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Winter Wonderland?: Installing & Finishing in Cold Weather

During the winter, nearly every state in the continental U.S. will experience at least one night of below-freezing temps—even in warmer states like Florida.

Without taking proper precautions, the cold and damp weather that we experience in the winter months can have negative effects on joint treatment after it’s been applied to gypsum board. Bond, delayed shrinkage, beading, and board sag are just a few of the ways it can affect the appearance of a system.

Some may chalk poor product performance during the winter as indicative of the quality of the manufacturer or brand used, but this cannot be further from the truth. In reality, it is simply a situation of cause-and-effect regarding the properties of gypsum panel and joint compound products in the environment.

Since temperature and humidity play such a key role in gypsum panel movement, incidences of cracking in the center of taped drywall joints are bound to increase every year in the fall and winter months. If you read our previous article, you may remember us covering the topics of hygrometric and thermal expansion or movement. These provide an understanding of how gypsum panels and joint compound react during cold weather.

Warm days give way to cool nights, periods of wet and dry weather—each of these situations drive movement, thereby causing cracks in the material following application.

Crack in the Surface

Ceilings are especially prone to cracking because the larger the surface area, the more movement that can be anticipated, resulting in a joint crack. Further adding to this issue is the fact that ceilings are more prone to temperature and moisture differences. You can see this in the case of attics, which are radically different than the conditioned spaces below the ceiling, creating environmental factors that can lead to cracks in the ceiling.

During installation and finishing, environmental control is integral to maintaining the jobsite and preventing the adverse effects of cold weather on gypsum panels and joint compound. The temperature, humidity, and airflow should remain constant and be as close to normal occupancy conditions as possible.

Limiting thermal expansion requires the temperature to be maintained at an absolute minimum of 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Controlling the thermal range serves two purposes: to control the working properties of the joint finishing system as well as controlling the expansion and contraction of materials due to these changes. Additionally, through thermal control, we can better control hygrometric expansion since all materials absorb moisture and can expand during high humidity and contract during low humidity.

Stay Ahead of the Weather

Any deviation from these guidelines can increase the potential for cracking, so what can you do to keep things on track when the weather won’t cut you a break?

  1. Install only when you can maintain 50 degrees consistently on the job
  2. Allow ample time for drying between finishing/levels
  3. Minimize artificial heat and NEVER aim heaters directly onto the surface of the wall
  4. Protect your materials
    • Gypsum panels should be stored in a climate-controlled area, away from any exposure to moisture—do not keep them in the transit wrap
    • Never use frozen material—especially on finish coats or topping applications
    • Water temperature for mixing should also be controlled—never use extremely cold water or partially frozen water when mixing mud.

At the end of the day, remember that the quality of the work you do should not be sacrificed by the environment you’re working in. Putting into place these best practices will help ensure optimal results and fewer callbacks.

The USG Solution

Put your best work forward with the original, most-trusted panels and joint compounds on the market: Sheetrock® Brand. From the lightest weight portfolio of wallboard to the broadest range of solutions in finishing, you’ll be sure to find the right product for your next project.