In rare cases things do go as planned and all works out as planned. However, all too often, just like in a murder mystery, the best-laid plans tend to go south. When this happens there is a lot of blame that gets passed around, and in worst-case scenarios, it can end in litigation.

I believe that all parties involved in a drywall job have the best intentions at the start of the project. The owners know what they want, they can picture it and have clearly stated their wishes to the architect. The architect/designer believe they understand what the owner wants in a finished product and believes he/she has specified the procedures and materials correctly to achieve what the owners desire. The general contractor has hired a drywall contractor who will be Johnny on the spot, keep the schedule and achieve the desired look for the lowest possible cost. The drywall contractor can picture the project running smoothly, his people and other subcontractors on site will perform flawlessly and everyone involved will turn a profit. In a nutshell, a cooperative spirit among all parties will prevail and everyone gets what they want. Stop laughing. In rare cases things do go as planned and all works out as planned. However, all too often, just like in a murder mystery, the best-laid plans tend to go south.

When this happens there is a lot of blame that gets passed around, and in worst-case scenarios, it can end in litigation. After being involved with countless site disputes and then asked to act as mediator, I have found that the primary cause of most site problems can often be traced back to a basic lack of communication between the owners, architects and the contractors. This can be especially true if a general contractor decides to take sides and favor a particular subcontractor.


While the architect should specify a level of finish for the gypsum panels and the painting, it is all too often left to the field to decide what procedures and products to use. Wall and ceiling contractors should not assume anything, and should ask what level of finish is desired. Use the Gypsum Association document GA-214 for guidance and clarification of the five levels of finish. There are three critical parties involved in achieving that specified level of finish for the joint treatment and final decoration of gypsum wallboard: the gypsum board contractor, the paint contractor and the general contractor.


A site visit, like so many I have done in 11 years, will illustrate my point. I was asked to come to a construction site and evaluate the quality of the finish for the gypsum panels. The project was a church and all walls and ceilings were specified a “smooth” Level 4 finish for the gypsum board with a moderate sheen eggshell paint. To start, the specification is pushing the envelope, a Level 4 with an eggshell? Critical side lighting can be trouble.

There were concerns by the general contractor about the level of care and quality by the drywall contractor. As often happens, I walked the site with the general contractor, project manager, the painting foreman, the drywall contractor and each foreman. The general contractor was correct: the quality of the drywall work was rough. Many detail areas had tool marks, ridges, air pockets, and over sanding was apparent. The general contractor was visibly upset and grew angrier with each room inspected, and finally snapped, “I just want the drywall contractor to step up and take responsibility for his work.” This would seem to be an easy call for me as the drywall workmanship was below the industry standards. I could, and maybe should, have left then with an easy simple report about sub-par workmanship. However, I was looking at the broader picture and the real complication of the situation. Almost all the walls and ceilings had been primed and received two coats of paint, the carpet was in and cabinets were being hung on the walls. The church was due to have services next week. As I continued to walk the site with the general contractor, I had to ask the questions that I thought were obvious. “How come you waited so long to complain? Why did the painter keep painting?” My observation was that the general contractor should take “some” responsibility for being a general and providing “some” supervision and approval before the next phase of work began. This statement did not go over very well with the general contractor and his project manager. He then decided to turn his anger toward me. The painter was also upset when I suggested he should have stopped and notified somebody of unsatisfactory workmanship and not just keep on painting. My statement was not meant to let the drywall contractor “off the hook,” but rather to be reasonable about shared responsibilities for workmanship and proper procedures.


I saw this kind of situation, with minor twists, on a weekly basis. There are proper quality control procedures and inspections that could and should be in place on all projects to avoid such dilemmas. Every contractor should go over an in-house checklist of potential problems and ask for a pre-job conference with the general contractor, paint contractor and the architect/owner. The wall and ceiling contractor should have written procedures and use them on all projects of all sizes. These procedures can save a contractor time, money and costly callbacks. They can also be used in the unlikely event of litigation over unresolved issues. If a general contractor does not wish to participate in the process, I strongly urge drywall and paint contractors to protect themselves. Good general contractors are only too happy to participate in a QC program to avoid conflict. The general contractors who find these meetings and/or procedures a waste of time are frequently the ones who believe a site should run itself if the subcontractors would just do what they are told and most importantly keep to “his” preset schedule.


Is a level of drywall finish established per the specifications? Does your contract/proposal specify the level of finish? Are there any areas that should be a Level 5 finish? For example, smooth walls with dark paint or paints with a sheen that will be exposed to side lighting or accent lights.

Is the foreman or foremen clear on the level of finish and the owners expectations for the project?

The foreman for hanging wallboard should sign off on each room for framing tolerances, notify the general contractor of any deficiencies in writing and proceed as directed by the general contractor.

The foreman in charge of hanging gypsum panels then inspects the installation of gypsum panels and approves for taping foreman. (All panels firmly attached to framing, no excessive gaps, bird’s mouths at corners, under- or over-driven fasteners, etc.)

The taping foreman should walk the rooms and note any areas slated for pre-filling with setting type joint compound, taking note of any issues that will affect his finish work. Notify and proceed as directed.

Is the taping foreman prepared to walk the joint and fastener treatment prior to the painter priming the wallboard? The taping foreman should be satisfied the primer coat of paint is ready to be applied.

The taping foreman must be prepared to touch up work after the primer coat of paint and release surfaces to the painter for final decoration.


In writing, document any areas on the project that should be treated as a Level 5 per ASTM, GA or local industry standards/recommendations. Many areas are specified at a lower level even though the industry recommends a Level 5. After discussion and verification, proceed as directed. This is also to protect general and paint contractors.

