Painting Paneling: Contractor Gives Tips on Painting over Paneling

Paneled walls are staging a bit of a retro comeback. However, chances are if you have 30-year-old wood paneling, it doesn't look cool or retro, but dark and dated. How can you update the look? You have several options.

Removing It
Sometimes paneling has been attached directly to the studs. If this is the case, removing it will be easy. You'll have to hang new sheetrock and remove and replace the trim, but you'll essentially have a new room.

If the paneling has been glued to the underlying walls, the damage caused by removal may require extensive wall repair. Similarly, if your home is older with plaster walls, the paneling may have been hung to hide crumbling plaster. Figure out what's behind the paneling and decide how much work you want to invest.

Top Coat It
If it is securely attached and you don't want it to look like painted paneling but like regular walls, it can be top coated with drywall mud.

You will need to clean and prime the walls with a good bonding primer. Caulk gaps. Skim coat to hide seams, grooves and irregularities. I do not recommend trying to achieve a perfect, smooth finish. Apply a texture; it's quite easy and you can be creative. Take extra care along baseboards and around trim for a clean look. Prime and paint with two coats of your desired finish.

Wallpaper It
Clean and prime the paneling. Using a wallpaper liner is the key to your success. You can buy this at any wall covering store. Make sure to hang it horizontally. Hang the wallpaper as directed. Consider textured or paintable wallpaper.

Painting Directly Over the Paneling
Painting directly over the paneling is your easiest option. Follow these steps:

  1. If necessary, use finish nails to tack down uneven seams.
  2. Wash it down with a grease-cutting detergent or trisodium phosphate (TSP).
  3. Prime with a good bonding primer.
  4. Caulk gaps and seams, and fill and sand holes. If the paneling has a grainy texture, use your finger to fill little holes so you don't create big flat spots.
  5. Finish with two coats of good latex paint. I suggest flat paint, because the flatter the finish, the less irregularities will show. Most good paint companies now carry excellent washable flat paint.
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