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Covering the walls of your house with paneling has been commonplace for hundreds of years. At first it was an attempt to cover up damp and crumbling plasterwork. Unfortunately by doing this our ancestors were covering up the source of the damp, preventing ventilation, causing the wood paneling to become rotten and providing ideal conditions for the cultivation of fungal infestations such as dry rot. Nevertheless the practice continued for centuries in the houses of the nobility and later on in ordinary homes.
It wasn’t until the latter half of the twentieth century that wall paneling came into its own in ordinary houses as not only a ‘cover up’ but also as a decorative feature in its own right. This revolution occurred with the advent of modern manmade building materials that were rot-proof and an understanding of the lifecycle of various types of fungal infestations.
This is a method of covering a wall with panelling or using free standing panels as room dividers. Common materials used include:
Real wood boards. These can be made from cheap softwood or more expensive hardwood. The boards come in standard sizes ranging from 2” x ¼” up to about 4” x ½”. The lengths are standard lengths up to about 16’ long. The boards are moulded on the edges either as a tongue and groove joint or as a lap joint. The moulding profile on each board therefore:
The face of the boards can be decorated with:
The edges can be moulded to produce a tongue and groove or lap joint as with real wood boards. The shrinkage problem with real wood does not occur with laminated machined boards so the edges can be left as square cut butt joints. Panels made from wood provide good acoustic and thermal insulation.
Composite & other manmade materials. Many types of manmade materials can be used to produce wall paneling. The most common is PVC. The paneling can either come as boards of similar size as the real wood boards or as sheets similar to the laminated machined wood sheets. The choice depends on your specific application, the pattern of the decoration, the availability of each and the material chosen.
Metal. The use of sheet metal is a specialised application. Usually stainless steel sheet is used to provide an easily washable and sterile surface. Because of the high price it is usually reserved for catering establishments and hospitals. It provides a hard-wearing, easily cleaned and utilitarian surface. As well as stainless steel, more decorative metals can be used such as aluminium and copper.
Fabric. Fabric stretched over wooden frames can be used as wall panels. The variation of colour, pattern, texture and style is limited only by the imagination. From a practical viewpoint, fabric panels can be used as acoustic insulation.
Bagasse. This is a relatively new material for wall panels. It is made from the crushed fibres of sugarcane stalks after the raw sugar has been extracted. The cane is shredded and moulded into three dimensional textured wall panels. It is 100% recycled and fully compostable.
Tile. Ceramic tiles can be mounted onto a backing board and incorporated into a panelled wall either as a feature or a complete wall covering.
Vinyl covered gypsum. This is standard gypsum plasterboard covered in a vinyl coating. This gives a washable surface as well as having the advantages of gypsum board.
Drywall. Drywall and plasterboard sheets could be classed as wall paneling as they are fitted the same way and perform the same purpose, but for our discussion today we will not include this. There are other articles specifically aimed at the use of drywall and you are advised to find and read these if drywall is your choice.
We will discuss the pros and cons of these materials later on.
No matter what kind of panelling you choose, most of them have one thing in common; they are fixed to a frame, usually wood or metal. The wooden frame, known as stud walling, performs the following tasks:
Installing a stud wall suitable for mounting paneling is often done as a DIY project. I would however not recommend doing this as a DIY project unless you are experienced and understand properly the building practices used. There are many steps involved in building a stud wall and if they are not done properly can at the very least look untied and unfinished, and at the most serious, cause permanent damage to your home. I won’t go into the fine detail of how to build a stud wall as this is covered many times on many websites as well as being in plenty of reference books. What we are talking about today is the cost of fitting paneling and the factors which can alter the cost.
Before we talk about the cost factors, you need an understanding of the basic sequence of events when building a stud wall for paneling. The following steps go a little way to show how this can be done:
Use correctly treated wood. When using wooden studs, which are in contact with external concrete or brickwork walls and floors, use pressure treated wood to prevent the movement of moisture and the onset of rot.
Use the correct sizes. You intend to build a wall that will be strong enough to fulfill all the expectations of a proper wall. Unless your stud wall is load bearing (and you will need an architect or structural engineer to decide this) use 4” x 2” timber. It can be rough sawn or planed depending on choice. You will expect your stud wall to do all the following:
Damp-proof membrane. Use a membrane designed to prevent damp from moving from an external wall to the studs.
Keep everything vertical. All studs must be kept vertical at all times, not only parallel to the wall but also perpendicular. This ensures all angles between stud wall, floor and ceiling are kept at 90 degrees. Ensures the vertical edges of the paneling are always supported on vertical studs.
