Installing Wall Paneling
In the 1960’s and ’70’s, home centers had an abundant supply of wall paneling. It was everything retailers could do to keep the shelves stocked to meet the ferocious demand of consumers looking for an easy-to-install and affordable means of dressing up otherwise barren walls in their homes.
During that era, hardwood flooring, short pile carpeting and plaster or wallboard walls were out and wall-to-wall shag carpeting and paneling were the rage. Across the land, American’s were covering stark walls with rich-looking wall paneling of varying wood species, styles and shades – albeit mostly dark. Thus, decorating trends changed from perusing paint chips to wowing over wood paneling species such as walnut, oak, pine and birch – to name a few.
Still there were other decisions, species aside. Should the paneling be grooved, and if so, which pattern? Stain, what shade or a natural finish. For some, finishing the paneling defeated their reason for choosing wall paneling in the first place. This “set it and forget it” mentality fueled the synthetic “photo finish vinyl” counterpart to natural wood veneer paneling. What consumers have discovered (as they have with vinyl siding) is that nothing is totally maintenance free and when tastes and trends change, the vinyl finish cannot be successfully painted or papered over.
Before minivans and SUV’s, the back end of the family station wagon or bed of a pick up truck served as the vessel for transporting sheet upon sheet of wall paneling from the home center to home central, where enthusiastic do-it-yourselfers undertook an interior face-lift project that would forever change the look of their homes. That is until the 80’s and 90’s when they grew tired of raking their avocado green shag carpet and discovered that their paneling absorbed the precious natural light making their homes feel dark and unpleasant.
Consequently, home improvement retailers experienced a noticeable drop in wall paneling sales. However, the register was ringing up a storm in the paint and wallpaper department as do-it-yourselfers sought ways to brighten up their homes without removing the paneling. Thus, consumers traded their hammers and panel adhesive for detergent and a scrub brush – the materials necessary to degloss the paneling and cover it with paint or wallpaper.
What comes around goes around. Hardwood floor is more popular than ever, variegated shag carpeting is back, wallpaper is increasingly popular and homeowners again are singing the praise for natural wood finishes – wall paneling included. What’s different today? It’s not all about one finish or the other – it’s about a blend of finishes throughout the home. Some hardwood here, a little wall-to-wall carpeting there and a clever combination of paint, wallpaper and paneling can go a long way in creating the perfect space.
Attitudes about paneling quality have changed too. Where synthetic wall paneling was once the rage due to its low cost, easy maintenance and abrasion resistance, discriminate do-it-yourselfers are being less cost-conscious and more appearance-aware as they opt for the rich look of natural veneers.
As with any finish building product, material is only half the battle. Installation quality is the other component that ensures a top notch project. It seems like just about everyone knew how to install wall paneling in the 70’s and 80’s. It appears, however, to have become a lost art as popularity waned. Now, that it’s back in good grace among do-it-yourselfers, we offer the following wall paneling installation tips to make your paneling project easier and more enjoyable.
First, a partial sheet of plywood or a couple of studs draped across a couple of sawhorses offers solid support and makes the job of sawing the paneling easier and safer. To prevent the material from splintering, use a fine-tool hand saw or circular saw blade when trimming paneling. If the paneling will run from floor to ceiling, leave a half-inch gap between the bottom of the paneling and the floor to allow for movement and expansion.
There are two means of fastening paneling – paneling nails and/or adhesive. You may opt to use one or both. Though an adhesive-installed paneling job (sans nails) can be more attractive since no nail heads are exposed, be prepared for substantial wallboard repair should you ever decide to remove the paneling.
Begin hanging the paneling in a corner and work you way around the room. Establish a vertical or “plumb” line about 47 inches (a standard sheet is 48 inches wide) out from the corner, which will allow you to “scribe” the material to shape of the corner and trim it using a saw. Matching trim can be installed at corners, the floor and ceiling to conceal less-than-perfect joints.
When using panel adhesive, squeeze a generous amount in a serpentine pattern on the wall where the paneling will be installed. Hold the adhesive back a few inches from the perimeter so that it doesn’t ooze into the joints. Allow the adhesive to sit for a few minutes until it becomes tacky. Put the first sheet of paneling into place, carefully aligning it with the plumb line, press the entire sheet against the wall firmly embedding it into the adhesive. Drive a couple of paneling nails at either corner of the two top corners to prevent the sheet from slipping. Drive additional nails at six inch centers along the top and bottom edge of the paneling. If you will also be nailing the paneling in the field, now would be the time to do it before the adhesive sets up.
With the first sheet of paneling firmly in place, butt the next sheet up against the first (leaving about a dimes width between panels for expansion) and repeat the process with each successive sheet. Install corner trim and baseboard using a miter saw and panel nails. Hint: use as dark paint on the walls behind the joints to make the connections less obvious.
Make cutting out for electrical outlets and switches an easy job by ruing the edges of the box with chalk and press the back of the panel against it before applying the adhesive. Drill a pilot hole and use as jigsaw to make cut outs for outlets. Use a utility with as sharp blade to score the line before cutting to prevent splintering.