Air Sealing Drywall to Top Plate

    Scope Images
    Image
    Air seal drywall to top plates at all attic/wall interfaces to minimize air leakage.
    Scope

    Air seal drywall to top plates at all attic/wall interfaces to minimize air leakage. 

    • Install drywall then seal the seam from the attic side with caulk, foam, or drywall adhesive (but not other construction adhesives).
      OR
    • Before installing drywall, install caulk or other sealant or a foam gasket to the face of the top plate then install the drywall. If this method is used, make sure the sealant or gasket remains intact during the drywall installation.

    See the Compliance Tab for related codes and standards requirements, and criteria to meet national programs such as DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Home program, ENERGY STAR Certified Homes, and Indoor airPLUS.

    Description

    In simplest terms, a wall is a six-sided box consisting of a horizontal top plate, a horizontal bottom plate, and vertical side studs, with a gypsum board and wall sheathing back, all fastened together to create a wall cavity that is typically filled with insulation when this wall is part of the building’s exterior shell. If air is allowed to flow through the wall cavity, i.e., if the wall cavity is not air tight, the flowing air can reduce the insulation’s effectiveness. If the wall cavity is not airtight, convective loops can also develop within wall cavities, due to temperature differences between the inside and outside surfaces and top and bottom sections of the wall. These convective loops can encourage more air flow, further reducing insulation effectiveness and potentially resulting in moisture problems.

    To ensure the optimum energy performance and moisture management of the whole house, all of the wall components should be connected to the each other and to the ceiling and floor in a way that creates a continuous and complete air barrier system.

    Gypsum board drywall is an air barrier material (BSC 2009). The taping of drywall seams results in a plane of airtightness at the field of the wall. However, several steps must be taken
    to use this material properly to create a continuous and complete air barrier system. To do this, it is important to create air barrier continuity at the perimeter of drywall assemblies as well as at all penetrations through the drywall. Air barrier continuity at the perimeter of drywall assemblies is achieved by sealing the edges of the drywall to solid framing materials. This requires a continuous sealant along:

    • all exterior wall bottom and top plates,
    • all top plates at insulated ceilings,
    • rough opening perimeters,  
    • both sides of the first interior stud of partition walls (BSC 2009).

    This air sealing can be achieved by applying caulk, glue, sprayer-applied sealant, or strips of foam gasket material to the surface of the top plates, bottom plates, and framing around doors and windows before installing the drywall. This would typically be done by the drywall installer. Other methods not described below for air sealing the top plates include installing spray foam insulation on the attic side of the ceiling at the eaves, which serves to both air seal the top plate and insulate this sometimes difficult-to-insulate area (although this will not address interior wall seams) or spray foam insulating the entire ceiling deck. Canned or one-part spray foam or sealant can be applied to all top plate seams from the attic side, although limited attic space can make this challenging. Another option is to use an air-borne aerosol sealant process, which will airseal all leaks in the home including air leaks at top plates (see Field Trial of an Aerosol-Based Enclosure Sealing Technology). 

    How to Air Seal the Drywall to the Top Plate

    1. Apply a continuous bead of caulk or glue or staple a strip of compressible foam gasket material (Figure 1) along the top plate and bottom plates and door and window framing along all exterior walls and all interior walls (Figure 2).
    2. Install drywall over caulk, glue, or gasket material. Mud and tape drywall. 
    Install a foam gasket along top plates before installing drywall
    Figure 1. A pliable foam gasket material is stapled along the top plate prior to installing drywall (Source: High Performance Builder Spotlight: Tommy Williams Homes 2011). 

     

    Caulk or glue along top plates before installing drywall
    Figure 2. A continuous bead of caulk or glue is applied to the top and bottom plates on exterior walls and interior walls that intersect insulated ceilings, as well as rough openings around doors and windows, prior to installing drywall (Source: Air Barriers - Airtight Drywall Approach 2009).

     

    Seal the drywall to the top plates as part of the home’s continuous air barrier
    Figure 3. Sealing the drywall to the top plate is one step in forming a continuous, complete air barrier in the home’s exterior shell (Source: Air Barriers - Airtight Drywall Approach 2009).

     

    Ensuring Success

    When drywall is installed, visually inspect that drywall installer is applying caulk or a foam gasket along surface of top plate before hanging drywall. After drywall installation it may be possible to detect air leakage at this location with an IR camera or smoke pencil during a blower door pressure test. Although taped, mudded drywall should provide some air barrier as well.

    Climate

    Colder climates will increase the potential for heat loss and air leakage, and the impacts of that heat loss, if the top plates are not properly insulated and air sealed.  Heat loss into the attic can warm the underside of the roof deck which can contribute to snow melt and ice dam formation. Significant air leakage from the house into the attic increases the potential for condensation and frost formation in the attic, if warmer vapor-laden conditioned air is allowed to escape into a wintertime attic with cold surfaces.

