most effective for us. We even threw in a couple of videos for you (although none of them have our Sound of Music reenactment).
Before we started this reno, I was quick to tell Sherry that my vote was to heavily consider hiring out the mudding/taping of the drywall. It’s just a skill we have limited practice with (patching a hole here and there mostly) and it really is an art when you watch the pros. My biggest encounter to date was 5 years ago during our first bathroom gut job, but it was just doing a handful of seams. Somewhere along the line I felt my opinion starting to shift, and as we decided to take on more of this renovation ourselves, I realized this would be a good room for us to build our drywall finishing skills. There would be lots of seams to practice on and if they didn’t turn out so hot, we would have various items like baseboard, crown molding, cabinets, appliances, and backsplash tile blocking some of them – and it’s not like it’s a major gathering spot (like a kitchen or living room for example).
So let’s start with our materials, most of which should be available right in the drywall section of any home improvement store:
- Rosin paper or some other paper to protect your floor from drops, splatters, and dust (even if it’s just sub-floor, you don’t want it to get bumpy from dried joint compound)
- Joint compound (i.e. Mud) – I used this based on reviews I read that warned against the “UltraLightweight” stuff. I heard you want 1 gallon for every 100 square feet of drywall. For me that meant 4 gallons, but we ended up using closer to 5.
- Mud Pan
- Drywall Knives in various sizes – the one pictured is a 6″ knife, but we also used 8″, 10″, and 12″ ones (although the last was probably overkill)
- Corner Trowel (not pictured) – this helps you get into corners and was awesomely helpful (it’s in one of our videos below)
- Drywall Tape (not pictured)
- Bucket of Water (not pictured)
- Work Light (optional, not pictured)
- Stepladder (not pictured)
The mud pan is not only a handy way to not have to lug the whole bucket around with you, but it also has some metal edges so you can keep your knives clean and scraped off throughout the process.
We started with the easy step: covering the screw holes. Having used a drywall counter-sink bit during installation, our screws were already set into the drywall slightly (kinda dimpled in there) making it quick and easy to slop on a bit of mud and scrape it flat.
There were lots of screws to cover, but Sherry took two sides along with the hallway and I got the other two and the laundry room ceiling so it went pretty fast that way.
Next up was taping the joints or seams between sheets of drywall. There’s mesh tape that has an adhesive built in, which we’ve used before and found tough (if you sand too much, the mesh texture comes through easily), so we chose to use paper tape this time, which requires a bed of mud to stick to the wall. That application method was an extra step, but almost all of the pro tutorials that we watched used it, and it ended up being a lot easier to work with in our opinion (we didn’t have that mesh-showing-through issue – so it made for a smoother result).
First I applied my “bedding layer” on the horizontal seams. The drywall boards taper slightly on the edges, so this whole process is meant to bridge the gap between boards and flatten the taper. Once I got a decent layer of mud applied, I dragged my 6″ blade across it to smooth it out.
Once it was smooth, I took my piece of tape (already ripped to the length of the seam) and lightly pressed it into the layer of mud. It takes just a soft tap for it to stick to the mud. Note: I saw some tutorials suggest wetting the tape first. I tried this once and didn’t find it any easier, just messier, so I worked with mine dry.
Once lightly adhered across the seam, I dragged my 6″ knife across the seam with a little bit of pressure to smoosh it down into the mud. It helped to start in the middle of the wall and work out to one corner and then repeat that on the other side. Since the tape may drag when you first start, it helps to put a finger on it to keep it in place when you first pull your knife across it.
With the tape embedded, I then used a slightly larger knife (an eight incher) to put and smooth another layer on top. By using a larger knife it helps feather out the edges so they blend more seamlessly with the wall, all while disguising the taper of the boards.
Here’s my horizontal seam after my first round. It actually wasn’t that hard at all, so it had me thinking I could do this all day…
… and then came the corners. The added corner element definitely made them more of a challenge. I wouldn’t rate this step as a “panic and throw things and curse the DIY Gods” undertaking, but I think a “you have to concentrate more and it takes more time” descriptor is fitting for this part (I’d call it a 6 on the DIY difficulty scale, while the flat seams are a 2). The process started off pretty much the same as the flat seams. I could even use the same tape, since it comes pre-creased for corner applications.
Just like before, I applied a bedding layer first – which involved running my mud-filled knife down each side of the corner.
Once both sides of each corner were covered with a fair amount of mud, I broke out my corner trowel to smooth it out. The corner trowel is a lifesaver when it comes to getting a sharp angle in the corner and smoothing both walls simultaneously.
Then on went the tape with a light tap, just to keep it in place.
Next I pressed the tape into the mud with another swipe of the corner trowel. Since it was hard to get my finger and the trowel in the top corner (to keep the paper from dragging), I found it sometimes helped to dip my trowel in water first to glide along the tape more smoothly.
The corners ate up a lot more time than the flat seams since we had four vertical corners in the room, four horizontal corners around the ceiling, plus nine more around the doorways in the hall. But hey, at least we had 17 corner seams to practice on! Note: I’ll explain in a little more detail what else was challenging about the corners in a second, complete with a video to show you what ended up working nicely, so stay with me.