Horizontal timber pieces. There are two main horizontal timber lengths in a stud wall. One along the floor (called a floor plate) and one at the ceiling (called a ceiling plate). The ceiling plate must be vertically above the floor plate at all times with studs fixed between each plate. Each stud must be fitted to the plates by means of a lap joint and screws or nails. If you need to join horizontal plates then use lap joints there as well.
Between the vertical studs you need to insert short horizontal lengths of timber called noggins. These have three purposes:
Openings in the wall. Sometimes there will be openings within the wall, such as for doors, windows etc. It is extremely important that the openings are lined with appropriately sized and placed studs and noggins, followed by a lining which will carry the door or window frame.
As you can see there are many operations requiring advanced and specialised knowledge of building codes, building practices, damp proofing and joinery methods. As with all specialist work, you will expect to pay an appropriate amount for someone else’s knowledge and time.
You may ask the question “Why use paneling in the first place?”
The answer to this depends on a number of options either taken individually or together.
Disguise. You may have features within the room that you dislike or that do not match with your décor and are too difficult or expensive to remove. Examples of these could be:
Altering existing walls. You may have existing walls that need changing such as:
Installing hidden utilities. If you are retro-fitting utilities such as electrical cables, gas or water pipes and it is too difficult to install these within the existing wall, then it is possible to build a false wall to hide the services.
Hygiene. Some walls require an easily washable surface such as those in a food preparation area or a surgical room. In this case it is an easy job to cover the existing wall with panels made from suitable materials.
Wet rooms. Residential rooms that are regularly exposed to moisture such as bathrooms and shower rooms will need paneling able to protect the existing surface from moisture retention.
Waterproofing. Some walls need extra waterproofing membranes such as basements and outbuildings. A panelled wall will disguise these membranes and provide a method of support.
Insulation. Some rooms need additional acoustic and thermal insulation. Suitable insulation materials can be hidden behind panels.
Splashbacks. Kitchen walls, above sinks and cookers, require protection from splashed water and grease. Choose the panel materials that can withstand hot water and grease splashes as well as radiant heat from hotplates.
Cover up. Some walls, especially those in old houses or those that have suffered from damp, often have crumbling plaster that can only be remedied by complete re-plastering. It is a much easier job to erect a wall panel instead.
Stains. Sometimes, oil based stains cannot be covered by normal household paints. Cover the stubborn stain with a panel instead.
Protection from damage. The lower sections of walls can often be damaged by knocks and other impacts. By covering the lower sections with protective panels you can prevent damage to plasterwork. A typical example of this is in hospital corridors where trolley beds can easily collide with walls causing severe damage.
Décor change. Sometimes there may be nothing wrong with your walls at all. It’s just that you want to change the style of decoration and incorporate some panelling rather than paint and wallpaper.
Literally any wall can be covered with panels. It will be better however if you can use them for a specific reason rather than on a whim. If nothing else it will justify the time and money spent on the job. As mentioned earlier the typical reasons are to hide, protect or enhance the walls beneath. You can use panels for other reasons such as matching a bath panel. Giving character and a certain atmosphere to your room is another common reason.
Earlier in this article we talked about some of the different materials used to create wall panels. Now we delve deeper into some of the more common types of panel and discuss their advantages and disadvantages.
Chipboard. Chipboard sheets are fabricated from woodchips bonded together with glue, pressure and heat until they form a rigid sheet. Chipboard is relatively cheap and readily available from home improvement centres, builder’s merchants and online. Waterproof grade (known as flooring grade) is available as well as non-waterproof, depending on the type of glue used in the bonding process. As well as variations in the glue, there are also differences in density;
Normal. Cheap to buy, but fragile and thin.
Medium. Slightly more expensive than ‘normal’ density and slightly stronger.
High. High density chipboard is thicker, more solid and the most expensive to buy.
Natural wood. These panels have the beauty of natural wood as well as having good acoustic and thermal insulation properties. There are no grout lines to discolour and collect dirt and they are easy to replace or repair if they become damaged. They can be sanded down and given a new top coat of sealer if their appearance fades or they become scratched. Individual panels can be replaced without damaging other panels if the damage is severe. Disadvantages include their susceptibility to damp. Wooden panels are not waterproof and will eventually rot if in contact with water, likewise if kept in an air-conditioned room they will lose their inherent moisture and dry out causing cracks and shrinkage. Wood panels need a lot of maintenance to keep looking good and need regular sealing.
