5 Levels of Drywall Finishes

5 Levels of Drywall Finishes

Five major trade associations, the Association of Wall and Ceiling Industries International (AWCI), the Ceilings and Interior Systems Construction Association (CISCA), the Gypsum Association (GA), the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America (PDCA), and the Drywall Finishing Council (DWFC) presented the consensus document Recommended Levels of Gypsum Board Finish. The document was created to “precisely describe” the desired finish of walls and ceilings prior to final decoration. This precise description enables contractors to better understand the requirements of architects and building owners in order to enhance the satisfaction of the client. Specifications that include the Levels of Gypsum Board Finish also promote competitive bidding that allows the bidder to consider the correct labor and materials to finish the wall suitably for its final decoration.

The most recent version of this document, published by the Gypsum Association, is GA 214-10:

Recommended Levels of Gypsum Board Finish. The document has been promoted heavily to specification writers nationwide by local wall and ceiling associations and gypsum manufacturers.

A modified version of Levels of Gypsum Board Finish has been incorporated into ASTM C 840, “The Standard Specification for Application and Finishing of Gypsum Board.” Included as Appendix X8, The Levels of Finish could even be incorporated into model building codes that utilize ASTM standards as reference documents. Publication in ASTM C 840 increases the industry’s awareness and acceptance of these standards. As a result of this, ASTM C 840 is a Referenced Standard in AIA, MASTER SPEC. The Levels of Gypsum Board Finish are specifically outlined in Section 09 29 00, Gypsum Board; Part 3 Execution.

The above-mentioned trade associations periodically publish revised versions of the Levels of Gypsum Board Finish. The revisions are intended to clarify the operations required to fulfill the requirements of each level of finish. Additionally, changes have been made to further define the “skim coat” operation and clearly define “drywall primer” to remain current with recent developments in finishing products.

Many of today’s project manuals include references to the Levels of Gypsum Board Finish. Specifiers should be aware of the recommended level of finish required for the final decoration for walls and ceilings and clearly specify this for contract bidders. Bidders should carefully read project specifications to ensure that bidding includes the proper level of finish to meet the standard set for final wall decoration.

Let’s review the Levels of Gypsum Board Finish, paying close attention to the document changes:


Level 0

Level 0 is used in temporary construction or if the final decoration is undetermined. No taping or finishing is required.


Level 1

A Level 1 finish is recommended in areas that would generally be concealed from view or in areas that are not open to public traffic. The joint tape need not be covered with joint compound to fulfill the requirements of Level 1. In Level 1, the surface is left free of excess joint compound. Ridges and tool marks are acceptable for a Level 1 finish. This level is often specified in the plenum area above ceilings, in attics, or in in-service corridors. In some geographic areas, this level is referred to as “fire-taping”.


Level 2

In garages, warehouse storage areas, and other similar areas where the final surface appearance is not of concern, a Level 2 finish is the recommendation. Level 2 may be specified where moisture-resistant gypsum board is used as a tile substrate. Level 2 reads, “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 all joints and interior angles”. This differentiates Level 2 from Level 1. Joint compound is applied over all fastener heads and beads. The surface is left free of excess joint compound. Ridges and tool marks are acceptable for a Level 2 finish.

Additionally, Level 2 includes the following sentence: “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.” In the past, there has been some confusion as to whether tape pressed into joint compound and covered with joint compound in a single operation fulfilled the requirements of Level 1 or Level 2.


Level 3

In areas to be decorated with a medium or heavy hand and spray applied textures or where heavy-grade wall coverings will become the final decoration, a Level 3 finish is recommended. Level 3 states, “All joints and interior angles shall have tape embedded in joint compound and shall be immediately wiped with a joint knife leaving a thin coating of joint compound over all joints and interior angles. One additional coat of joint compound shall be applied over all joints and interior angles. Fastener heads and accessories shall be covered with two separate coats of joint compound. All joint compounds shall be smooth and free of tool marks and ridges.

Before final decoration, it is recommended that the prepared surface be coated with a drywall primer prior to the application of final finishes. Level 3 is not recommended where smooth painted surfaces, light textures, or light- to medium-weight wall coverings become the final decoration.


Level 4

If the final decoration is to be a flat paint, light texture, or lightweight wall covering, a Level 4 finish is recommended. As stated in Level 4, “All joints and interior angles shall have tape embedded in joint compound and shall be immediately wiped with a joint knife leaving a thin coating of joint compound over all joints and interior angles. Two separate coats of joint compound shall be applied over all flat joints and one separate coat of joint compound shall be applied over interior angles. Fastener heads and accessories shall be covered with three separate 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.

In severe lighting areas, flat paints applied over light textures tend to reduce joint photographing. Paints with sheen levels other than flat as well as enamel paints are not recommended over this level of finish. Special attention should be paid to long corridors, large areas of the wall, and large/multiple windows when specifying Level 4, because these areas are potential areas of concern in achieving acceptable wall finishes, and may need to be specified appropriately.


