Horizontal vs. Vertical Drywall: The Right Way to Hang It

Small details, like the direction drywall hangs, can mean the difference between a sturdy and fragile building. So, which is better to maintain structural integrity — vertical or horizontal?

Well, you can hang drywall both vertically and horizontally, but horizontally is more preferred because it increases the strength and reduces the chance of cracks forming in the walls. While commercial buildings often hand drywall vertically, residential buildings use horizontal drywall.

The rest of this article will explore the reasons why we hang drywall in different ways for different building types and what benefits these have. Let’s get started.

Pros and Cons of Hanging Drywall Horizontally

Hanging drywall horizontally is a common practice in residential buildings. This is the case for several reasons.

Hanging drywall horizontally saves space, covers seams, and strengthens the overall structural integrity of walls 9 feet or less. However, there are reasons that drywall shouldn’t always run horizontally, either.

Read the list of pros and cons below to better understand why you may or may not want to attach drywall this way.

Pros

Hanging drywall horizontally is irrefutably the best way to hang drywall in your home. It has more shear strength and a more aesthetically pleasing appearance.

  • Horizontal sheets create fewer seams than vertical ones. In fact, the lineal footage goes down by 25%. Fewer seams produce a more effortless finish and a more polished overall appearance.
  • Drywall usually comes in long sheets, meaning you won’t need to cut them to size. Hanging drywall vertically requires you to cut longer sheets down to the correct dimensions, but hanging horizontally solves this issue and gets the job done faster.
  • Horizontal drywall has a lesser chance of sagging over time. The weight and stress put on horizontal drywall sheets are far greater than on horizontal ones, meaning horizontal sheets will hold their shape for longer.
  • Drywall hung horizontally is less likely to crack. Because of the stress applied to vertical drywall and the greater chance of it misaligning, it has a higher chance of breaking.
  • Drywall hung horizontally covers uneven studs. It also has greater coverage of wires.

Though few, there are some disadvantages to hanging drywall horizontally.

Cons

Though the more preferred choice, it does have its issues:

  • Horizontal installation requires a lot of materials. To keep it stable, horizontal drywall requires a fair amount of fastening mechanisms like screws.
  • Installing a piece of drywall horizontally is a time-consuming process. However, installing drywall, in general, is quite time-consuming, no matter how you do it.

Pros and Cons of Hanging Drywall Vertically

Vertically installed drywall is much rarer than horizontally installed drywall. This is because it’s less practical and more expensive in general, but it does have specific uses.

Hanging drywall vertically is almost exclusively used for commercial and industrial buildings. The reason for this is that it’s much safer in the case of a fire or other emergency because the drywall will fall and not stack, causing a pile-up.

Below is an analysis of the pros and cons of installing drywall vertically.

Pros

Hanging drywall vertically is far less standard than hanging it horizontally, but there are a couple of pros that vertical drywall has over horizontal:

  • Installation is easier and faster. It’s also much easier to inspect, which is handy for safety inspections and emergency checks.
  • In an emergency situation, falling drywall beams will not pile up. This leads to improved safety for the building and the people inside.

Cons

Sadly, installing drywall vertically has more downsides than installing it horizontally:

  • Vertical drywall offers no structural support. Though vertical drywall is used for commercial buildings, it’s designed to fall away easier while causing minimal debris and doesn’t actually strengthen the walls.
  • Vertically hanging drywall is harder to finish. It can also cause more significant strain trying to lay it upwards instead of sideways.
  • Drywall does more than stabilize walls; it also serves to cover wires and studs. Vertically hanging drywall doesn’t do this, though, and has a tendency to form bumps above studs and doesn’t hide wires very well.
  • Vertical strips of drywall work out to be more hassle and more expensive. Drywall is naturally cut in long strips, which will typically need to be cut down to fit the standard dimensions of a residential building.
  • Drywall installed vertically creates more seams. Therefore, it looks less appealing.

What Is Shear Strength?

We now know that installing drywall horizontally adds shear strength to the walls. It runs less risk of sagging, cracking, and even collapsing over time. But what exactly is shear strength?

