However you intend to use your garage space – a workshop, a living space or simply a protective place to store your vehicles – it’s important to put a lot of consideration into your choice of garage walls if you care about its longevity as a useful room in your house. Not only will you need to comply with local building codes and regulations to ensure your garage meets safety standards, but you owe it to yourself to explore the best options for the lifespan and lasting quality of your garage.
So what should you use for your garage walls? Different walls will serve different purposes in your garage, so firstly, you need to know what your garage will primarily be used for and this will determine the most appropriate wall materials for your needs. If you know you will create a lot of humidity with a water spray, for example – or perhaps you live in a humid climate – then water-resistant vinyl or metal panels would be a suitable wall option.
Alternatively, if you know you will be converting your garage space into a workshop and require a convenient way to store your tools and other accessories, then covering your garage walls with Fiberboard or Pegboard will be the ideal choice. If you have ideas in mind for the purpose of your garage, but don’t know where to start with the wall style, let this handy guide point you in the right direction. Below, you’ll find all you need to know from various wall styles to preventing damp and choosing paint colors…
How to Choose Garage Walls?
Ask yourself what you want out of your garage space and this will determine the type of walls you can benefit from most. Do you want to turn your garage into a space for organizing your tools and hardware? Perhaps a laundry room that will increase the moisture and humidity in the room? Here’s a quick guide to help you choose the best wall type:
For storage space – garage walls are perfect for shelving all the clutter that would otherwise take up floor space, so if this is your garage purpose you’ll need strong slat wall panels to bear heavy loads. Slat wall can be made from MDF (medium density fiberboard) or PVC, both of which are far stronger than plywood panels which make them perfect for hanging up everything from garden tools to sports equipment.
For craft rooms/workshops – if you intend to store medium weight tools for a workshop to even lighter materials for a craft room, then pegboard made from either wood or metal is a perfect choice. You can easily cover an entire wall with several pegboard panels, so for cost-cutting measures you could always opt to fill one or two walls and leave the remaining ones blank drywall.
For a laundry room – if you have plans to convert your garage space into a laundry room – or perhaps even a spare bathroom – then it’s a given that your chosen walls should have high moisture resistance. For this type of garage project we’d recommend finishing your walls with vinyl or steel panels.
These panels are thick and strong enough to be attached directly to the skeleton studs and joints of your garage framing. These water-resistant panels also come in many patterns, giving any garage to bathroom or laundry room conversion a bright and easy to clean space.
Is Drywall Required in a Garage?
Most homes throughout the US are often required to install fire-rated drywall according to state law and local building regulations. You can find out whether your garage walls may require drywall installation by speaking to a local home or building inspector who may be able to assess your home personally. Otherwise, you can find out the building codes specific to your state here.
Even if you’re not required by state law or building codes to build drywall, you can benefit from drywalling your garage for the following reasons:
- A finished garage adds more value – if potential buyers see that the base work is done on the garage walls, this can make your home seem far more attractive compared to homes with an unfinished garage. Adding drywall gives new homeowners a blank canvas for their creative needs, instead of a needless DIY headache.
- Drywall can make the garage more comfortable – the installation of drywall over your insulation will keep your garage above freezing in winter (and prevent your pipes from freezing too). Likewise in summer, the combined insulation and drywall layer will ensure hot air stays outside – ensuring a comfortable garage all year round, whether you live in a cold or warm climate.
- Adding wiring and electrical outlets will be easier – attempting to run wires through the foundation layer of concrete in your garage wall will result in a messy ineffective job. But with the addition of drywall, you can neatly hide wiring in the framing. Drywall also provides a smoother, more even surface when it comes to adding electrical outlets compared with bare concrete.
It should be noted that although drywall is the most common finishing choice for garage interiors, it is not the most durable option. Since it has lower moisture and impact resistance compared to other wall materials, you may find that it ages quicker and overtime your garage walls could be covered with dents and gauges from wear and tear. It can also succumb to moisture damage quicker and areas of garage wall may susceptible to mold. Thankfully, you can find many sturdy and affordable alternatives to drywall, which we’ll discuss below.
How Thick is Garage Drywall?
Drywall varies in thickness depending on where it is used in the home, but the for the fire-resistant drywall that is most appropriate for a garage wall project, drywall will be either 1/2 an inch or 5/8 of an inch thick. 1/2 inch drywall is the most commonly used thickness for interior construction projects, but you may require thicker sheets depending on your garage dimensions.
For example, if your garage wall frames have large gaps between the studs or joists, then the screws will be further apart when you install the drywall, so you will benefit from using thicker drywall sheets for a sturdier finish.
Are Garage Walls Fire Rated?
The wall directly between the garage and the main home is not a fire-resistance rated wall. In the code of residential building inspectors and fire safety specialists, garage walls are normally referred to as ‘Dwelling-Garage Fire Separation’.
Your garage walls meet the fire separation requirements of a residential home if they are fitted with 1/2 an inch of drywall (or the equivalent) and as long as garage wall surface finishes have a flame-spread index of no more than 200. You can get further clarification on this here or by speaking to a local home or building inspector.
