Are you confused by what a Level 5 wall is? Maybe you’re renovating your living room, or you’re an interior designer trying to understand your vendor’s requirements. The term Level 5 comes up a lot and is commonly listed as a requirement for installing a decorative wall covering. If you’re not an experienced builder the term might leave you stumped. Here’s our layman’s guide to drywall finishes and the answer to our most frequently asked questions: What’s Level 5, and do I really need it to install my wall covering?
What are Drywall Levels?
Not all drywall is created equal. You’ve got everything from bumpy and lumpy to baby’s bottom smooth. For many years, builders each had their own standards, and clients had difficulty explaining what exactly they wanted. “Mostly smooth – you know, just smooth enough. Understand?” is not a helpful direction.
In 1990, the Gypsum Association released a document that standardized each level of finish, laying out exactly what each one was. From the completely unfinished Level 0 to the stunningly smooth Level 5. It quickly became the standard for all North American contractors and builders.
What Each Drywall Finishing Level Means:
Nothing. No finish whatsoever. You’ve just hung the drywall.
You’ve set tape in the joints with joint compound. The wall is still super rough. You’d mostly use this in attics, in the crawl space above ceilings, or other areas that won’t be seen. It’s still “unfinished.”
You’ve added the tape to the joints, plus you’ve now covered the joints and the fasteners with drywall mud and smoothed it over. It’s still pretty rough, and there are probably still tool marks. The wall is still technically “unfinished.”
The minimum level for a “finished” wall! You’ve got 2 coats of the compound on the joints and fasteners. Usually, these walls have a spray-on texture to hide tape lines. These are your “orange peel” or other very textured walls. Not super pretty, but it does the job.
The imperfectly smooth finish. You have two coats of drywall mud over joints, and 3 coats on the fasteners. Everything’s been sanded down to a pretty smooth and refined finish.
What’s Level 5? (That Term You Keep Hearing From Your Wall Covering Vendor)
This is what you’re really asking right? Level 5 is a term that gets thrown around a lot. “You need a Level 5 wall for that wall covering/paint/fancy office design.”
For the layman, a Level 5 wall is simply a wall that is as smooth as you can possibly get it. It’s the highest finish possible. No bumps, no texture, no nothing.
In construction, it means the drywall is finished up to Level 4 standards, and then it’s given an additional skim coat. A skim coat is a joint compound mixed with water and then rolled onto the wall. The excess is scraped off to leave a very smooth thin finish.
Why Use a Level 5 Wall?
Many balk at Level 5 walls. They’re a pain to do, and pricier than Level 3 or 4 walls. And frankly, a lot of the time they’re just unnecessary. So, when should you spring for them?
Use a Level 5 wall when any imperfections are going to be extremely noticeable. For example, if you choose gloss, semi-gloss, or metallic paint, the reflectivity will highlight any small imperfections or texture in the wall. Lighting conditions should also be considered. Angle or track lighting and other severe lighting conditions will make bumps and depressions more noticeable. Level 5 walls are also recommended for thin or glossy decorative wall coverings because the imperfections may mean noticeable bumps or texture. If you’re creating an artistic centerpiece with a custom mural wall covering, then make it as nice as possible.
I Don’t Have a Level 5 Wall, Can I Still Install Decorative Wall Covering?
Look, we get it. If this was an ideal world we’d live in buildings of perfectly smooth walls. And our boss wouldn’t have a heart attack when we tell them how much it costs to re-skim the wall. Sometimes Level 5 is just not an option. Actually, in our experience, it’s a pretty rare and magical experience when a client does have Level 5 walls.
That’s ok! You can still have decorative wall coverings. They’ll still install without problems. We can absolutely install on Level 3 or 4 walls, and the product will stay up for just as long as on a fancy Level 5 wall. The slight imperfections or texture on the wall may still be noticeable – unless it’s a very thick material. But in most cases, it doesn’t really detract from the overall effect. How much do you find yourself fixating now on the light texture of your office walls? Probably not at all.
To Sum Up:
Level 5 is the nicest, most perfectly smooth level of drywall you can get. It’s awesome to have glossy paints, severe lighting, and mural wall coverings! You’ll get a stunning finish without texture or imperfections. But it is absolutely not necessary. You can still install your wall covering without it.
Have a wall graphic idea? Metropolitan West can help you with your project. We custom print mural wall coverings to create stunning commercial spaces. Our design team assists with color matching and custom design, and our professional installers will get the job done right. Level 5 wall or not. Contact us today to get started!