Level 5

 Level 5 finish is recommended for areas where severe lighting conditions exist and areas that are to receive gloss, semi-gloss, enamel, or non-textured flat paints. Level 5 requires all the operations in Level 4. Additionally, a thin skim coat of joint compound, or material manufactured especially for this purpose, is applied to the entire surface. A thorough explanation of “skim coat” is given in the comments section of GA-214.

A skim coat of joint compound is intended to conceal small imperfections in joints and on the surface of the gypsum board to help conceal joints and create the appearance of flatness. A skim coat will also smooth the texture of the paper, minimize differences in surface porosity, and create a more uniform surface to which the final decoration can be applied.

The Level 5 finish is required to achieve the highest degree of quality by providing a uniform surface and minimizing the possibility of joint photographing and/or fasteners showing through the final decoration.

What is a White Box Construction Finish?

What is a White Box Construction Finish?

Ambiguous Construction Terms Finally Defined

In the world of construction, the term “white box” is often used by real estate brokers and landlords to define the level of finish a space has prior to a tenant’s office remodel or tenant finish. However, it is an imprecise term. The white box is often synonymous with vanilla shell, lit shell, plain vanilla shell, plain vanilla box, warm vanilla shell, warm vanilla box, warm white box, and warm white shell.

White box is a term used for a type of finish in commercial real estate with an unfinished interior and does NOT include: interior walls (other than code required restrooms), wall coverings, paint, flooring, plumbing fixtures (other than code required restrooms and drinking fountains), upgraded electrical fixtures, and upgraded code required restroom fixtures. A white box–build out is ready for tenant improvements (TI’s), which are to be completed once the lease agreement has been negotiated and executed.

It includes a space that is protected from the outside elements which typically includes a roof, exterior windows, and doors. Also included is a basic finished ceiling, concrete floor sufficient for most flooring, basic heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), basic lighting, hot water, adequate access by way of an elevator or stairs, and if required by code fire protection, restrooms, and drinking fountain.

What is a White Box Construction Finish?

This particular form of construction is for commercial owners who need to quickly incorporate a new tenant into their property. It is typically an interior space that is minimally finished. The idea is that the next tenant will be presented with a shell space that they can quickly convert into virtually anything.

Though the finished project may seem like the bare minimum, the process required to achieve this state is far from it. All components of the space must be up to code and ready for a new interior tenant build-out. Typically a building permit and other licenses are required, depending upon the jurisdiction of the space.

In many cases, the landlord will offer financial incentives in the form of a tenant improvement allowance (TIA), which pays for or at least partially defrays the cost of any improvements necessary for the tenant to occupy the building itself. Tenant improvement allowances do not usually include furniture, fixtures, and equipment (FFE) or trade fixtures necessary for the tenant to conduct business.

Usually, white box finishes, or those improvements necessary to upgrade the building from a cold shell, are not completed until the lease agreement between the tenant and landlord has been negotiated and executed. This ensures that the landlord does not pay for improvements that are unnecessary or that the tenant does not want.

Construction services company in Kansas City

Construction services company in Kansas City

Construction DesignWorks is a self-performing general contractor

Is your general contractor a paper contractor or do they self-perform any of their services? A construction services company would typically be the latter. A ground-up services company typically would be providing 100% project management services which are closely defined as a paper contractor. General contractors that specialize in commercial tenant finish as well as building reconstruction services typically self-perform a portion of their work. Self-performing offers benefits such as lower costs, higher quality, and improved schedules. The general contractor has a much better labor force than a subcontractor.

Construction services companies that self-perform provide specialty services

Framing

Commercial metal stud framing is much different than wood studs you find in the residential construction industry. Not only are the materials different, but the installation techniques are very different. You normally do not see a crossover of commercial to residential framing because they are so different and are in their own different specialties.

Drywall

Subcontracting drywall (gyp board) work has its advantages. It also has its pitfalls. Not much can go wrong during the hanging phase. Gyp board finishing is where the craftsmanship is most noticeable. Self-performing the gyp board finish can make or break the final product and help make the construction services company successful when delivered with a high degree of quality and attention to detail.

Finish Carpentry

Levels of finish carpentry vary greatly between carpenters, crews, and companies. While one finish carpenter might specialize in building cabinets, another might be an expert in hanging and trimming doors. Self-performing finish carpentry gives the construction services company a much larger range of products and options for clients and architects to choose from. A new brewery may require a highly customized bar top and front that a casework and cabinets company may not be able to produce.

Acoustical Ceiling

The ability to install your own acoustical ceiling tile (ACT) systems can be invaluable since this is completed toward the end of the project and needs to be coordinated with lighting, fire sprinklers, audio speakers, and HVAC supply registers. This coordination of different disciplines toward the end of the project can kill a schedule and prohibit the project from being turned over on time.

There are countless specialty areas a general contractor may self-perform in addition to these four areas. Fields of construction such as tile and flooring installation, insulation, data, low voltage, and painting all offer value and scheduling advantages to the project. The ability to self-perform may just be the deal maker or breaker; serious consideration should be made by the owner and architect when interviewing and evaluating a construction services company for a new project.