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Best Drywall Access Panel: Compare Metal, Plastic, and Fiberglass (GFRG)

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:

  1. Fiberglass (GFRG) mud-in access panels

  2. Metal access panels

  3. 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.


Features:

  • 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

Pros:

  • 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)

Cons:

  • Can be damaged during shipping if not properly protected

Installation:

  1. 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.

  2. Install surrounding drywall.

  3. 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.

  4. Paint. Painting will seamlessly blend the panel into the gypsum board.

Manufacturers:

  • UP Ceilings (Phantom Panels)

  • Intex Forms

  • Wind-lock | Formglas (Stealth)

  • Karp

  • Castle Access Doors


Purchase GFRG Access Panels online >


Purchase GFRG Access Panels on Amazon >



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.


Features:

  • Visible frame

  • Can come prime coated

  • Utilize pivoting rod hinge or piano hinge

  • Mounted with 1/4" mounting holes

  • Installs in ceilings or walls

Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • 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

Installation:


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.


Manufacturers:

  • Babcock-Davis

  • Acudor

  • Elmdor

  • EASTMAN

  • Tough Guy

  • Watts

  • Grainger Approved

  • Bestcare


Purchase Metal Access Panels on Amazon >



Plastic Access Panels


Plastic access panels are typically small, cheap, and spring-loaded. Manufactured out of ABS plastic with a textured or smooth surface.


Features:

  • No exact measurements required

  • Installs in ceilings or walls

Pros:

  • Inexpensive

  • 'Quick and dirty' installation for retrofitting access into finished drywall

Cons:

  • 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

Installation:


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.


Manufacturers:

  • Acudor

  • Elmdor

  • Fluidmaster

  • Everbilt

  • EASTMAN

  • Oatley / Wallo / Morvat / Suteck


Purchase Plastic Access Panels on Amazon >

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