15th Jan 2024 -

Installing an access panel provides a clean, discreet way to access and control utilities, wiring and plumbing. In this comprehensive guide, we walk through the process of preparing for and installing an access panel.

From measuring to cutting the opening to applying joint compound, we cover all the key steps to follow. With the right materials and proper technique, you can install panels and gain access to hidden spaces while maintaining the aesthetic of your wall, floor or ceiling. 

What is the purpose of an access panel? 

Access panels or access hatches are installed in walls, ceilings and floors to allow entry into closed spaces. They provide easy access to utilities, wiring, plumbing, ductwork and structures that are hidden behind finished surfaces. The ideal access panel type depends on the application, location and surface material. Learn more about access panel types with our informative article.

How to install access panels - 9 steps

The installation process is largely similar across different types of access panels. However, small adjustments must be made depending on the panel material. Below, we outline the step-by-step installation instructions for access hatches and any differences between panel types.

Step 1 - Collect tools and materials

Here is a list of everything you will need to successfully carry out each step.

Access panelsMeasuring tape
Spirit levelCordless drill
Reciprocating saw or jigsawScrewdriver
Stud finderTile saw (for tile access panel)
PaintbrushPutty knife and utility knife
Screws and anchorsTile adhesive
Joint compound (for plasterboard)Sandpaper
Primer (for metal access panel)Paint (for plasterboard/plastic access panel)

Step 2 - Measure and mark opening

Use a stud finder to mark stud locations. Measure and mark the opening approximately 10mm larger than the panel on all sides. For a ceiling access panel, ensure the opening spans two joists and has adequate clearance above. With a floor access panel, make sure the subfloor is properly supported below the opening area.

Step 3 - Cut out the opening

When working with a plasterboard access panel, use a drywall saw or utility knife to cut through the marked opening. However, with a metal access panel, be sure to use a reciprocating saw. A tile saw should be used with a tile access panel and adjusted to the depth of the tiles.

Step 4 - Prepare the framing

Next, you should secure wood framing around the rough opening on walls or ceilings between the studs or joists. If you are installing a floor access panel, add bracing below to support the access panel frame properly.

Step 5 - Install the panel frame

​​Install the specific panel frame according to manufacturer instructions. Secure hinged drywall or tile frames directly to the prepared framing using provided screws, or welding, bolting or metal frames to the opening.

Step 6 - Attach the access panel 

Attach the access panel to the installed frame correctly. For hinged panels, connect to the frame and test the operation. Latching panels help the panel secure and sit flush against the frame.

Step 7 - Tape and finish seams

Tape and finish the seams around the panel to match the surface. Apply seam tape and joint compound for plasterboard access panels. Grout around the edges for tile or install trim pieces or weatherstripping for metal panels.

Step 8 - Apply final coat and finish

Complete the final coat and any finishing work needed such as applying the final joint compound coat on drywall and smoothing the surface, or priming and painting metal panels and trim.

Step 9 - Seal and test panel

​​Seal around panel edges with caulk or sealant if needed for an airtight installation. Be sure to open and close the panel multiple times to confirm the access panel works smoothly. 

What are the common issues when installing access panels?

No matter how careful the installation, access panels can sometimes have flaws. In this section, we cover the typical problems that can arise when installing access panels and provide solutions to address them. 

Uneven edges

  • Issue: Applying joint compound unevenly or failing to sand and blend the edges adequately can leave visible seams around the panel.
  • Solution: Carefully apply thin, even coats of joint compound extending several inches beyond the panel edges. Feather out each coat and allow proper drying time in between applications. Thoroughly sand the entire area with fine-grit sandpaper once dry to create a flush, smooth transition. Make sure to blend the joint compound several inches beyond the panel borders.

Difficult to open or close

  • Issue: Panels can bind or stick if warped during installation or if tracks contain debris.
  • Solution: Ensure the panel was not warped when securing to the framing. Clean out tracks on panels to remove any dirt or dried joint compound. You should lightly sand any rough edges on the panels. 

Cracks in joint compound

  • Issue: Joint compound drying too quickly or improper curing can cause cracks or gouges after sanding.
  • Solution: Carefully sand out any cracked areas, wiping away dust. Reapply a thin coat of joint compound 2-3 inches beyond the cracks and allow it to dry properly for 24-48 hours. Sand again lightly and blend the edges. Prime and paint before normal use. 

Air or dust leaks

  • Issue: Gaps between the panel edges and wall can allow air leakage after installation.
  • Solution: Once an inspection hatch is fully secured, run a bead of silicone sealant around all outer edges to seal gaps. Smoothly apply the sealant with a putty knife for a clean finish.

Visible seams

  • Issue: Any gaps between the access hatch and drywall edge or inadequate taping can cause visible seams even after the joint compound is applied.
  • Solution: Verify the panel is properly aligned and secured in the opening. If seams are still visible, remove old tape and re-tape joints with new drywall seam tape, pressing firmly into place. Spread a thin layer of joint compound over the tape and let dry completely before additional coats. Apply 2-3 more coats of feathering out at least 8 inches from the seam.

Access panel not sitting flush

  • Issue: If the cutout opening is slightly off or the walls are uneven, the hatch or access panel door may not sit flush.
  • Solution: Double-check the dimensions and re-measure the opening. Use shims if needed between the panel frame and studs to adjust fit. Shim all 4 sides evenly and secure the panel flush.

Paint touch-up issues

  • Issue: Touch-ups may be visible if the area is not properly prepped and primed.
  • Solution: Lightly sand any flaws in the joint compound before painting. Apply primer to any sanded spots and repaint using a small brush. Work in small sections to blend in touch-ups. 

Do you need to maintain access panels?

Whether it is a small or large access hatch, proper maintenance steps are important to follow. This is to ensure it continues functioning smoothly and blending seamlessly into the surrounding surface. However, the maintenance needs can vary depending on the material.

  • Metal access panels: Metal panels generally require less maintenance than other materials. It is recommended to inspect yearly and check for any rust or corrosion, particularly on panels installed in damp locations like bathrooms. Use a metal polish or protective sealant on the surface if needed.
  • Plasterboard access panels: These should be repainted periodically to match any changes in wall colour over time. Inspect every 1-2 years for any cracks in joint compound or paint. Be sure to make repairs and touch-up paint as needed.
  • Plastic access panels: Unfortunately, plastic panels are prone to warping and cracking over time. Inspect panels annually for any bends, cracks or breaks. Use silicone adhesive to re-attach any loosened edges. Make sure to replace the panel if the damage is beyond repair.
  • Tile access panels: Tile requires diligent grout maintenance. Inspect for missing or cracked grout around the panel every 6 months. Re-grout as needed to prevent moisture damage. Seal grout annually for waterproofing. You should ensure the tile remains level.

Shop our extensive access panel range today

At Building Materials Nationwide, we offer a comprehensive selection of high-quality access panelsto meet both residential and commercial project needs. Our range includes large or small access panel options featuring durable construction and excellent seamless fits in a variety of materials. Whether you need a 1-3 hour fire-rated wall access panel, a white loft hatch or a heavy-duty solution, we have got you covered.

We make the process fast and easy for you to source all the tools and materials you need. Our trade accounts allow you to shop all items at competitive trade prices. Subject to eligibility, you can even buy products through our trade credit account scheme. Orders are promptly delivered across the UK, directly to your home or job site. Let us supply all the access panels and other building materials for your next project. To get started, sign up today or contact us to find out more.

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