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Popping Drywall Nails - Suggestions Please

I recently moved into a 1960s built home (Silver Spring, MD). I see that nails are popping out from walls and ceiling throughout the home. A small bulge appears and in weeks, it cracks open, exposing nail head. I used a punch, drove them in (just a tap). Nails appear to be very lose in their holes.

I hear random(5-15 per 24hrs) noises all the time, more if I change thermostat setting (say to 68 from 73 or hot day to cold night). Noises are like a snap/cracking whip or like when you try to remove old, stuck nail using claw hammer from wood or like expansion/contraction sounds of office buildings with large glass & aluminum side-walls.

I see attic insulation is weak (fiber glass, blown in, has compressed/settled to about 1.5 - 2 inches, bald at places) & not ventilated well, gets super hot inside.

I am inclined to think that temp variation, noises & nails popping are connected.

I am thinking of using drywall screws every where, options are:
1. Drive popped nails back in, put a new drywall screw, like 2" from nail.
2. Remove nail, as they pop, drive a matching sized screw into same hole.

I wish to have all problems solved...:D
any suggestions much appreciated, thanks

Re: Popping Drywall Nails - Suggestions Please

This is quite common when nails are used instead of screws. Optimally, you'd want to pull the old nails as they pop, then 2" above and below the old hole drive a new drywall screw.

You didn't mention wall texture, so we'll skip that part for now.

You can also try to push on the drywall with your hands, sort of lean into it, as to make more nail pops appear and speed the process. OR you can go hunting for them with a magnet, OR just wait until enough pop that it makes you want to fix a few at once.

Re: Popping Drywall Nails - Suggestions Please


Putting a drywall screw in, say an inch from each popped nail head should permanently correct the problem.

You don't need to know the rest:

Drywall nail pops are caused by exactly the same thing that causes squeeking floors.

When a tree is alive, both it's cell walls and cell interiors are full of a liquid that's similar to water. Once the tree is cut down, the moisture in the wood starts to evaporate. Initially, the moisture evaporates only from the cell interiors, and as long as the water evaporation is from the cell interiors, the wood simply gets lighter in weight.

Once all the water has evaporated from the cell interiors, continued drying results in the moisture content of the wood dropping below something called the "fiber saturation point". At the fiber saturation point, all the water is evaporated from the cell interiors, and continued drying results in water evaporating from the wood cell walls. As the cell walls lose water to evaporation, they become thinner and stiffer. The result is a dimensional change in the wood, as well as a strengthening of the wood. Wet wood will bend more easily because the cell walls are softer.

Now, as water evaporates from the cell walls, those cell walls become thinner, and that results in a dimensional change in the wood. In hardwoods, from a living tree condition to an oven dried condition, you can have up to 8 percent shrinkage in the wood. That's a full inch of thickness in a 2X12!

Also, since it's only the cell walls that become thinner, and wood cells are shaped like long drinking straws closed off at their ends, the shrinkage across the wood grain is very much larger than it is along the wood grain. And that's simply because there are so many more cell walls as one travels across the wood grain than there are along the wood grain.

Years ago when they built houses, the lumber was stored outside, and it got rained on. They would take wet studs or wet joists and nail them in, and cover with drywall and subflooring. As the wet joists dried out, a gap would gradually develop between the top of the joist and the underside of the subflooring. That gap was entirely the result of the wet wood drying out. However, when a person walked on that floor, the subflooring material would rub up and down on the nail, and it's the vibration of both the nail and the subflooring that causes floor squeeks in floors. To prevent this from happening, builders started to "glue and screw" subflooring down to the floor joists. The idea here is that the glue would hold the subflooring down to the top of the joist as the joist dried out and shrunk.

Drywall nail pops are exactly the same thing happening to drywall nails originally driven into wet wall studs.