Also, review the stocking of gypsum panels and all access openings. Consider power lines, trenches, storage areas, weather protection and areas not suitable for heavy trucks. Stack board only as approved by standards.

Establish the environmental requirements for joint and fastener treatment. Again, use ASTM, GA or local association standards.

Establish a clear line and responsibility for inspection and acceptance to avoid problems.

The framing and general contractors need to walk rooms and approve them for application of the gypsum panels. Do not proceed until each has approved the framing.

The drywall contractor/foreman walks framing and approves it for application of gypsum panel.

Before the painter applies the primer coat, the drywall and painting foremen should approve joint and fastener treatment. After the primer coat is applied, the general contractor should check workmanship for a “base” approval (eye-catching discrepancies) and the drywall contractor should touch-up walls and ceilings in preparation for final coats of paint or texture. Base approval means the GC reserves the right for minor touch-up work at the final walk through.

The general contractor should receive paperwork from all field personnel. The paperwork or field reports are to protect all parties involved and achieve the intended results desired at the beginning of the project. Simply wishing it to happen rarely works. While this may seem like a waste of time to many field personnel and contractors, it can be a lifesaver.


What happens if you finish the work, the parties above all like it and then the owner comes along at the end and starts picking the job apart? You have been there; the owner is on hands and knees with a 500-watt halogen light along the wall at the perfect angle to highlight even the most minor flaws. Hopefully, the procedures on Page 21 will assist you and the owner on a fair procedure to judge a gypsum wallboard finish.

Sidebar: A Recommended Procedure for Judging Gypsum Wallboard

The procedure to judge the final decoration and acceptance of a gypsum wallboard system is often confusing, argumentative and certainly open to subjective opinions. The following is intended to provide a set of guidelines and clarification of terms with procedures that commonly lead to disputes over the acceptance or rejection of finishing the gypsum wallboard surface. This paper does not cover the five levels of finish and/or joint treatment procedures. Refer to the Gypsum Association documents, available, for more information.

General Information:

The aesthetics of a successful gypsum wallboard project start with proper communication of the desires of the architects/owners and the finishing procedures of the wall and ceiling contractor. It must be understood that finishing gypsum wallboard is a joint treatment system and perfection cannot and should not be expected, regardless of the level of finish specified. There can be a slight inherent build-up of joint compound on joints, particularly where a square edge meets a square edge of gypsum panels. These should be feathered out further than tapered joints.

The framing for a gypsum wallboard system is critical for an aesthetically pleasing and acceptable finish. Warped or misaligned framing will result in the gypsum wallboard system not being straight and true. Gypsum panels follow the plane of framing and it is not the responsibility of the gypsum wallboard installer to straighten or correct framing errors. Framing systems should be plumb and level within 1/8 inch in 8 feet prior to attaching gypsum panels. Wood framing should be straight and true as possible with moisture content of less than 19 percent. None of the framing members should vary more than 1/8 inch from the plane of the faces of adjacent framing members.

All installation of gypsum wallboard shall comply with Gypsum Association standard GA-216, GA-214 and ASTM C-840. The following procedure is after the gypsum board application and the three-coat finishing of joint compounds are complete.

Finishing Procedures:

Prior to applying the primer coat of paint to the gypsum wallboard surface, the walls and ceilings should be brushed or wiped down with a damp mop to remove loose dust that can stand up and become visible on smooth walls, particularly when decorated with gloss paints and/or dark colors. The wiping down of the walls and ceilings just prior to painting should be the responsibility of the painting contractor as part of the basic preparation work prior to painting. The primer should be applied prior to any spray texture, this will equalize suction and provides a more even texture pattern.

After the primer is applied to the gypsum wallboard surface, blemishes that were not visible before may become apparent. A touch-up of the gypsum system should be done at this time and then judged for acceptance or a punch list established. A touch-up for textured surfaces is not as critical as for smooth surfaces. If the system is not judged until after final decoration, the touch up of small blemishes may require total retexturing and/or redecoration of the wall and/or ceiling.

Special Attention for Smooth Walls (Level 5):

If walls and ceilings are to have a final smooth surface, gloss finish and/or dark tone paint, the gypsum industry and standards recommends a skim coat of joint or topping compound over the entire surface to equalize the porosity of joint compound and face paper to prevent “joint banding.” An alternative method to equalize porosity between face paper and joint compound is to use a product specifically manufactured for the purpose of achieving a Level 5 finish. Always follow manufacturer’s recommendations. Areas that are often troublesome for joint banding are:

• Hallways and corridors with a glossy finish or dark tone paint.

• Sconce lighting (up wall) put in after finish work is complete.

• Large walls with many joints subjected to harsh side lighting.


Judging should be done from a standing position under normal lighting conditions. Viewing distance is approximately 4 to 6 feet away from the wall to be judged. Ceilings are viewed from the floor in a standing position. Lighting may be natural, artificial, harsh, soft, parallel or perpendicular to a wall or ceiling surface. Parallel or side lighting is the most critical and highlights imperfections not normally visible. Short periods (1/2 hour or less) of critical side lighting should not be used to judge surfaces. Extreme bright lights shall not be used to artificially create critical harsh side lighting to judge final workmanship for acceptance. Drywall finishers and/or painters may use strong halogen lighting during work, but is not intended to judge the final acceptance of work.

Drywall application and finishing procedures are somewhat skill intensive and perfection cannot be expected. Conversely, one should not see eye-catching discrepancies and/or blemishes from a normal standing position under normal lighting conditions. This includes tool marks, pitting, ridges, over-sanding and misaligned trim accessories or excessive wavy corners.