What is the Difference Between Level 4 and Level 5 Skim Coat?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What is the Difference Between Level 4 and Level 5 Skim Coat?

The Issue

We are sometimes asked to do a less than a level 5 skim coat by customers who want nice walls but are looking for some economy.  In this article we will show there really is no such thing as a Level 3 or Level 4 skim coat or skimcoating.  The finish "levels" specified on architectural drawings and specifications come from USG (US Gypsum) corporation's finish standards.  Everything less than a Level 5 finish is not really a skim coat at all and even a "by the book" Level 5 finish is not what most customers and architects in the New York market have come to expect when specifying skim coat.  Let's see why.....


First let's take a look at a summary of the 5 levels of finish in the USG specification.  The full specification can be found in the usg handbook if you are interested in more detail.

  • Level 0  For temporary construction - no taping
  • Level 1  Used above ceilings and other concealed areas, one coat of compound on paper tape.  Fasteners not covered, corner beads not required.  Sometimes called fire taping but does not meet all fire ratings so caution is called for when using this level.
  • Level 2 Tape is applied as in Level 1 plus corners and fasteners are covered.  Typical for garages and warehouses. The picture below is Level 2
  • Level 3 The same as level 2 plus another layer of compound.  This finish is suitable for heavy textured finishes after priming.
  • Level 4 A standard 3 coat tape job for painted surfaces that are not to be coated with gloss, semi-loss or enamel or where shinny wall covering will not be used.
  • Level 5 is a level 4 tape job with one thin coat of compound spread over the surface  to minimize texture and even out the surface for shinier finishes. This is the "skim coat" in the specification.


Now that the "by-the-book" definitions are out of the way, you can see that if you need to:

  • Level out a bad taping or framing
  • Flatten pre-war plaster walls that are not really flat for a high gloss finish or to match newly installed moldings
  • or Blend new walls into old.

More than a Level 5 skim coat is called for and not less, in fact a "by-the-book" Level 5 skimcoat is about the least skimcoating you can specify and may cause you some anxiety later if what you bought was not your intention.


To deal with these conditions or at least know what you are getting from the various proposals you may receive and why they may be priced differently, you may wish to read our previous blog post on the subject: Skimcoating: Getting What You Expect From Your Contractor.

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