Q&A with Chuck Murtha

As a Contractor Specialty Representative for ClarkDietrich, Chuck Murtha’s days revolve around solving construction challenges and delivering peace of mind to his customers. Having worked in the drywall finishing industry for more than 30 years, Chuck is able to lead by example and brings a wealth of experience to complex problems.

Chuck took a few minutes out of his schedule to explain how a greater understanding of Level 5 finishing can benefit the architect and specifier community as well as techniques for meeting the increased demand for expert-level drywall finishing in the field.

Drywall finish levels may not always be at the top of mind with architects. Why is this an area more architects should pay attention to?
I believe drywall finishing should require more attention as it contributes heavily to the architect’s ultimate vision for a space. Newer design trends such as surface-mounted side lighting and downlighting, as well as open floor plans which create more natural light throughout a space, make it vital for the architect understand the problems these trends may create for the drywall finisher. The effects that this additional light has on the finished drywall amplifies the imperfections. A Level 5 finish allows for maximum presentation quality, even in areas where lighting is at its most extreme, such as across a large, flat ceiling.

What is a Level 5 finish and how does it factor into a building’s spec?  
After achieving a Level 4 finish—the standard finish for most projects according to the Gypsum Association Recommended Levels of Finish GA-214-10e guide—a thin skim coat of joint compound is applied to the entire surface to conceal imperfections in the joints and gypsum board. More importantly, a Level 5 finish helps seal the surface of the gypsum board to minimize the difference in porosity between the unfinished gypsum board and the treated joints and trims, so the paint absorbs evenly to prevent joint photographing and to create a monolithic surface. This can be accomplished with a trowel or a sprayer.

A Level 5 finish will factor into a buildings spec based on the type of paint finish and critical lighting aspects that the buildings design poses.

In what areas would you recommend a Level 5 finish?
I would highly recommend a Level 5 finish as stated in areas with Severe (critical) Lighting, as described in the Gypsum Association’s guide. Wall and ceiling areas abutting windows or skylights, long hallways, or rooms with large surface areas flooded with artificial and/or natural lighting are other areas that benefit from this level of finish. Strong side lighting from windows or surface-mounted light fixtures can reveal the slightest of surface imperfections, which a skim coat would remedy.

Do you think there’s an increased demand for this level of finish in the building industry?
I believe there is. With newer lighting designs that wash down or up on walls and ceilings, and open office plans with fewer partition walls for energy efficiency, the demand for Level 5 finish has increased. Most high-quality finishers recognize these areas on their own and “Level 5 it” even without it being specified.

What considerations should an architect keep in mind when specifying a Level 5 finish?
Natural lighting and mechanical lighting at severe angles are my top considerations. Also, architects should pay attention to paint finishes. Areas where a paint with a sheen or gloss is used could be troubling for lower-level finishes.

Are there any other drywall finishing topics that should be on architects’ radars right now?
Yes, I think paper-faced composite and full composite corner beads and trim products are often an afterthought during the specification process and left for the builder to decide. Price then becomes the deciding factor instead of overall performance and quality. There are solutions in the market now, such as ClarkDietrich’s Strait-Flex® products, that make the finishing process much easier, more consistent, more efficient, and more resistant to overall legacy costs for a project.