    Right and Wrong Images
    Image
    Wrong – Top plate to drywall connection not sealed
    Wrong – Top plate to drywall connection not sealed
    Image
    Right – Top plate to drywall connection sealed from attic with foam
    Right – Top plate to drywall connection sealed from attic with foam
    Image
    Wrong – Top plate to drywall connection not sealed
    Wrong – Top plate to drywall connection not sealed
    Image
    Right – Top plate to drywall connection sealed from attic with caulk
    Right – Top plate to drywall connection sealed from attic with caulk
    Image
    Wrong – Top plate to drywall connection not sealed
    Wrong – Top plate to drywall connection not sealed
    Image
    Right – Top plate to drywall connection sealed from attic with foam sealant
    Right – Top plate to drywall connection sealed from attic with foam sealant
    Image
    Right – A bead of sealant will form an airtight gasket between the top plate and drywall.
    Right – A bead of sealant will form an airtight gasket between the top plate and drywall.
    Image
    Right – All electrical box are carefully sealed as are all top plate-to-drywall seams.
    Right – All electrical box are carefully sealed as are all top plate-to-drywall seams.
    Image
    Right – A foam fabric gasket is installed in the header of this wall.
    Right – A foam fabric gasket is installed in the header of this wall.
    Image
    Right – The top plate-to-dry wall seams of the interior walls are sealed from the attic.
    Right – The top plate-to-dry wall seams of the interior walls are sealed from the attic.
    Image
    Right – Several potential sources of air leakage into the attic have been air sealed; canned spray foam was used to seal around duct boots, along seams in the drywall, and along top plates.
    Right – Several potential sources of air leakage into the attic have been air sealed; canned spray foam was used to seal around duct boots, along seams in the drywall, and along top plates.
    Image
    Right – A strip of foam fabric is installed along the wall top plate to serve as an air sealing gasket when the drywall is installed.
    Right – A strip of foam fabric is installed along the wall top plate to serve as an air sealing gasket when the drywall is installed.
    Image
    Right – Joists between floors are air sealed to the ceiling drywall with canned spray foam along each joist-to-drywall-seam.
    Right – Joists between floors are air sealed to the ceiling drywall with canned spray foam along each joist-to-drywall-seam.
    Videos
    CAD
    CAD Files
    Single top plate - interior wall with gusset
    Single top plate - interior wall with gusset
    Download: DWG PDF

    Compliance

    The Compliance tab contains both program and code information. Code language is excerpted and summarized below. For exact code language, refer to the applicable code, which may require purchase from the publisher. While we continually update our database, links may have changed since posting. Please contact our webmaster if you find broken links.

     

    ENERGY STAR Certified Homes, Version 3/3.1 (Rev. 09)

    National Rater Field Checklist

    Thermal Enclosure System.
    4. Air Sealing (Unless otherwise noted below, “sealed” indicates the use of caulk, foam, or equivalent material). 
    4.5 Drywall sealed to top plate at all unconditioned attic / wall interfaces using caulk, foam, drywall adhesive (but not other construction adhesives), or equivalent material. Either apply sealant directly between drywall and top plate or to the seam between the two from the attic above.

    Please see the ENERGY STAR Certified Homes Implementation Timeline for the program version and revision currently applicable in in your state.

     

    DOE Zero Energy Ready Home (Revision 07)

    Exhibit 1 Mandatory Requirements.
    Exhibit 1, Item 1) Certified under the ENERGY STAR Qualified Homes Program or the ENERGY STAR Multifamily New Construction Program.

     

    2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)

    Table 402.4.2 Air Barrier and Insulation Inspection Component Criteria, Walls: Corners, headers, narrow framing cavities, and rim joists are insulated.

    2012 IECC

    Table R402.4.1.1 Air Barrier and Insulation Installation, Walls: Junction of foundation and wall sill plates, wall top plate and top of wall, sill plate and rim-band, and rim band and subfloor are sealed. Corners, headers, and rim joists making up the thermal envelope are insulated. 

    2015 2018, and 2021 IECC

    Table R402.4.1.1 Air Barrier and Insulation Installation, Walls: Junction of foundation and wall sill plates, wall top plate and top of wall, sill plate and rim-band, and rim band and subfloor are sealed. Corners, headers, and rim joists making up the thermal envelope are insulated. Cavities within wall corners and headers to be completely filled with insulation at least R-3 per inch.

    Retrofit:  2009, 2012, 2015, 2018,  and 2021 IECC

    Section R101.4.3 (in 2009 and 2012). Additions, alterations, renovations, or repairs shall conform to the provisions of this code, without requiring the unaltered portions of the existing building to comply with this code. (See code for additional requirements and exceptions.)