However, now that the wall studs and ceiling joists in your house have fully dried out and have shrunk all they're gonna shrink, driving a drywall nail or screw in now will permanently fix the problem. That's because the wood is not going to shrink any more, and so there won't be any further gaps developing between the drywall and the dried studs or joists.

Also, since the wood shrinks across it's grain, not only do wall studs get thinner, but the wood on both sides of the nail gets thinner too. The result is that the wood no longer presses on the nail shank with the same force it once did, and this is why your popped nails are loose. You can drive those nails in deeper, but they may come loose again. If it were my house, I'd just pull those old nails out and put a drywall screw in beside each one.

Hope this helps.

Re: Popping Drywall Nails - Suggestions Please



I am inclined to think that temp variation, noises & nails popping are connected.

A lack of understanding is fertile ground for conjecture. Understanding makes everything simple and obvious.

One of the best resources on the internet when it comes to building construction and building materials is the University of Massachusettes at Amhurst Building and Construction Technology Program. You can find their web site here:


If you wait for the page to fully load, and hover over the "Publications" link, you'll be offered to peruse their list of construction and wood related publications listed alphabetically by title or by author. One of the publications that's no longer available on their web site was published in 1996 by Dr. Stephen Smulski who has since quit teaching and started his own consulting company. That paper fully explains wood shrinkage in simple English and you can find a copy of it here:


It's one paper that I believe EVERY newbie homeowner should read because understanding wood shrinkage is key to understanding a wide variety of problems that can occur in houses. If you read my previous post, then you've already got a good understanding of wood shrinkage, and should have no trouble reading the paper.

(Smulski kinda goes overboard in the section entitled "Diagnosing Diagonal Cracks" when he starts hypothesizing that cracks around windows are caused by wood shrinkage and suggesting people use round windows, so read that part with a healthy dose of scepticism. You want to pay attention to the other parts that deal with wood shrinkage directly and how it manifests itself in squeeky floors and drywall nail pops.)

Re: Popping Drywall Nails - Suggestions Please

When wood shrinks around a wire nail, it gets tighter, not looser. Windsor chair makers know this and use green wood for the seats and dry wood for the turnings. The shrinking hole grips the tenons the same way it tightens around the nail. Ever tried pulling, Oh, 10,000 nails from a barn that was framed with green oak lumber? I did that job this spring. There's nothing tighter than a nail driven in green oak.

You'll have to give this some thought, then explain rationally how a hole in green wood ends up bigger after the wood shrinks.

Re: Popping Drywall Nails - Suggestions Please
Sombreuil_mongrel wrote:

When wood shrinks around a wire nail, it gets tighter, not looser.

No, it's the other way around. When wood dries it shrinks, and that includes the wood on both sides of the nail. As the wood on both sides of the nail shrinks, it no longer grips the nail with the same force it originally had.

However, you have two opposing forces in play. If you drive a nail into wet wood, the shank of that nail can rust, and that rusting has the opposite effect. Not only will the shank of a rusted nail be rough to grip the hole better, but the rust itself takes up more space than the iron in that rust did.

I've seen studs where a "bump" formed around each nail driven into the stud. That was because the rust that formed on the nail made the shank of the nail rough and the roughness of the nail surface held the wood in it's swollen position as it dried.

Re: Popping Drywall Nails - Suggestions Please

*** casey why werent you able to explain what causes drywall pops in a 15,000 word essay like nestor :eek:. you should be ashamed being a tradesman and explaining it so bluntly

lol sorry couldnt resist

Re: Popping Drywall Nails - Suggestions Please

When drywall is hung, the normal procedure is to hang the ceiling first and then jamb the wall sections up tightly against the ceiling. The import of this, as to nail pops around the perimeter of the room, is that the nail can simply be removed, the wall panels are still holding up the ceiling edge. Out in the middle of the ceiling is another case, here I would put a drywall screw on both sides of the popping nail. I usually just pulled the old nail if it were easily grabable with a pliers. Otherwise , just drive it way in with a nailset. Drywall that has been sagging for sometime becomes like a spring and will resist being tightened up to the ceiling. You may have to prop it up tight to the ceiling as you get several screws in to hold it down tight.