Shear strength is the maximum stress a material can handle before it fails. Drywall, while not the most robust material there is, has a shear strength three times greater when hung horizontally than when hung vertically.

This is true for drywall installed on the walls, as well as the ceilings, of a building. This explains why vertical drywall is “safer”; it falls away easily in the event of an emergency because it has significantly less shear strength.

Because of this, drywall isn’t usually installed vertically unless it doesn’t need to provide any structural strength. For example, partitions within a homemade purely out of drywall don’t need to withstand a lot of stress and can be installed vertically or horizontally.

However, on essential structures like outer walls and ceilings, it’s a much better and safer idea to install drywall that can take the most shear force to reinforce the whole structure.

Horizontal and Vertical Installation

Whichever direction you choose to install drywall in, some certain practices and procedures will streamline the process and make for a more successful and visually appealing end product.

How to Install Drywall Horizontally

When installing drywall, you should start from the top. Additionally, if you’re hanging drywall from the ceiling, it’s best to complete the ceiling first so you can better plan the layout of the wall.

Laying sheets from the top down allows you to hide uneven studs present on the wall. It also ensures you’ll get the perfect fit in the top corners, which, in turn, creates a support structure for the drywall on the ceiling.

Ensuring this flush fit in corners, against the ceiling, and in all other joint areas of the drywall adds longevity to the panels. Drywall degrades over time and forms cracks if it isn’t placed to allow it to withstand pressure, so placement is critical.

Drywall is cheap for building materials, so opt for bigger sheets to cover as much surface area in one go than multiple smaller sheets. This saves you time and effort and creates a cleaner appearance.

How to Install Drywall Vertically

Vertical drywall installation comes with unique challenges. Horizontal installation allows the drywall more contact with wall studs, making them more secure, so vertical drywall needs to compensate for that.

Drywall sheets have some blunt edges and some tapered edges. It’s vital not to install a drywall sheet with the tapered edge on the corner of the wall, as this would make it exceptionally difficult to create a seamless join between sheets.

Like with all construction and renovation, precision is vital. It’s crucial to accurately measure and place drywall so the sheets aren’t too far apart but also aren’t too snug, as this may damage them in the long term.

Vertical drywall should, however, have slight gaps between the sheets to alleviate pressure and avoid having to struggle to make adjustments later.

Drywall Sizes and Orientation

Horizontal drywall installation works better for any structure below 9 feet or under, seeing as drywall typically comes in wider strips. Let’s consider the various standard sizes drywall sheets come in.

Drywall Dimensions

The most common size for drywall sheets is 4 by 8 feet. This can extend to 4 by 12 feet or even 16 feet for taller and broader walls.

The four-by-eight-foot standard size allows easy installation, whether it be vertical or horizontal. Of course, the vertical installation creates a greater risk of cutting the sheets down to size, depending on the wall’s height.

Whichever direction you lay drywall in, you ideally want it to run seamlessly from wall to wall or ceiling to floor, with as few seams visible as possible.

Drywall is a highly economical material that usually comes in fairly large sheets that consider the standard room size and dimensions.

Chances are you won’t need to make any significant adjustments to your drywall if you buy large sheets rather than smaller pieces.

Drywall Thickness

Drywall comes in various thicknesses, depending on the purposes it’ll be used for. When the drywall is placed over existing structures to strengthen them, the drywall is typically a quarter of an inch thick.

However, when drywall is used on its own — such as inside a home as a partition wall — it will be slightly thicker, so it doesn’t need additional support. In this case, the drywall will be around half an inch thick.

Lightweight drywall is fast becoming more popular than the thicker options, as it’s both lighter and stronger than the traditional half-inch drywall panels.

Remember that planning the installation layout needs to account for various drywall thicknesses. Thicker drywall will require more significant adjustments or leeway to fit without leaving too large a gap between sheets but also not being too tight.

Final Thoughts

It’s common practice to hang drywall horizontally for a number of reasons. Most of all, it creates a more robust and more visually pleasing final result.

Vertically installing drywall is usually reserved for commercial buildings, but there’s no reason why you can’t take that route in a residential structure if you really want to. Be warned, it does present its own challenges.