Alternatives to Drywall for Garage Walls
Unless your local building regulations require it, drywall needn’t be your only choice for a garage wall finishing. Here are some great alternative wall styles that add a unique flair to garage interiors and help you make the most of your space
Oriented Strand Board (or OSB) are a cheaper and sturdier alternative to plywood and panels are available in thickness that ranges from 19/32 inch to 11/8 inch. OSB wall panels have a smoother finish compared to plywood since each layer of wood strands are coated with resin and wax before being pressed together, giving a gorgeous aesthetic to your garage interior. They are also fairly easy to install, since they can be attached directly to the wall framing.
Plywood can provide sturdy walls that can withstand all manner of nails for hanging up tool racks. It’s also more moisture resistant compared with OSB, making it a good choice for underground garages with higher levels of humidity or bathroom and laundry room conversions. However, if you’re concerned about the visual appeal of your garage interiors, plywood walls can create a slightly uneven appearance (even after painting) due to its knotty texture from the bonding process.
As above mentioned, pegboard is highly versatile if you want your garage to store all manner of lightweight to medium weight materials and tools. The panel style allows you to add innumerable pegs, hooks and shelves to your wall design to allow you to organize as little or as much as you need to without the hassle of installing new panels when you need to de clutter. Some pegboard panels are even designed to fit directly onto the studs of your garage framing, so they promise hassle-free installation too.
- Solid cement board
If you want to give your garage walls a more traditional look, solid cement board can be a good base for adding a stone veneer, which lets you create the look of natural stone or an exposed brick wall inside your garage. You can also easily add tile on top of solid cement board, making it an ideal choice for a converted bathroom or kitchen space.
How Thick Should Plywood be for Garage Walls?
Plywood is a great choice for garage walls but you must ensure you have the right thickness for your needs. If you intend to hang storage racks and tools from the walls, it’s advisable to use plywood with a thickness of at least 1/2 an inch. This is the most common thickness of plywood used for garage walls.
Always ensure that before you install plywood directly to the studs and joints of your garage frame that your local building regulations do not require you to install drywall first. If this is the case, a fire resistant layer of 5/8 inch thick drywall normally needs to be placed first and on top of this, 1/4 inch plywood can be thick enough for your garage wall covering.
How Do I Waterproof My Garage Walls?
Water damage from your car’s run-off in winter or high levels of rainwater seeping into your home can spell trouble for your garage, so be sure to take the following steps to make your garage walls waterproof:
- Remove every last item from your garage and ensure the area is empty and clean before you begin.
- Check the walls for any repairs that need to be done beforehand. Any holes, seams or cracks will need to be filled in before waterproofing.
- Once the surfaces are even, paint the walls with an entire coat of waterproof paint. A perfect paint for this job is something like Drylok Extreme – this is a latex-based masonry waterproofing paint that doubles up as a primer and a finishing coat to your walls. Since drylok has a white finish, you could leave this at two coats for a finished look.
Note however that it won’t waterproof concrete, so if you are working with bare concrete walls, you will need to add a primary coat of latex or oil-based paint so that the Drylok can adhere to it.
- While the wall coats are drying, clean your garage floor of any oil or dirt with a floor cleaning solution (a half bleach and half water solution is good). Then add a waterproof paint or epoxy to your floor, allow to dry and return your items and equipment – you now have a waterproof garage
How to Reduce Condensation on Your Garage Walls?
Excess moisture in your garage can build up over time and, if left untreated, can cause a costly headache in repairs and renovation. Not only can mold and mildew as a result of condensation compromise the appearance of your garage walls, it can also cause your vehicle and tools to rust at a quicker rate.
It may even pose a health risk to your family, so you must take whatever measures you can to reduce the condensation levels in your garage. The following tips can help to keep wall condensation at bay in your garage:
- Use a heater in winter – installing a heater for use in the colder months will help to stabilize your garage temperature and keep condensation to a minimum. Just be sure to avoid using a propane heater as this can result in high levels of water vapor.
- Dry your car after parking – you dry yourself off once you step inside your home, so don’t forget to do the same with your vehicle, especially during high rain and snowy weather periods. Simply blotting your car off with a towel will help to reduce the moisture levels and prevent droplets from accumulating on the floor and edges your walls.
- Get good ventilation – a good garage ventilation system can be a key barrier to condensation build up, so check to see if your current airflow system could do with an upgrade. Common turbine roof vents need to be cleaned regularly to promote efficient airflow.
- Minimize floor clutter – a quick way to spread condensation up your garage walls is to leave clutter lying around your garage floor, so try to keep your area organized as possible with pegboard or slat wall storage units to increase the airflow.
How Much Does it Cost to Insulate and Drywall a Garage?
The cost of insulating your garage will depend on how much of your garage you wish to insulate. Some homeowners may only install insulation panels in their garage ceiling or garage door, for example, which together will amount to around $1,200. Adding insulation across the garage framing from the walls to the ceiling could cost between $1,500-2,000 for most standard 1-car size garages.
Insulation alone will not increase the existing temperature and make it more comfortable, so if you plan to convert your garage into a living space, this can only be done with added electrical or gas heating. Adding insulation really depends on your plans for the garage – basic or living space – and your unique climate.