    Chapter 5 (in 2015, 2018, 2021). The provisions of this chapter shall control the alteration, repair, addition, and change of occupancy of existing buildings and structures.

     

    2009 International Residential Code (IRC)

    Table N1102.4.2 Air Barrier and Insulation Inspection, Walls: Corners, headers, narrow framing cavities, and rim joists are insulated.

    2012 IRC

    Table N1102.4.1.1 Air Barrier and Insulation Installation, Walls: Junction of foundation and wall sill plates, wall top plate and top of wall, sill plate and rim-band, and rim band and subfloor are sealed. Corners, headers, and rim joists making up the thermal envelope are insulated.

    20152018 IRC, and 2021 IRC

    Table N1102.4.1.1 Air Barrier and Insulation Installation, Walls: Junction of foundation and wall sill plates, wall top plate and top of wall, sill plate and rim-band, and rim band and subfloor are sealed. Corners, headers, and rim joists making up the thermal envelope are insulated. Cavities within wall corners and headers to be completely filled with insulation at least R-3 per inch.

    Retrofit:  2009, 2012, 2015, 2018,  and 2021 IRC

    Section R102.7.1 Additions, alterations, or repairs. Additions, alterations, renovations, or repairs shall conform to the provisions of this code, without requiring the unaltered portions of the existing building to comply with the requirements of this code, unless otherwise stated. (See code for additional requirements and exceptions.)

    Appendix J regulates the repair, renovation, alteration, and reconstruction of existing buildings and is intended to encourage their continued safe use.

    Existing Homes

    SCOPE

    Air seal the top plate-to-drywall seams to reduce air leakage in an existing home, using one of the following or another method:

    • Install spray foam insulation on the attic side of the ceiling at the eaves.
    • Install spray foam insulation on the attic side over the entire ceiling deck.
    • Install one-part spray foam, caulk or another form of sealant to all top plate seams from the attic side.
    • Use an airborne aerosol sealant process to air seal all leaks in the home including air leaks.

    See the U.S. Department of Energy Standard Work Specifications for additional guidance on air sealing walls.

    For guidance on working in attics, see the guide Pre-Retrofit Assessment of Attics, Ceilings, and Roofs.

    DESCRIPTION

    The process for air sealing top plates by installing a sealant on the face of the framing before installing the drywall is an effective technique in new home construction. It is not typically applicable in existing homes except when drywall is being installed such as in an addition or gut rehab that involves drywall replacement.

    Other methods can be employed for air sealing top plates in existing homes, include installing spray foam insulation on the attic side of the ceiling at the eaves, which serves to both air seal the top plate and insulate this sometimes difficult-to-insulate area (although this will not address interior wall seams) or spray foam insulating the entire ceiling deck. Canned or one-part spray foam or sealant can applied to all top plate seams from the attic side, although limited attic space can make this challenging. Another option is to use an airborne aerosol sealant process, which will air seal all leaks in the home including air leaks at top plates (see Field Trial of an Aerosol-Based Enclosure Sealing Technology).

    COMPLIANCE 

    See Compliance tab. 

    More Info.

    Access to some references may require purchase from the publisher. While we continually update our database, links may have changed since posting. Please contact our webmaster if you find broken links.

    References and Resources*
    Author(s)
    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
    Organization(s)
    EPA
    Publication Date
    Description
    Guide describing details that serve as a visual reference for each of the line items in the Thermal Enclosure System Rater Checklist.
    *For non-dated media, such as websites, the date listed is the date accessed.
    Contributors to this Guide

    The following authors and organizations contributed to the content in this Guide.

    Building Science Measures
    Building Science-to-Sales Translator

    Tight Air Sealed Home = Comprehensive Draft Protection

    Image(s)
    Technical Description

    Poorly air-sealed homes are less comfortable and cost more to maintain because they provide a pathway for drafts, cold spots, moisture, and insects into the home. Comprehensive draft protection includes a continuous air barrier around the whole house along with caulking and sealing in all holes and cracks. This includes around wiring, plumbing, ducts, and flues; where wall framing meets flooring; around windows; where drywall meets top plates and sill plates; where rim joists meet foundation walls and subfloors; etc. Spray foam insulation can be used at rim joists, floors above unconditioned space, and in attics to insulate and air seal at the same time.

    Comprehensive Draft Protection
    Sales Message

    Comprehensive draft protection minimizes air flow that can undermine a complete high-performance insulation system. What this means for you is less wasted energy along with enhanced comfort, health, quiet, and durability. Wouldn’t you agree it would be a shame to only get a partial return on your investment in advanced insulation?

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