I have to side with Nestor as to the nail hole getting larger as the wood dries. Ringshank or not, they can no longer hold their grip in the enlarged hole. Ceiling pops are more prevalent because of the downward weight of the drywall. On the walls, the weight is at right angles to the nail holding it.

Re: Popping Drywall Nails - Suggestions Please


As to your complaints about noises: I think you are probably correct that they are being generated by rubbing of materials during the expansion and contracting of surfaces with temperature and moisture variations. This is very common in new homes as they dry out initially.

You are definitely under-insulated and probably under ventilated. I would consult with several insulation firms about upgrading both insulation and venting. The pay back for insulation where there is little or none is only a couple years! It will not only save you money on heating, but keep you cooler, even if you are not using AC. I insulated my garage ceiling just to keep it from getting so hot in the summer when I work out there.

Since you have so little insulation up there, it might be a good time to go up there and seal all places where wiring and plumbing come up through the walls. The average house loses as much or more heat through air gaps as through insulation losses.

Re: Popping Drywall Nails - Suggestions Please

Let me keep it simple:

When nails pop out, replace them with drywall screws, not exactly in the same location, but 2" away. Slowly but surely you will stop hearing those terrible noises.

That's what I do, and it works.

Re: Popping Drywall Nails - Suggestions Please

Well, I've done some digging too, and I stand by my initial position; smooth shank nails driven into green wood LOOSE their holding power as the wood dries, everything else being equal.

Here's a web page from your US Department of Agriculture, Forestry Service, Forestry Products Laboratory:


Download chapter 8 of their "Wood Handbook" and on page 3 of Chapter 8 it says:

Effect of Seasoning
With practically all species, nails driven into green wood and pulled before any seasoning takes place offer about the same withdrawal resistance as nails driven into seasoned wood and pulled soon after driving. However, if common smooth-shank nails are driven into green wood that is allowed to season, or into seasoned wood that is subject to cycles of wetting and drying before the nails are pulled, they lose a major part of their initial withdrawal resistance. The withdrawal resistance for nails that are driven into wood that is subjected to changes in moisture content may be as low as 25% of the value for nails tested soon after driving. On the other hand, if the wood fibers deteriorate or the nail corrodes under some conditions of moisture variation and time, withdrawal resistance is eratic; resistance may be regained or increased over the immediate withdrawal resistance. However, such sustained performance should not be relied on in the design of a nailed joint.

In addition, look at this report from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute dated July, 1964. It claims that the style of nail used has an important influence on withdrawal resistance:


On page 3, it says:

It is a well known fact that plain-shank nails lose as much as four-fifths of their initial holding power during seasoning of the nailed lumber, while properly threaded nails retain or slightly increase their initial greater holding power under identical conditions.

This report purports to show that, unlike smooth shank nails, threaded nails driven into wet wood increase their withdrawal resistance as the wood dries. However, if you look at "Table 1" on the last page, the highest withdrawal resistance recorded is for a threaded nail driven through oak that had a 33.6 percent moisture content and was allowed to dry for 5 weeks. In that case, the anomolous 907 pound withdrawal force (which was nearly twice it's initial withdrawal resistance) was attributed to rusting of the nail shank inside the wet wood.

I certainly can't explain why threaded nails would behave differently than smooth shank nails in wet wood, but it's clear from the test results that rusting of the nail shank is a critical factor in determining the force required to pull the nail out once the wood has dried.

J. Kirk: Please don't read my posts.
I don't read yours.

Ordjen: You said:


Ceiling pops are more prevalent because of the downward weight of the drywall.

You'd think that ceiling pops would be less prevalent if gravity is helping to prevent them. Where am I screwing up in my thinking here?


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