Popped Nails? Repair Your Drywall with These Tips
Q: I have just bought a house and plan to paint over the existing green interior walls with a fresh coat of paint in country white. However, I worry that the handful of tiny circular bulges I spotted on the walls will still be noticeable after repainting. My neighbor told me the bulges were popped nails – places where the nails had come loose. What can i do to get rid of them?
A: Congratulations on your new home! You are right about these bulges: if not repaired, they will be visible after repainting. Fortunately, popped nails (also known as “nail pops”) aren’t all that difficult to fix and usually aren’t serious – although there are a few exceptions. Read on to understand the causes of nail pops, the problems they could pose, and how to achieve perfectly smooth walls.
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Nail crackers are largely due to wood or drywall construction and often occur within a year of construction.
Wood used to build houses can contain moisture, which is often absorbed by moisture in the air while wood is stored in open air storage. As the wood dries slowly after construction, the studs can shift or twist easily. This can cause individual nails to move. When a nail with drywall moves, the grout covering the nail will loosen. The result is a tiny bulge on the wall surface or, in some cases, a visible nail head if the drywall joint becomes loose and falls off. This is the most common cause of nail pops and is completely cosmetic. There are no structural issues to worry about and it’s pretty easy to repair.
Fix cracking nails with screws.
Just tapping the nail back down with a hammer will solve the immediate problem, but eventually the nail will likely work its way back up. A better solution is to tap the nail back down and then insert two drywall screws into the stud, one about an inch above the nail and one about an inch below the nail. The drywall panel is securely attached to the bolt with the screws.
Choose the right length of screw to reinforce a cracked nail.
Short screws that barely penetrate the stud under the drywall can loosen in the future and lead to more pops on the wall surface. The general rule is to use screws that go into the stud at least an inch. For example, on ½ inch thick drywall, you will need a screw that is at least 1¼ inch long.
Add more screws if you suspect you are saving.
If the installer does not use enough fasteners, the drywall may not be securely attached to the studs, resulting in movement and nail popping. When hanging drywall, a fastener (preferably a screw) should be inserted every eight inches along the edges of the drywall and every 12-16 inches in the center of the panel above each stud. If you suspect this may have happened while building your home, you can put extra screws (one every 10 to 16 inches) over the studs to reduce the risk of future bangs.
Fill in the recesses with drywall grout.
Drywall screws come with trumpet-shaped heads that allow you to insert them just below the surface of the drywall. However, they leave a small indentation. Smooth out pits with a small amount of grout – a quarter-size globe should fill most nail and screw pits. Apply with a spatula and smooth out excess material. Let the joint dry for at least 24 hours, then use the spatula to apply another thin layer of grout. When that’s dry, sand down the joint with a drywall abrasive sponge, then roll up a new coat of paint.
Investigate trusses where lifting can cause nail pops.
If you’ve noticed stuck nails in the walls of your home, you may want to do a little bit of looking for similar bulges on the ceiling – which may indicate a more serious problem. Today’s home builders often use fabricated trusses to build a roof rather than building the roof with rafters. Some timber members in a number of trusses are designed to move easily with moisture and temperature changes in the attic. Therefore, many modern drywall installers use a special fastening technique when hanging drywall from a truss ceiling. However, if they attach the drywall directly to the bottom of the trusses, nail pops may occur in the ceiling drywall when the trusses are lifted. Depending on how much the framework moves, there can be a horizontal crack between the ceiling and the wall in addition to nail popping. To address this issue, a contractor should remove the drywall and install new ones that are attached to clips or blocks, but not the trusses themselves.
Cracked nails combined with other problems signals a bigger problem.
Normal house settlement can cause the frame wood to move a bit, resulting in cracked nails. As the house continues to settle over time, additional nail pops may appear. Foundation problems can also cause movements that lead to nail popping. In both cases, however, they come with additional problems, including:
- Doors that stick or don’t close properly.
- Cracks in the drywall around windows and doors.
- Cracks in the corners of the ceiling.
- Visible cracks in the foundation.
If your home is experiencing one or more of these problems, it’s a good idea to hire a contractor or structural engineer. Structural problems should be addressed before repairing broken nails.