Hanging Drywall on a Ceiling [The Basics]

By thewriteDuffy •  Updated: 04/08/24 •  5 min read

This past Christmas break, Dan and I finally tackled the very last room in our 1986 Bungalow Project — the office/gym.

While the framing was done and Dan had already roughed in the electrical long ago (of course), the walls needed to be insulated and the drywall hung before we could put in the floor. Watching Dan and his friend hang the ceiling drywall (I’m far too weak to do this and not drive Dan mad with my complaining about the weight) I remembered just how crummy a job hanging ceiling drywall is if it’s not your day job.

I also remembered how many questions I had about hanging ceiling drywall the first time we did it, back when we were just beginning to finish the basement living room. In this article, I’ll try to answer some of the more basic questions around hanging drywall on a ceiling for those folks doing it for the first time. I’ve learned a lot, and I hope you will too!

Do You Drywall the Ceiling Before the Walls?

Yes, the ceiling drywall is always installed in a room first. This is so the drywall panels for the wall can then be pushed up tight against the ceiling panels, supporting the edge of the ceiling panel while also creating a joint that is less likely to crack later.

How Many Screws Do You Need to Hang Ceiling Drywall?

With anything that goes onto the ceiling, making sure it’s secure is important. Aside from installing your wall drywall after your ceiling drywall, you also want to make sure that you’re using enough screws.

When securing drywall to your walls. four screws per row and six screws along the edges are often enough since these screws are merely to hold the drywall in place (and fewer screws means fewer pops), but for a ceiling, I recommend at least five screws per row, and seven screws on the edges.

Do You Need Longer Screws to Hang Drywall on the Ceiling?

As for screw length, the industry standard is to use screws that are 50 percent of the length penetrating the framing members. This is regardless if it’s in the wall or ceiling.

This means that for standard 1/2 inch drywall you’ll need 1 1/4 inch screws. For drywall that’s 5/8 of an inch, you’ll want to go up to a 1 5/8 inch screw.

To be clear these lengths are for clean installations of drywall over framing. If you’re putting drywall over an existing ceiling or wall, you’ll naturally need longer screws to account for that extra depth.

Can You Put Drywall Over an Existing Ceiling?

If you have a ceiling that’s uneven, sagging, loose, or covered in thick, bad popcorn texture and want to fix it, it may turn out that the labor involved in refurbishing that existing ceiling will make the job more expensive than it’s worth.

In those cases, you may be wondering, can just put new drywall over the existing ceiling? Yes, often (though not always) you can install new drywall over an existing drywall ceiling using thinner (lighter) drywall, longer drywall screws, and box extenders for your ceiling electrical boxes.

With that said, there are some things to consider first:

  1. Can your ceiling take the weight? Even thin Sheetrock is heavy and will put additional stress on your ceiling timbers. Check with a building engineer to make sure your framing can handle the extra weight.
  2. Is the ceiling level? If not, you may need to add strapping to get it level and flat before putting up the new ceiling drywall, again adding more weight.
  3. Can all your lights and electrical be used properly with an extender? If in doubt, speak with an electrician.

How Do You Sheetrock (Drywall) a Ceiling by Yourself?

We’re very lucky in that we have a lot of friends in the construction trade who are willing to pop over and help Dan lift drywall up to the ceiling in exchange for his time on their home projects.

But if you don’t have that pool of helpers at the ready, and you’re not a professional drywall person, there are a few ways you can do it yourself.

Hanging Drywall on a Ceiling

The easiest way is to rent a drywall and panel hoist like the one in the photo above. You can buy one of these if you’re going to be drywalling a whole house or several projects, but if you’re just doing a room or two, renting one is definitely the way to go because they are expensive and big (i.e. hard to store).

When getting one of these, make sure that you get one that reaches the height of your tallest ceiling.

Using a drywall and panel hoist is pretty simple, you just rotate the table so that it’s vertical, load your drywall or sheetrock, adjust it to the same angle as your ceiling (either flat or an angle for sloped, vaulted, or cathedral ceilings), and then raise it up into position for your drywall screws. Easy peasy.

Do You Stagger Sheetrock (Drywall) on the Ceiling?

Yes! straight drywall joints should always be kept to a minimum on the ceiling not only to help prevent drywall cracking but also to help hide the joints.

What Type of Drywall is Best for Ceilings?

If you don’t require the room your drywalling to be soundproofed, and it’s not a bathroom, laundry room, or other room where moisture is an issue, using 1/2″ thick lightweight drywall is definitely the way to go for a ceiling.

Not only is lightweight drywall lighter, meaning you’re less likely to hurt yourself lifting it over your head, but it’s also less prone to sagging. You can read more about how lightweight drywall compares to regular drywall here.


At home, April is a mom, wife, and DIY darling. Among other home projects, she helped her husband Dan renovate their 1986 bungalow and is currently designing and decorating the 2023 custom home they are building themselves. Professionally, April is a writer, author, and online marketer with 15 years of experience writing for newspapers and magazines, building online authority websites, and publishing books.