Oh and I thought it would be helpful to mention that my first round of mudding took longer than the 12-24 hours to dry that most tutorials suggested (Sherry started a second round after 24, but noticed it was pulling some damp mud up in a few areas so we decided to wait one more day).
Once everything was dry (you can tell because the mud will be one consistent color) we put another coat on our seams, this time using a slightly larger 10″ knife to further spread the edges out a bit.
We also tackled another layer of mud on our screw holes together, since you could tell our first pass had shrunk a little bit when drying.
With that done, it was time to face the corners again. I actually watched a few more videos with tips before beginning, which seemed to help – and I even made a video to show the technique that ended up working for me in the hopes of passing it along to you guys. I didn’t let Sherry record me until my third (and final) round of mudding, just to be sure I had a good handle on it – so forgive the time jump. It’s also on a ceiling crease, but it works the same way on vertical wall corners.
For those who can’t watch the video, I’ll do my best to explain it with photos. It started like I did the first time – slopping some mud on both sides of the corner with my 6″ trowel, followed by a pass with the corner trowel to smooth it out and wipe off excess.
The issue is that the trowel edge tends to leave ridges where the excess is pushed out, but not smoothed down.
So to take care of those, I used my 6″ trowel to flatten them and feather the edge better. The challenge here is that you risk creating another ridge with the trowel (in the case of the photo below it would be the left corner), basically creating a vicious cycle of ridges that are left behind. But if you hold your 6″ trowel at a slight angle, that can help you apply pressure on the outside edge so you can eliminate the first ridge without making a new one (or at least a very big one). This takes some finesse, so forgive yourself if you don’t get it right away, but once it “clicked” for me it was a lot easier.
After eliminating (or greatly reducing) the ridge, then I went back and did one more pass with my corner trowel, just to be safe.
Here’s the room after two rounds of mudding. Fortunately the second round was much faster since (a) we weren’t taping and (b) I was getting better at those corners (cue the Rocky music, guys).
After 24 hours, it was sanding time. You can see in the photo below that my best efforts to smooth everything out with those trowels weren’t perfect and I still had some defined edges that needed to be smoothed out and blended into the wall better.
I was actually excited to try out the idea of “wet sanding” to help eliminate some of the dust that threatens to coat everything in a normal “dry sanding.” I’d heard people use everything from a sponge to a t-shirt for wet sanding, but I went with this sanding sponge that was sold alongside all of the other drywall sanding materials (since it has a coarser side for scrubbing). I also kept an 120 grit sanding block nearby for any tough spots.
Well, I have to say I wasn’t very impressed with the damp sponge. It did the job, but it took a lot more effort that I had expected.
So I decided to try something different – which I explain in the video below – that ended up working really well.
Again, if the video is a no-go for you. Here’s the gist – I used the 120 grit sanding block as a sponge, since it retained water AND had a little more scrubbing power than the plain sponge did.
I didn’t want it very wet at all (that could rub off the drywall paper) but just damp enough to moisten the dried mud (and so that that the dust from sanding stuck to the surface of the block, which didn’t happen when it was bone dry).
I wouldn’t call this method “100% dust free” by any means, since once the block got coated with a layer of dust it started to toss it around a bit. The difference was that the dampness caused the dust to just fall to the ground right below whatever I was sanding, rather than becoming a cloud in the room. Once one side of the block got covered, I turned it over to get a more time out of it before having to rinse it in my bucket (it took a bit of massaging to get the dust coat off).
This step was a HUGE relief, because I was worried about a few corners where my application wasn’t as smooth as the others. Here’s one particularly rough spot and how well the wet-sanding step corrected my mistake.
Once the sanding was done, we could put our third and final finish coat on the walls. A bunch of tutorials suggested thinning out the mud a bit so that it goes on even smoother, so I dumped a little water in…
…and blended it with a paddle mixer. You can see I did this in an empty bucket, so we weren’t diluting our whole stash. It didn’t make it too much thinner, just about the consistency of mayonnaise.
I’ll spare you pictures the photos of our third round of application and our second round of sanding (they were identical to the process I’ve already shown, and this post is already overloaded with pictures) – so let’s just jump to the after.
Since that’s not the most exciting picture ever, let’s jump one step further to the primed room. We were so eager to see how our taping, mudding, and sanding held up to the test of being coated with primer that we jumped right on it yesterday. And it looks like a real room, guys! A space that didn’t exist a few weeks ago is there now – and everything is smooth! We feel like having people over to stand around and look at the walls with us. Is that a thing? No? Ok, we won’t.
Here are a couple more before/afters for you. We’re really happy with how smooth the transition is in the hall too.
Here’s one last (waaay) before & after to show how this formerly dead end of the hallway has changed. It’s going to be funny to look back on old house tour videos and see a laundry closet there instead of a doorway.
