Construction DesignWorks level 4 drywall finish

Is Level 4 drywall finish the best?

Exceeding the client’s expectations

By Scott Hamele, DBIA President and founder of Construction DesignWorks, LLC and Nationwide Commercial Inspections, LLC

As a commercial building contractor, we take pride in turning over the highest quality product we can regardless if it is a ground up construction or commercial tenant finish. The mechanical systems need to work properly and the lights need to provide enough illumination to create a comfortable work environment.

However, the one thing that everyone remembers most is the look of the walls and paint finish. Your space can be decked out with all the bells and whistles, fancy electronics, beautiful flooring and office furniture, but if the walls show imperfections it doesn’t matter how much or what brand of paint you use, it won’t look like a quality job.

In most instances the painting and building contractor are providing services to a set of design documents including construction specifications. These specifications detail the type of drywall (gyp board) finish we are to provide for the owner or tenant. In most cases the finish is called a Level 4 drywall finish.

Definition of a Level 4 drywall finish

If the final decoration is to be a flat paint, light texture or lightweight wall covering, a Level 4 drywall finish is recommended.

As stated in Level 4 of GA-214-10, “All joints and interior angles shall have tape embedded in joint compound and shall be immediately wiped with a joint knife leaving a thin coating of joint compound over all joints and interior angles. Two separate coats of joint compound shall be applied over all flat joints and one separate coat of joint compound shall be 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 of tool marks and ridges.”

It is recommended that the prepared surface be coated with a drywall primer prior to the application of final finishes. In severe lighting areas, flat paints applied over light textures tend to reduce joint photographing. Paints with sheen levels other than flat or enamel are not recommended over this level of finish.

Special attention should be paid to long corridors, large areas of wall, and large/multiple windows when specifying Level 4, because these areas are potential areas of concern in achieving acceptable wall finishes and may need to be specified appropriately.

In most construction specifications, the type of paint called out is a gloss, semi-gloss, or enamel. Problems arise when the client expects a perfectly smooth finish and free of defects when the specifications call out for a Level 4 finish with semi-gloss paint. The only time you can successfully attain a finish that conceals joints and small imperfections with a paint other than flat, is with a Level 5 finish.

Definition of a Level 5 finish

Level 5 finish is recommended for areas where severe lighting conditions exist and areas that are to receive gloss, semi-gloss, enamel or non-textured flat paints. Level 5 requires all the operations in Level 4. Additionally, a thin skim coat of joint compound, or material manufactured especially for this purpose, is applied to the entire surface.

A thorough explanation of “skim coat” is given in the comments section of GA-214-10. “A skim coat of joint compound is intended to conceal small imperfections in joints and on the surface of the gypsum board, smooth the texture of the paper, minimize differences in surface porosity, and create a more uniform surface to which the final decoration can be applied.”

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 showing through the final decoration.

It is important to understand the expectations of the client regardless of what is called out in the specifications. When the client’s expectations and design requirements do not equal, it would be prudent to explain the differences between Levels 1 through 5 of drywall finishes. It is obviously more expensive for a Level 5 finish, but the client may be willing to pay the extra costs to achieve the look they want and to meet or exceed their expectations, even if a Level 4 drywall finish is standard.

About Construction DesignWorks, LLC

Construction DesignWorks uses its hands-on approach and design and construction expertise to create and develop a winning design-build team that is specialized for each customer. Their complete turnkey building solutions align with the unique business needs of various types of real estate. Construction DesignWorks, LLC is located at 6657 Woodland Drive in Shawnee, Kansas. If you are looking for commercial building contractors in Kansas City or for more information about interior design-build, call (913) 745-4727 or visit their website