Updated: Dec 12, 2019
Drywall access panels are typically used for accessing commercial or residential plumbing, HVAC, electrical or cable elements through drywall. They are used to conceal the clutter while providing a safe way of accessing the components of the building or structure.
When shopping for drywall access panels there are many options available. They can be broken into three main categories:
Fiberglass (GFRG) mud-in access panels
Metal access panels
Plastic access panels
In this article we will discuss the benefits and disadvantages of each type.
Fiberglass (GFRG) Access Panels
GFRG panels are made using reinforced gypsum, which is a nearly identical material to sheetrock itself. That’s why drywall is often referred to as gypsum board in architectural specifications. Fun fact: “Sheetrock” is a trademarked brand of USG.
The biggest benefit to GFRG panels is how invisible they look when installed into drywall. They have no flange and just a minimal joint, allowing for a seamless blend into sheetrock. Gravity fit (Lift & shift) panels are mainly used on ceilings while hinged panels are used in both walls and ceilings. The stealth factor of these panels makes them the number one choice by architects and designers for commercial and residential design specifications.
Installs in ceilings or walls, with standard drywall compound
Perfectly smooth surface, panels come filled and sanded
3" frame containing wooden embedments to screw panels into studs
Made for 5/8" drywall, can be installed in 1/2" drywall
Paint finish blends seamlessly with the surrounding drywall
Easy to tape into drywall (same material as all the surrounding gyp. Board, installed using standard compound)
Most concealed / least visible way to have access through drywall without disturbing the design aesthetic / elements.
Many sizes available for custom applications. View all sizes >
Are fire rated similar to sheetrock (0 flame spread, 0 smoke developed, and non-combustible, Class A)
Can be damaged during shipping if not properly protected
Mount access panel frame to studs/structure. Phantom panels contain full width embedments to receive screws anywhere, although 1" from the edge (in the center of the frame) is recommended. You can use a 7/16 standard drill bit and countersink a standard drywall screw until you hit the wooden embedment.
Install surrounding drywall.
Tape and fill the joint. All phantom panels come with a tape fin around the outside perimeter to easily fill and tape into the surrounding drywall. Sand and repeat as necessary per finish level required.
Paint. Painting will seamlessly blend the panel into the gypsum board.
UP Ceilings (Phantom Panels)
Wind-lock | Formglas (Stealth)
Castle Access Doors
Metal Access Panels
Metal drywall access panels are used on walls and ceilings and are typically made from 12-gauge / 14-gauge / 16-gauge galvanized steel, .064" aluminum, or stainless steel (un-insulated or insulated). The trim can vary in size but can range from 15/16 inch to larger. Some metal panels have a drywall flange for taping directing into the sheetrock. Expensive doors are laser cut while cheaper ones are stamped or welded. Metal access doors can also have a fire rating to act as a fire barrier.
Can come prime coated
Utilize pivoting rod hinge or piano hinge
Mounted with 1/4" mounting holes
Installs in ceilings or walls
Can be fire-rated with mineral wool insulation for a 2-hour fire barrier and 1.5 hour B-label.
Good for areas with high-heat
Can rust (especially cheap ones that use low quality metal alloys)
Can warp under pressure with the natural shifting and settling of the structure
Metal hinge can face issues of improper alignment
Frame/Flange creates visible eye-sore.
Required priming/painting with paint that adheres to metal, difficult to exact-match paint on surrounding drywall
The metal access panel frame has a lip that goes in to the opening / cavity you are covering. The lip is approximately 3/4" deep and has holes spaced periodically that allow you to screw it in place. These holes are not visible from the outside of the closed cover, when you open the panel, you'd see them on the lip that protrudes inside. You have to anchor it to inside the wall. You may also be able to bridge your wall cavity around the perimeter of your opening (framing the inside of the hole) with wood 2x4 or Aluminum channel and then anchor the access panel with screws.
Plastic Access Panels
Plastic access panels are typically small, cheap, and spring-loaded. Manufactured out of ABS plastic with a textured or smooth surface.
No exact measurements required
Installs in ceilings or walls
'Quick and dirty' installation for retrofitting access into finished drywall
Has visible flange
Warps overtime, creates shadow gaps between the plastic flange and the drywall
Feels and looks cheap
Low quality construction, mass produced in China
Creates visible eye-sore that takes away from the interior design aesthetic
Paint finish may not match surrounding drywall exactly (due to different substrates)
Cannot be used in areas with heat buildup
Cut appropriate size opening using frame as a template. Check for level. Apply construction adhesive to backside of frame flange. Fit frame into opening. Press flange against wall to ensure flat installation. After adhesive is set, snap door into place.
Oatley / Wallo / Morvat / Suteck
Disclaimer: This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.