Next up is painting and then installing the floor (we picked tile! more on that soon!). After that we’re debating whether we should roll the washer and dryer back in (at least temporarily) just to have them hooked up again, or if we should hold out to get a few more things done without them in the room, like hanging the doors and adding the molding. Decisions, decisions…
Drywall mudding and taping in the laundry room is going (I think) well. We’re two coats in and past our first bout of sanding (we tried wet sanding so I’m excited to share how that went) but I’m still holding my breath a bit to get through the third (and hopefully last) coat and onto primer to be sure it looks as good as we think it does, since it’s that last step that tends to be the real test. So rather than split up our mudding and taping tutorial into two posts, I’m holding off until Monday to cover the process from start to finish (with video). So today we’re talking about money and insulation.
Drywall completion will actually mark the end of the tasks that we had gotten quoted by two contractors, so we thought this was a good budget check-in point to see what sort of savings we got by choosing to do more ourselves and hiring out sub-contractors directly. Here’s where we’re at:
- Framing (labor & materials): $360
- Electric (labor & materials): $400
- Plumbing (labor & materials): $375
- New dryer vent (materials & tools, since we did the labor): $87
- New HVAC vent (materials only, since we did the labor): $59
- Drywall & insulation (materials & truck/tool rental, since we did the labor): $298
- Drywall mudding (materials only, since we did the labor): $84
- Sub-floor (materials only, since we did the labor): $30
- TOTAL: $1,693
Our wallets are definitely feeling good about not having spent twice that on the contractor bids that we got (the first one was nearly $5K, the second was $3250). Looking at the line items on those estimates, it looks like we scored the biggest savings in two areas – framing and drywall. Together they accounted for over $2,000 in both contractors’ estimates, but we spent less than $750.
Of course our drywall is lower because we chose to do it ourselves (we did get a separate bid from a subcontractor and it was right in line with the contractors’ line items). Framing came in lower for a couple reasons, I’d guess. One just being that David is super nice, quick, and affordable. But also because we suspect that it’s the line item where the contractors put most of their fees and miscellaneous costs into. Because when you look at our plumbing and electrical costs, they’re not wildly cheaper than the contractor’s estimate (both were about $150 less). So still lower, but not as dramatically. Our other savings came from doing smaller tasks they worked into their bids, like laying the subfloor, redirecting those vents, adding the insulation ourselves, etc.
Long story short, we’re very grateful that the first half of the project clocked in at significantly less than we originally thought it would… because we still have lots of costs ahead of us: floor tile, cabinets, shelving, etc. Oh and one other benefit to the do-more-and-subcontract-a-few-things method is that we got to jump start the project much sooner, rather than waiting for an opening on the contractors’ schedules.
While we waited for my most recent coat of joint compound to dry, I took care of hanging the insulation around the outside of the laundry room. My understanding is that insulation on interior walls isn’t really required, but since this room is backed by an unfinished, unheated/cooled and otherwise uninsulated storage room (for now at least) we figured it was a good extra step to take. Plus it could help cut down on a little bit of the noise of running the washer & dryer once there’s a finished bunk-room behind it. So I watched this how-to video and got ready to get my install on.
I picked up the above batts of insulation at Home Depot on my material run a couple of weeks ago. I chose batts because they come pre-cut for 2×4″ depth walls and 8ft tall ceilings like we have. They also come 15″ wide for 16″ studs, but I accidentally ended up bringing home the 23″ wide kind. ::smacks head:: And I didn’t realize this until I’d already unwrapped a package. ::smacks head again::
No biggie though – it just meant some more cutting, which is pretty straightforward. Although it does require a uniform of protective gear, including pants and a long-sleeve shirt to keep the itchy fiberglass off your skin. It’s a really fun outfit when working in an un-air-conditioned space in the summer. Dead eyes optional, btw.
To cut them, I laid a batt facedown (i.e. paper side down) and pressed a straight edge into the pink insulation along the line I wanted to cut. Once compressed, it’s pretty easy to cut it with a utility knife.
You can tell that the cut is working because the side you’re not pressing down with the ruler puffs back up. Sometimes I did have to flip it over and cut the paper a little in a few spots where my knife didn’t make it through on the first try.
The facing on the batts does have a bit of an overhang to help you staple the insulation in place. But facing is apparently highly flammable, so it says all over the place that it should not be left exposed. So I placed the batts face-side in (since we’re not sure when we’ll get around to finishing the storage room). Since I was careful not to cut mine too narrow, they held in place by themselves just fine, all it took was a gentle push into place.
Occasionally I did have to cut around obstacles, like electrical boxes or laundry pipes. But I just tackled those as I went.
It was a pretty easy task – just a wee bit warm thanks to the conditions in the room and my sexy outfit.
Although my adventures in insulating aren’t complete, since I still have to do something with the ceiling. I can access it somewhat easily from the stairs that lead up to the third-story attic space, so my first instinct was to do more rolled insulation or batts, rather than mess with blown insulation (which was up there originally over the old laundry area). The Jury’s still out though.
Now we’re going to return our attention to mudding and taping (and hopefully priming) so we can get this room ready for some flooring… which then makes it ready to get appliances plugged back in. I can practically smell the detergent!
Does anyone else have any fun weekend plans? Wait, don’t tell me if it’s super fun, because I might fling some drywall compound in your direction.