A friend of mine asked me to look at his new garage and give him my thoughts on drywall.  I have a background in construction and, while not a registered contractor, I’ve got a little bit of game.  Any wise man will seek out information from those that have it and he’s a good friend that I have no problem helping.  Plus, I will now be able to call in a favor in the future. I’m sneaky like that. He has amazing talents in creative woodworking, whereas I do not. I can build you a dwelling, but don’t ask me to put together a dining table that has ornamental carvings and such.  Bad idea.  That gene pool doesn’t exist in my family tree. 

We walked about the area and inspected his work thus far, discussing his progress and the eventual concept of use for the garage.  I’m of the mindset that Prior Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.  (Yes, I removed the vulgarity from that particular acronym…)  I don’t enjoy finishing a project with the sudden epiphany of, “Wait!  We were also going to do this other thing…” 

So, with that in mind, we set upon the task of determining the immediate need and then pondered the future potential for other needs that have yet to be foreseen.  Let’s keep in mind that this can be both intimidating and exciting at the same time.  Why intimidating?  Because others in your family may be the ones seeing the advantage of secondary use after the fact.  Keeping this in mind, use the opportunity as a family adventure!  Seek out your family members and brainstorm with them on just what the garage will (or might) be used for both in the present and in the future. 

Drywalling your garage can have several benefits. Beyond giving your space a “finished look,” drywall can also add structural integrity to your walls, add a level of fire safety to your home, assist with sound and temperature control, and reduce utility costs. It can also increase your garage’s overall cleanliness, improve airflow, and overall make your garage a brighter space to work in. Should the time come when you decide to sell, drywall in the garage will also increase the resale value of your home.  

1. Drywalling Your Garage Gives it a ‘Finished’ Look 

Using drywall to finish your walls will accomplish a great deal and we will go into those areas more in detail in a bit. But probably the best reason is that drywall gives a finished look and announces accomplishment, as opposed to the impression that the garage is still a work in progress.  Drywall (also known as wallboard or sheetrock) will greatly improve the appearance of the enclosure. The smooth walls can now be painted for greater attraction and practicality for decoration and storage options. 
 
But you may be asking yourself, “What exactly is drywall and how will it benefit my garage?”  Great question and it deserves a great answer.   
 
Drywall typically consists of calcium sulfate dihydrate between thick sheets of paper that is considered ‘facer’ and ‘backer’. This is used in construction in a method that replaces the old lath and plaster techniques. It makes for a much faster construction method and is quite common today. There are different styles of drywall that can be tailored to individual project needs, such as fire retardance. 
 
(Fun Fact:  Firearm safes are extremely heavy and offer extended burn times. The reason they are so heavy is that the walls consist of multiple layers of drywall with a metal skin.  The reason they have longer burn ratings is that the drywall they use is impregnated with moisture. In the event of a fire, the heat causes a chemical reaction of heating that moisture, thus slowing down the time it takes to damage the contents of the safe.  An added bonus: the safe now weighs so much no typical burglar can lift it and walk away with it!) 
 
While my heritage is rooted in the Appalachian Mountains, I still prefer a professional look in my work surroundings. That’s not to say there isn’t an inherent charm with the rustic look, it’s just to say that I want working conditions to be as functional as possible. Here’s an analogy:  A garage enclosure with finished drywall will appear as a ‘room’, while a roughshod garage will look, well, like a barn. A drywalled look is going to be a much more pleasing visual appearance when walking into the garage. Smooth walls for adorning decorations also allow the possibility of using the garage as the occasional party room or for receptions and Superbowl parties.  Multi-functional practicality adds value and versatility to the home, essentially making your home larger.   

2. Drywalling Your Garage may Increase the Structural Integrity of Your Home 

Frame structures are dependent upon vertical and horizontal bracing, typically using either 2×2 or 2×6 wooden wall studs and struts. It doesn’t matter what size studs your pre-existing garage has been built with as drywall can be mounted on wooden studs regardless of width.  The addition of drywall can reduce potential flexing of the wall itself.  While it’s not typical for this to happen, the added rigidity of the wall by using drywall can beef up the overall strength of a perimeter wall. This is quite useful in high winds that might be experienced in areas that are prone to such conditions, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, squalls, microbursts, etc. 
 
The thicker the drywall, the better for overall strength. Thicker also allows better anchoring of any ornamentation such as shelving, mantles, or tool racks. Items of lighter weight may be able to be anchored with simple screws while heavier items may require wall anchors or, as I call them, molly bolts. Mollys, or molly bolts, are great because they are simple to affix and surprisingly strong. Drill a hole in the wall, insert the molly bolt, then tighten it accordingly. The molly bolt expands behind the drywall and creates a solid anchor point on the face of the drywall on the inside of the garage. 

3. Drywalling Your Garage Can Add a Layer of Fire Safety to Your Home 

Believe it or not, the addition of drywall further increases the structural strength and integrity of garage walls by providing rigidity to the surface.  Thicker drywall is even better.  Using 5/8-inch Type X ‘fire-code’ drywall can increase the burn-time over a standard thickness of 1/2-inch in the event of a house fire.  As many garage users often store flammable materials, such as gasoline for power equipment or chemicals such as paint thinner and what-not, the necessity of protecting the frame construction is critical. Type X should extend the burn-time by about thirty minutes, giving a full hour of fire resistance which may allow a more satisfactory response time from a fire department.  Living in rural areas that may not have conveniently located fire departments truly emphasize this need. 
 