Medium Density Fibreboard. Commonly known as MDF, this material is a composite wood product formed by compressing the wood fibres with a formaldehyde resin under extremes of heat and pressure. It is cheap and can be made to appear like real wood if stained and sealed. It is therefore a good cheap alternative to real wood panels. Structurally however it is brittle and does not have the strength of real wood so it can split and crack under load. MDF is difficult to fix properly and takes longer than wood or chipboard. If there are not enough fixing nails then the board can sag, and when nails are used in MDF, a small bump is formed requiring the surface to be sanded smooth.
Fabric. Fabric panels give the room a soft and quiet atmosphere. There are thousands of different styles, patterns, textures and colours you can choose from. These are ideal on otherwise smooth and hard walls and give the impression of informality. If the panels are upholstered then you will increase the acoustic deadening properties. Make sure the fabric used is non-flammable; otherwise the panels constitute a very serious fire hazard.
PVC. These panels are durable, fire resistant, waterproof, and hygienic and do not need a lot of maintenance. Commonly used in bathrooms, shower rooms, kitchens and hospitals. Can be bought either with a glossy or a matte finish. They do not attract dust so good for people with dust allergies. PVC is easy to cut and install.
PVC covered gypsum. These boards are extremely fire resistant and hard wearing. These are often used in public buildings where fire resistant grade building materials are required. They have acoustic insulation properties and are very easy to install.
It probably would be easier to list the styles that are not available. Modern technology allows almost any type of surface appearance imaginable. Melamine laminates allow surfaces to be designed that can replicate the appearance of any stone or wood surface. Designers can reuse styles from history or other parts of the world such as classical, colonial, Victorian, Art Deco, oriental to name but a few. Whatever style you wish to use can be accommodated. Some may be more expensive than others depending on the popularity and materials.
The factors which affect the cost of paneling out your room will include:
Condition of the existing walls. If the existing walls are uneven or of poor quality then it is better to batten them or build a separate stud wall on which to mount the panels. Otherwise it is possible to install directly on top of the existing walls.
Projections and corners. Projections on the wall such as chimney breasts will increase your wall area. External and internal corners can cause wastage as panels will need to be cut.
Length of wall run. If the length of wall does not coincide with an exact multiple of panel widths then in order for symmetry to be maintained, some panels may need to be cut at either end of the wall. This increases wastage.
Concealing services. The position of electrical power points and switches together with radiator pipes will increase the time taken to install the panels. Even if the wall is in good condition, it may be worthwhile making a false stud wall behind which to hide the services.
Style considerations. Aesthetically the paneling will look better if the panel height is one third or two thirds of the height of the room. Obviously if you have reasons to panel to the ceiling then this will not apply. Likewise if you have dado rails or picture rails installed then you should run the panels to the lower edge of the rails.
Plan the layout. It is possible, if you prepare a scale drawing of your wall, to reuse the offcuts. Often there are ‘out of the way’ corners where these offcuts can be located.
Quality of product. Obviously the manufacturing quality of the panel will greatly affect the purchasing price.
Contractors. The standard of the contractor’s work quality will affect the total cost of the project. Obviously, you want the best job done but sometimes the best contractors are priced way above your budget level. In this case it is always wise to hire the best you can afford. At the other end of the spectrum, some householders will hire an interior designer to design and manage the entire project. Most interior designers will act as project managers and will also cost the job for you as well as hiring the subcontractors to do the work.
Other factors which affect the cost of projects in general are:
Permits. Check with your local planning department for any permits that may be required for your project.
Drawings. If you intend hiring a contractor you will need professionally produced drawings showing all dimensions to ensure the contractor does what is required. The drawings will need to be done by an architect.
Access. How difficult is it to access the room where you want your paneling. Basements and attics will be especially awkward and will increase the time needed to complete the work. Remember you will also need a working area where the contractor can cut lengths of timber for the studs and paneling sheets to fit the wall area. It may be better to allow wood machining outside or in the garage to keep the wood dust away from the house. If so allow extra time for walking to and from the workroom.
Locality. Where you live will have a major effect on how easy it is to complete the tasks. You may live many miles from civilisation. You may live in the middle of the city. Both scenarios have their own problems such as travelling time, parking and vehicle accessibility.
Time of year. Good contractors will always have plenty of work, but some months are better than others. Summer months are better for outside work and winter months are better for inside work. Don’t be surprised if you find that the contractor’s price for installing your panels changes depending on the time of year.