As for the cost of drywalling your garage, this will also depend on how thorough your finishing will be. For instance, a 2-car garage measuring 20×24 feet will have 800 square feet to cover, so with 4 x 8 foot drywall sheets at a cost of $12 each you may need close to 25 drywall sheets in total (coming to about $300). These costs can be lower if you leave the ceiling for rafter storage, but there are also the added costs of installing the drywall safely and correctly itself. Cost considerations like:
- Screws ($30 for a pack of 1,000)
- Joint compound layer ($15-20 for 5 gallons)
- A sander if you are priming for paint ($10-15 for drywall sander)
What Insulation Should I Use for Garage Walls?
There are many insulation options to choose for your garage walls and as above mentioned, how you use your garage space will dictate which type of insulation you should use. All garage walls can benefit from basic insulation but you may choose more advanced options for your DIY project. Various types of garage wall insulation include:
Fiberglass insulation – this is the common choice for garage insulation in most homes and provides a basic thermal buffer between your home’s exterior and the outside elements. To get the best out of basic fiberglass insulation and make sure you don’t lose heat through air gaps, use low-expanding spray foam to seal any gaps and cracks around the garage. You can also maximize your insulation effects by adding weather strips to the windows and door frames of your garage.
Rigid foam insulation – as you can guess from its name, rigid foam provides a thick sturdy kind of insulation and helpfully, the foam sheets can be cut to size. At 1/2 an inch to up to 4 inches thick, rigid foam insulation is a great choice for particularly thin garage walls. When used as beneath a layer of plywood wall finishing, rigid foam can be an appropriate choice if you intend to convert your garage into a living space.
Cellulose insulation – cellulose is a versatile insulation option in that it is not made up of sheets or panels but acts like insulating candy floss that can be blown into cavities and hard-to-reach areas with a blowing machine (normally rented from a tool rental store). Since cellulose is a loose-fill form of insulation, it’s only suitable for finished garage walls that may need insulation topping up in certain areas, so you can still cut strategic holes in your garage walls to fill specific cavities and lend a little more insulation to a finished project.
Should I Paint My Garage Walls?
A coat of paint on your garage walls is no more necessary than painting your front door a bright color, but if your garage receives a lot of traffic throughout the day (i.e. it’s used as a secondary entrance to your home) or if you simply want to brighten up its appearance for the sake of visitors or potential future buyers, then your drab garage walls may benefit from a lift.
Just make sure that if you do paint the walls that your efforts won’t be ruined by the outside elements. Unless you’re going to install your garage with high-tech temperature control features, the climate in your garage is going to yo-yo from cold to blistering heat throughout the year which can expand and distort the walls – so go for 100% acrylic latex interior paint.
Do I Need to Prime Garage Walls before Painting?
As with any DIY painting job in the home, it’s vital that you prepare your surface and the same is especially true for dirty garage walls. They withstand everything from car exhaust fumes to grease, dust and other dirt so give the wall surfaces and floors a power-wash followed by a strong bleach cleaning solution.
Once you’ve cleaned and allowed the walls to dry, inspect it for any signs of stains or uneven color. If so, it’s a good idea to apply a stain-blocking primer to your walls before applying the main primer and paint color. Eliminating blemishes from your walls will help to ensure your finished paint job has consistent even results, so it’s well worth your time if your wall’s appearance matters to you.
Once you’re happy with your wall’s base texture, you can then add your primer coat and this should be consistent with the paint you choose too. So if you’re using an oil-based paint then match this with an oil-based primer and an acrylic (water-based) paint with a water-based primer and so on. At roughly $10-15 for a gallon, primer is fairly inexpensive considering it should cover all four garage walls (obviously 2 and 3-car garages will require more).
Primer will take between 30 mins to an hour to dry, but it’s advisable to leave at least 3 hours before applying your first coat of paint. Not sure of which colors to choose for your garage walls? Let’s look at this below.
What Color is Best for Garage Walls?
The right type of paint on your garage walls can brighten up the area and even create the illusion of a more spacious garage. Lighter garage wall shade in whites, creams or pale pastels will reflect light beautifully, but there is the added consideration that any dirt and signs of wear and tear will be more visible on lighter walls. If you go for lighter colors and shades, a semi-gloss paint is a good choice since it makes signs of dirt and grime less obvious and is better to clean.
If you want to go for lighter colors on your garage wall but don’t fancy the effort of painting the entire interior, you can also opt for hanging slat wall panels in any color of your choosing. As we mentioned earlier, slat wall panels are functional for storage but they’re also visually pleasing and give a clean, crisp look to your garage walls (they’ll be easier to clean than bare walls too!).
Perhaps you may want neutral colors such as greys, beige or tan for your garage walls, in which case these will be far easier to clean than bright light shades. Neutral and darker shades will also offer greater design flexibility since they will complement most furnishings and interior styles.
Lastly, make sure you are doing all you can to complement your finished paint choice with proper lighting. Treating your garage lighting to an upgrade will help your walls pop even more.
Mike Zhang. Founder of FamilyLifeShare