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Fell’s Five Points

Jason Fell, the primary instructor for AWCI’s Gypsum—Doing It Right education seminar, shared the following five points as a means of dealing with the expectations of the owner and architect. These expectations are a thorny problem that has been discussed many times in the Gypsum Board Committee of AWCI’s Construction Technology Council, and the points he made are well worth remembering when you undertake a project. Jason’s five points apply primarily to a Level 5 Finish but can be used for any project.

Let’s take a look at each of the five points.

Point 1: Create the illusion of a monolithic surface under normal lighting conditions. In many instances there is the expectation that a Level 5 finish is a machine perfect finish. That is just not possible, even when using your best finisher. I get questions all the time about how to inspect a Level 5 finish. My response usually is about what the finish is not supposed to be. It is not supposed to be a substitute for a plaster finish. This is clearly stated in GA-214 and ASTM C840. However, there remains the expectation that if it is the best numbered finish available and the most expensive finish, then it should be perfect. Jason’s point is a good one and easily understood by most people.

Point 2: Build a mock-up prior to doing the work. When a member calls looking for a way to rebut the questions about the quality of an installation, my first question is, “Did you build a mock-up?” The answer is almost always “no.” I realize that building a mock-up costs money and in some cases is not cheap either. But when you look at the time expended after the job is finished, I firmly believe that the cost after the fact in time and aggravation will be exponentially more than what the mock-up would have cost to build in the beginning. The mock-up will also identify the expectations of the owner and the architect before the fact. It is called educating the owner and architect. In fact it is also an education for your management personnel.

At the Gypsum—Doing It Right seminar, we had 25 attendees. We asked the question, “How many of you came up through the trades?” and only three people raised their hands. But then that is why they were there—to be educated.

Point 3: Check the project before bidding. Just how closely do you look at a project before you complete your bid? If you work for repeat owners, probably not very closely. If it is a new owner or a building type you haven’t done before, my guess is that you probably look at the project more closely. Many times I am sure that you do not have sufficient details and specifications to allow you to bid accurately, and therefore try to cover yourself as best as you can.

A new drywall contractor here in the Metro D.C. area has his project managers and estimators really get into the details of all the projects they bid. Instead of burying the general contractor in RFIs, they present alternative solutions to the problems they find. This methodology has resulted in their securing more work.

Point 4: Check for paint with less than 50 VOC requirement. Since the prohibition of lead as an additive in paint and the desire to reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in all products used in construction due to off-gassing, the ability of paint to provide the coverage needed to hide imperfections in the substrate has been reduced. You don’t need to be chemist to determine the percentage of VOCs in paint, but you do need to ask and know what paint should not be used as a primer. This point is a subject for a column by itself, and I promise to cover this in a future column. The primer used on drywall should have a high solid content to produce the desired result that is the illusion of a monolithic surface under normal lighting conditions.

Point 5: Building orientation—Does it create critical lighting situations? In building orientation you need to look at how the sunlight enters the building. The result of sunlight hitting a wall at an oblique angle is also known as critical light. This critical light will show every imperfection in the finished wall no matter how good the quality of the finish is. You just need to be aware of the situation and point it out to the architect. Again, this is a subject for a future column. If the project is on BIM, you will have the ability to play with the sun and determine in advance where the problems areas will be.

Save this column because I know sooner or later, these problems will occur on one of your projects.

Donald E. Smith, CCS, is AWCI’s director of technical services. Send your questions to or call him directly at (703) 538.1611.

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