Skim Coat of Joint Compound
A level-5 finish is a skim coat of joint compound - commonly known as mud - which is applied to a finish after completing level 4 drywall finish.
Below are the two scenarios when a level 5 drywall finish is needed on a drywall or ceiling:
- When glossy finish preferred
- When light is be angled low enough to highlight bumps and depressions.
A level-5 drywall finish is likened to icing on a cake. It's that premium quality finish that is not present as a default on drywall. You must ensure your drywall installer has this stipulated as part of the project, as it is not considered part of the finishing process. If you do not ask, it will not be done.
Drywall finishing levels, in their various stages, are not typically discussed between homeowners and contractors. Normally, the discussion is about the final look or effect the homeowner is looking for. One might indicate that they prefer the dining room walls to be as smooth and flawless as possible or that the garage can have unfinished walls. Note that this means the contractor makes a judgment on what to tell his drywall technician.
Where Drywall Finishing Levels Apply
A great deal of craftsmanship in drywall finishing is required, which is why the construction industry has codified a set of professional standards that breaks the process of finishing drywall into five major levels. Individuals who are avid do-it-yourselfers should take note of finishing levels if they want their finish to look close to that of a professional construction expert as possible.
In the eyes of every homeowner, every square inch of all drywalls, would be mudded and sanded down to a mirror-smooth surface. Although this is doable, it can be very costly. If you're hiring out the work, every step requires an additional inspection from the drywall installer. If it is a DIY project, this adds several days to the entire project. The type of space you are finishing and how you use it may determine the level of drywall finish that's desirbale:
- Garages and workshops: A level 1 or 2 drywall finish may be completely sufficient in garages and workshops. Why mud and sand a space that is rarely ever seen? On the other hand, a car aficionado or an obsessive tinkerer might enjoy having a workspace that is as clean and smooth as any other wall found in the residential part of the home.
- Wainscot-hidden wall surfaces: Are you putting in wainscoting? Then you don't have to put a premium finish on the lower 45 inches of your walls since it will get covered up anyway. A level 1 finish is fine for these areas.
- Cabinet-hidden walls: Because kitchens are often blanketed with cabinets and appliances, much of the wall space doesn't need a level 5 finish.
- Ceilings: Conversely, ceilings tend to get raked by natural light through the windows, highlighting pops, bumps, and depressions. For many homeowners, nothing less than a level 5 will do on their ceilings. At the very least, ceilings always call for a level-4 finish.
Drywall Finishing Levels
- Level 0: Level 0 implies that no finishing of any type has been done. At this level, drywall is simply fastened to the walls or ceiling.
- Level 1: This level means that drywall joint tape has been embedded in joint compound, but nothing further has been done.
- Level 2: This next level means that you have skimmed a thin coat of joint compound over the tape and covered the drywall screw holes. You can stop at this level if you intend to cover the wall surface with tile, or if it's in a garage intended to be used for storage or a workshop-type space.
- Level 3: At this stage, finishers apply a coat of joint compound to the tape and screws. Walls that will receive a heavy texture, such as knockdown texture, can end at this level. It would be pointless to progress beyond this level since texturing will produce a finish that is rougher than level 3.
- Level 4: This is the classic drywall finish. Here, you apply another coat of joint compound to the tape and screws and sand the dried compound. This is the level that typically is used when a wall surface will be painted or covered with wallpaper.
- Level 5: This highest possible level of drywall finishing involves applying a skim coat, if applicable.