Free CEU: The 5 Levels of Gypsum Board Finishing

While surfing around for Impact Resistant Wall Construction the other day, I found a great free (!) CEU explaining the levels of gypsum board finishes and when to specify it.

If you haven't created an account with Ron Blank and Associates, you should. This is a great resource for all sorts of free online CEUs. Most are worth AIA credits. There is NO CHARGE and when you register it also includes a membership to which has a few free (hard to find!!!) LEED CEU's!

The 5 Levels of Finishing Gypsum Wallboard.  The online course is hosted by Ron Blank & Associates and sponsored by National Gypsum Company.  
The learning objective are:
1. Explain what gypsum is
2. Understand the fire resistance of gypsum
3. Determine the levels of finish
4. Understand industry terminology
5. Know when to specify level: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5

The course closes with a quick 10 question quiz (multiple choice and true/false). You must answer at least 80% correct to receive a certificate of completion.

How easy is that?

If you are not interested in a certificate but are interested in the basics read on for a quick rundown:
In 1988, as a means of resolving a common problem, four major trade associations concerned with the manufacture, erection, finish, and decoration of gypsum board wall and ceiling systems developed an industrywide, Recommended Levels of Gypsum Board Finish. 

The document  was intended to assist specification writers, architects, contractors, and
building owners to more precisely describe the finish of walls and ceilings prior to the application of paints and other finishes, to encourage competitive bidding of suitably finished surfaces, and to enhance the appearance of the final decorative treatment and thereby enlist a satisfied client.

Although, it is often said there are 5 levels of gypsum wallboard finish, there really are 6 levels; 0 - 5. As a rule, when you move up the finish level, the cost increases.  It is important to consider that each level of finish as described in the recommendation is intended to stand alone. The levels are not intended to be cumulative. In other words, you do not add levels together to achieve the next higher level of finish.
Here is a quick breakdown of the Levels of Gypsum Board Finish and when to specify it:

Level 0
Specify for temporary construction or when final surface finish has not been determined.  No taping or finish required. This is often used for dust walls constructed in mall storefronts are often finished at Level 0.  Less labor intensive and the cheapest gyp board finish level.

Level 1
In Level 1, seams are taped but the tape does not need not be covered with joint compound. The surface is left free of excess joint compound and ridges and tool marks are acceptable for a Level 1 finish. 

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. This level is often specified in the plenum area above ceilings, in attics, or in service corridors.

Level 2
Similar to Level 1, Level 2 surfaces are left free of excess joint compound and ridges and tool marks are acceptable.  Level 2 differs from Level 1 because joint compound is applied over all fastener heads and beads and over the body of the tape.  

A Level 2 finish is often specified in garages, warehouse storage areas and other similar areas where the final surface appearance is not of concern. Level 2 may be also be specified where moisture resistant gypsum board is used as a tile substrate.

Level 3
A Level 3 finish basically needs 2 coats of joint compound . For a Level 3 finish, all joints and interior angles must have tape embedded in joint compound and one additional coat of joint compound applied over all joints and interior angles. Fastener heads and accessories shall be covered with two separate coats of joint compound. All joint compound shall be smooth and free from tool marks and ridges.  It's recommended that the prepped surface is coated with a drywall primer before application of final finishes.  

A Level 3 finish is recommended for surfaces that will be decorated with a medium or heavy texture or heavy-grade wall coverings. A Level 3 finish is not recommended where smooth painted surfaces or light- to medium-weight wall coverings become the final decoration because this finish level allows surface imperfections.

Level 4
For a Level 4 finished Gyp wall all joints and interior angles have tape embedded in joint compound and two 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. All joint compound shall be smooth and free from tool marks and ridges. A drywall primer coat is recommended prior to the application of final finishes. 

Level 4 finishes are recommended for surfaces that will receive a flat paint, light texture or lightweight wall covering. Gloss, semi-gloss and enamel paints are not recommended over a Level 4 finish.

Level 5 
Level 5 requires all the operations in Level 4. Additionally, a thin skim coat of joint compound, or  or similar material, is applied to the ENTIRE surface. This level of finish will be as as close to perfectly smooth as you can get. The prepared surface should be coated with a primer prior to the application of final finishes. 

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 "burning through" the final decoration.  Level 5 finish is recommended for areas where severe lighting conditions exist (wall washing, grazing etc)  and areas that are to receive gloss, semi-gloss, enamel or non-textured flat paints. This is because the reflecting light will call attention to any imperfections in the gypsum board wall or will "telescope" through thin wall-coverings. 


  1. Thanks for the helpful information! Gypsum board can be a confusing thing to those who don't know much about it. You know another good place to find info is on the Sweets Network through McGraw-Hill, my employer. They have a lot of gypsum board products and information to peruse.

  2. Thanks for the helpful link Jeremy! FYI Readers, the link Jeremy provided is from Georgia Pacific Gypsum and will be a great resource. It features CAD drawings for all kinds of gyp board assemblies, 3D models, specs, and even a submittal sheet. But best of all, it has a Rev-it plug in so you can plug your wall assembly information i and create CSI specs. This will surely be valuable tool and time saver for any interior design or architecture firm. I can't wait to try it out!