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Industry Standards for Level of Drywall Finish

When hiring a drywall contractor to finish a room, it is important to specify the "Level of Finish" in the bid. If you don't specify the level, you might not get what you expect and you may not be able to compare competitive bids. The "Level of Finish" is a set of standards agreed upon by several industry associations. The levels of finish specifies exactly what steps will be taken to prepare a wall, including details such how many layers of joint compound will be applied.

The levels range from zero to five, with zero being nothing beyond hanging the drywall on the studs and five being a wall that is extensively prepared to end up with a finish that is nearly flawless and smooth. Level 5 finish requires great skill and experience, as well as time and thus, is the most expensive level of finish. A typical home is only finished to level 4 or possibly even level 3 depending upon the type of texturing that will be used. Texturing applied to the wall is a separate element beyond the "level of finish" and the type of texture can also greatly affect the cost.

Level 0

No taping, finishing, or accessories required.

Usage: This level of finish may be appropriate for temporary construction or whenever final decoration has not been determined.

Level 1 Drywall Finish

Level 1

All joints and interior angles shall have tape set in joint compound. Surface shall be free of excess joint compound. Tool marks and ridges are acceptable. Tape and fasteners need not be covered.

Usage: This level of finish may be appropriate for areas not typically in view of the public or in "service areas". Sometimes referred to as "fire taping".

Level 2

All joints and interior angles shall have tape embedded in joint compound and wiped with a joint knife leaving a thin coating of joint compound over tape. Fastener heads and accessories* shall be covered with one coat of joint compound. Surface shall be free of excess joint compound. Tool marks and ridges are acceptable. Joint compound applied over the body of the tape at the time of tape embedment shall be considered a separate coat of joint compound and shall satisfy the conditions of this level.

Usage: This level of finish may be appropriate as a substrate for tile It may also be specified in garages, warehouses, and other places where appearance is not of primary concern.

Level 3

All joints and interior angles shall have tape embedded in joint compound and two separate coats of joint compound applied over all joints and interior angles. Fastener heads and accessories* shall be covered with two coats of joint compound. All joint compound shall be smooth and free of tool marks and ridges. It is recommended that the prepared surface be coated with a drywall primer prior to the application of final finishes.

Usage: This level of finish may be appropriate as a base for heavy textured paint, heavy applied texture or heavy grade wall coverings. This level essentially adds one additional coat of joint compound to level 2 finish and requires it to be free of ridges and tool marks.

Level 4

All joints and interior angles shall have tape embedded in joint compound and three separate coats of joint compound applied over all joints and interior angles. Fastener heads and accessories* shall be covered with three coats of joint compound. All joint compound shall be smooth and free of tool marks and ridges. It is recommended that the prepared surface be coated with a drywall primer prior to the application of final finishes.

Usage: This level of finish may be appropriate as a base for flat paints, or low-sheen paints over light texturing and light to medium wall coverings. This level essentially adds one additional coat of joint compound to level 3 finish and requires it to be free of ridges and tool marks. This the most common level of finish for the typical home.

Level 5

All joints and interior angles shall have tape embedded in joint compound and three separate coats of joint compound applied over all flat joints and one separate coat of joint compound applied over interior angles. Fastener heads and accessories* shall be covered with three separate coats of joint compound. A thin skim coat of joint compound, or a material manufactured especially for this purpose, shall be applied to the entire surface. The surface shall be smooth and free of tool marks and ridges. It is recommended that the prepared surface be coated with a drywall primer prior to the application of finish paint.

Usage: This level of finish may be appropriate where smooth appearance is critical, such as under severe lighting conditions, or when high gloss paint will be used.

*Accessories are defined as metal and plastic beading, trim or moulding used to conceal or protect corners, edges or abutments of drywall material.



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