 

4. Drywalling Your Garage with Insulation can Assist with Sound and Temperature Control 

This is an option that I highly recommend for just about any environment/climate, regardless of temperatures common to the area. Several advantages to having insulation include energy savings, temperature control, and sound suppression. I can relate from personal experience how unbearably hot a garage in Phoenix, Arizona can be. 122 degrees in June is bad enough when driving in an air-conditioned car or truck, but tinkering in a garage? Cruel and unusual punishment! 
 
Sound suppression works both ways. Be polite. Insulate both your walls and the garage door itself to complete the package. You may be using loud power tools like a bench grinder or lathe and would prefer your friendly neighbors stay friendly to you. Consequently, should you decide to use your garage as a sanctuary, man-cave, or she-shed, it would be nice to relax without listening to any inconsiderate neighbors that YOU are still trying to be friendly with… 
 
Personally, I use my drywalled garage with the door closed more than open.  I like being able enjoy my projects without announcing to the neighborhood what I’m working on and why.  I just prefer my privacy, but I want that privacy to be as comfortable as I can make it. 

5. Drywalling Your Garage Can/Should Reduce Utility Cost(s) 

As with any home improvement project, there should be some kind of financial benefit.  Done properly, a project should ultimately increase the value of the home, but also to provide immediate benefit. In the case of drywall, especially if it is insulated, there should be a reduction in utilities.  An attached garage typically has a weight-bearing wall attached to the home.  The addition of drywall with insulation should lower energy usage in both cold and warm climates.   
 
The standard in-wall studs are 2×4, but I prefer 2×6. One reason is that I prefer thicker and more efficient insulation.  Depending upon your proximity in the world, the time of the year for maximum energy savings may differ. Someone in Wisconsin might see that benefit in the cold of winter. In Arizona, our utility bills skyrocket in the summer. The longest days of light are most productive for me in the summer, but our temperatures are brutal. A roughshod garage framed without drywall creates a virtual oven. Drywall, even by itself with no insulation, will provide a partial physical heat/cold buffer even without the addition of insulation, but I recommend taking all measures to increase the value of the end result. 

6. Drywalling Your Garage can (Usually!) Increase Resale Value of Your Home 

It truly goes without saying that any improvement to a home will increase the resale value of the home itself, not to mention the attractiveness of the property when it comes time to put it on the market. If you can imagine a garage as not just a parking space, but a valuable extension of the home, it contributes to the overall image of a home. Too many of us consider a garage to be a parking lot and oversized closet, but with proper drywall application, it can truly be an amplification of living space on those special occasions when the house itself is just not enough room. Park the car on the street and have a party! Should you decide to sell the home in the future, the drywalled garage becomes a selling perk and the attractiveness of the property skyrockets. 

7. Drywalling Your Garage Can Increase Overall Cleanliness 

Having smooth walls in the garage area is not the only way to prevent dust from finding every little nook and cranny to accumulate, but it’s the most practical.  Every stud and strut surface are tiny little shelves that are only good for dust, dirt, spiders, insects, etc. Dust is a physical health hazard in an enclosed environment and not good for adults and especially not good for children with growing respiratory systems.  Do yourself and your exterminator a favor and remove this hazard early on. 

8. Drywalling Your Garage Can Improve Air Flow and Circulation

 I don’t know about those living in the northern climes, but in Arizona a fan is an absolute must in a garage in the summer. Drywall gives a smoother surface for airflow and circulation for cooling forces by moving air around. Studs are essentially ‘baffles’ that disrupt the flow of air and reduce the cooling effect. The idea is to get as much air redistributing the heat or cold as much as possible. A poor man’s analogy would be the difference between a washboard dirt road and a paved interstate.  The interstate allows for rapid transit of people and machines, but the washboard dirt road kicks up dust and slows the vehicle down dramatically, due to the ridges that shake the suspension and rattle our teeth. 

9. Drywalling Your Garage Makes a Brighter, Safer, and More Efficient Environment 

Okay, so admittedly my vision is not what it used to be, and I prefer to actually be able to see what I am doing without having to put a spotlight on it. Drywall allows you to paint surfaces that allow reflection and distribution of light in a much more efficient manner and requiring fewer lighting devices in the garage. Not only is this more practical, but it is also safer. I can’t emphasize safety enough on this one. Regardless of what you use your garage for the safe use and navigation within is critical. 
 
Should your garage be multi-purpose, then better lighting is an absolute must. Most garages already have some type of fluorescent lighting mechanism, but that can still be inefficient with roughshod walls. Paint that drywall a nice light color and you will find fewer dark nooks and crannies. Reflective surfaces can also reduce the need for expansive lighting that would normally be necessary. 
 
And while on the topic of needing more electric outlets, you might want to consider running electrical lines and additional outlets prior to the drywall finished project.  Unless you are well versed in electrical applications, I would strongly consider a licensed electrician for this stage.  Some communities actually prohibit one from doing this work on their own, so make sure you understand your local laws. 

Conclusion 

This is pretty much my argument for drywalling a garage.  The physical and financial benefits outweigh the temptation to just leave the bare wood skeleton and just work around things.  It will be a healthier and more productive environment for the DYI crowd. Installing drywall is not as daunting as one might think. Yes, it is a very heavy product and somewhat cumbersome to get used to working with, but you can find a satisfying rhythm when you really get going on it.  Joint tape and plaster will smooth the surfaces for paint and such.  A cordless drill and the proper type of drywall screws for anchoring drywall in place will dramatically speed up the project.  We’ll be doing another article on how to do your own drywall project in the future, but the nice thing to remember is that drywall is ‘forgiving’ in installation and repair.  It is not an exact science, so to speak, therefore does not require a technician or skilled tradesman.  Good luck with your project!