Fixings. The type of existing wall you have has a direct effect on the cost to install panels. Let us consider a typical basement. You have good flat walls made from reinforced concrete. You need to somehow drill fixing holes into hard reinforced concrete. Depending on the strength of the concrete, you can wear out quite a few drill bits trying to make holes deep enough for fixing screws. It is even worse if your drill bit finds a section of the steel reinforcing bar hidden within the concrete. It is almost impossible to drill through that and the location of the hole will need to change. A lot of time can be wasted trying to drill good fixing holes. If this is the case it may be worthwhile enquiring as to what other types of fixings methods are available, such as special adhesives.
Services. No matter how easy it is to install a stud wall, you will always find that the presence of electrical cables, water pipes and air conditioning ducts always adds extra time to a usually straightforward job. Not only extra time but extra materials will be needed as well. While your electrical circuit is being modified, why not ensure you have more than enough electrical power points installed? You can also include Ethernet cables to add the hobby room to the home computer network and co-axial cables to connect a TV to the rest of the house.
Damp-proofing. If you are intending to panel out your basement to make a hobbies room or home cinema room, you want to ensure your den remains dry and warm. If you find you have to drill into concrete walls and floors in order to make a good fixing, be aware that you may be either breaching a perfectly good damp-proof membrane or find that the concrete didn’t have a damp-proof layer in the first place. Always make sure that wood in contact with concrete is pressure treated to withstand rot, use rust-proof fixings and cover the concrete surfaces with damp-proof bitumen or asphalt foundation paint before installing the stud wall. Include air vents into your panels both at the top and bottom to allow free flow of air preventing condensation from forming.
Insulation. Don’t forget to include the cost of buying and installing insulation behind your false wall. Thermal insulation will prevent the room from losing heat and acoustic insulation will prevent either your noisy hobby from disturbing other members of the family or their noisy lifestyle from disturbing your peace and quiet.
Prices of various types of panelling will vary with material and size. Look on your favourite home improvement retailer’s website for the prices near to where you live. You can see in the table below typical prices of different types of paneling.
|Plywood panelling||96” x 48” x 0.7”||$32|
|MDF panelling. Wood effect||32 sq. ft||$20|
|Hardboard wall panelling||48” x 96” x 0.25”||$26|
|Fibreglass reinforced PVC panel. White||48” x 96” x 1/16” (32 sq. ft)||$20|
|Red cedar flake board||16” x 48” x 0.25”||$20|
|PVC tongue & groove panel. White. Pack of 5.||16” x 96” x 3/8”||$125|
|PVC decorative wall panel. Metallic copper finish.||48” x 96” x 0.028” (32 sq. ft)||$280|
|Aluminium sheet. Silver colour||36” x 36” x 0.019”||$22|
|Steel galvanised.||24” x 36” x 30 gauge||$10|
|Wood composite||48” x 96” x 0.25”||$30|
|Hardboard laminated panel||48” x 96” x 0.2”||$10|
Paneling isn’t the only cost involved. Typical examples of other items are shown in the next table.
|Pressure treated construction timber||96” X 4” x 2”||$5|
|Insulation board. R-10 Closed cell rigid foam.||48” x 96” x 2”||$35|
|Fibreglass insulation roll. R-13||15” x 32ft x 3.5”||$17|
|Rockwool Insulation batts. R-15||15.25” x 47” x 3.5”||$43|
|Asphalt membrane. roll||18” x 50ft||$65|
|Asphalt liquid foundation coat.||4.75 gallon||$50|
Speciality contractors will be an added asset to your project and anyway you must use electricians and plumbers for their respective trades.
|Carpenter||$70 to $100|
|Electrician||$65 to $100|
|Plumber||$45 to $150|
Other costs involved with fitting panelling include a range of tools needed to do the job:
Other costs incurred will be for safety equipment. Although necessary, these will cost a fraction of the materials cost and will continue to be available for other projects.
No matter how cheap or expensive your paneling will be, you and your contractor must always adhere to basic safety rules. The rules of safety are not difficult to remember, they are basic common sense.
Never use mains electrical equipment where either you or the tool may come in contact with water.
If drilling into a wall, floor or ceiling, be aware of possible hidden electrical cables and water pipes. Use a cable and pipe detector if possible.
Use a dust mask when cutting wood, fibreglass or gypsum board or doing any operation causing dust.
If possible, provide adequate ventilation when using a saw or drill.
Provide adequate ventilation when using oil based paints, sealants and solvents.
Be careful of trailing electrical extension cables.
If using a ladder, always ensure it is fixed at the top and bottom and cannot slip.
Contractors that specialise in wall paneling will have carpentry skills. Anyone cutting panels will need to be able to accurately use a saw and keep the exposed face clean and free from scratches. Basic carpentry or joinery skills as well as an understanding of loadbearing walls will be required when building a stud wall.
When you look for a carpenter there are many good methods of finding a competent and trustworthy worker.
Ask your family, friends or neighbours for recommendations to a qualified carpenter.
Don’t forget to use social media. This is always a good way to get recommendations.
Ask your local city planning department. They may not be able to recommend anyone specific so as not to show favouritism but they will be able to advise you on whether someone has a bad reputation.
Ask at your local home improvement centre. Many contractors leave business cards on the notice board.
Remember that everyone’s standards are different and what may be acceptable quality for one person may not be acceptable for another. Also remember that just because a carpenter is good at hanging doors, does not mean that their panel installing skills are equally as good. No matter how many recommendations a contractor has, it is up to you to decide whether to hire their services or not.
There are certain questions you can ask to get more of an idea of his or her standard of work and overall competency. Make a list of people recommended to you and get in touch to ask your questions.
You can get a reasonable idea of their competency by listening to their answer.
I know this sounds corny but it is what you want to know. You are trying to find out if the contractor knows the methods and procedures but mainly the problems involved in fitting panels and how to get around them.
A good contractor will have insurance to cover breakages, accidents, death and negligence. Make sure that everything that could go wrong has been insured against. Don’t take their word for it either. Find out their insurance provider and policy number and find out for yourself.
The contractor should provide some sort of after sales service in case the work needs touching up after he has left site. Likewise the material must be of a recognised brand and have a guarantee against poor quality. Check the manufacturer’s website and make sure the product is being installed as they specify.
If the contractor is a recognised contractor he will have no problem organising permits. The proposed work inside your house may need to comply with local and state building codes and regulations. If the contractor does find out for you, make sure you have the list of required permits in writing.
There are a number of things which need to happen before the job starts so make sure you have a realistic timeline mapped out in your head.
You will want the job to finish as soon as possible with as little upheaval as possible. You therefore need reassurance that the contractor and his employees will put in a good day’s work and not disappear to the beach on a good day.
You will want to see some of the contractor’s work to assess the quality for yourself. Ask for three or four references nearby that you can contact and maybe visit. Questions to ask include:
After finding out as much as you can about the shortlist of contractors, invite them to visit the site (separately) and give their opinion of the job. Have they any ideas to improve the proposed finished product? Ask for a quotation for doing the work and make sure the quotation includes:
You will be paying out a substantial amount of money for the work to be done and you are trusting a complete stranger into your home. The least you can do is ensure all the paperwork is in order.
A good and reputable contractor will require the following:
Qualifications & training. The contractor will require the appropriate training and experience to ensure he can do the job properly. Find out if he is a member of any trade associations.
Certification. Some areas of the country require that a contractor is certified and other areas have no such requirement. If you aren’t sure, ask at city hall or your nearest state building codes office.
License. Your contractor will definitely need a contractor’s licence. If any speciality contractors are needed for work such as electrical or plumbing, you must make sure they have the appropriate licence as well. It is an offence to allow anyone to do this kind of work without a licence.
Insurance. Every reputable contractor must have insurance to cover the following :
We have seen in this article the advantages of having panelled walls in your house. They can cover up a multitude of problems with your existing walls as well as provide a fashionable statement about your interior design sense. As well as the purely decorative reasons for having panels installed, there are many practical reasons as well. Depending on the style and material of the panels you can have:
The list goes on and on. No matter what you choose to do in a room, there will always be a style or material suitable to improve the walls and enhance the purpose.
We have looked at some of the costs involved with buying different types of paneling material as well as the cost involved with providing a supporting false wall suitable for mounting your panels. We have talked about ensuring the damp proof membrane is unbroken and adding both acoustic and thermal insulation behind your wall. And don’t forget the ventilation either.
We talked about the cost of hiring a contractor and how to go about finding one who, we hope, will not rip you off. We talked about the licences and permits you might need and how to specify a basic contract with your contractor. Just in case you were interested in making this a DIY project, we also talked a bit about that and went through the various steps needed to build a sturdy stud wall suitable for mounting your panels. Remember that you will need far more advanced carpentry skills than I could list in this article.
However you decide to do this job, whether as a DIY or with a contractor I hope you have found the information today interesting and useful.