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I haven’t the slightest idea why someone would want to install wood paneling in a house, but I see it most often in older homes that were built prior to the 70’s.  Often I find that an older couple lived in the house since it was built, and they decided to take the easy way out and install wood paneling over their aging plaster walls.  Plaster walls may crack and start to show signs of wear and tear over the years, and instead of just plastering the walls again, the homeowners decided, “Hey, let’s throw this ugly pale green wood paneling up throughout the house!”  Bonus points for choosing the paneling with intricate designs of woodland animals randomly strewn across the wall.  Nothing screams home décor like seeing little bears and deer frolicking across my living room wall.

 I had to decide at that point where I was going to go with this wall remodeling job.  I had a few options:

  1. I could tear out the wood paneling and patch the plaster beneath it.
  2. I could just rip out all of the paneling and the plaster and hang new drywall so I can have a brand new finished wall.
  3. I could just paint the paneling and see how it turns out. 
Let's start by evaluating option number 1 shall we?

Once you start tearing out wood paneling, you can’t turn back.  Why would you want to turn back, you might ask?  You just never know what you are going to find behind the wood paneling.  I imagine all I am going to have to do is toss up some new plaster, spread it around to match texture call a few painters in Belleville IL and I’m done right?  Well, once you start, you have to commit to fixing whatever you find behind it, and you could be opening yourself up to an incredible amount of work.  So before we pull out our hammers and pry bars, let’s first evaluate our other options!  

Let us consider starting fresh!

  Maybe you are just itching to throw a sledge hammer through a wall.  I can’t say I don’t blame you.  One thing I enjoy doing is gutting an old house down to the studs and starting over!  Last time I checked, drywall was around $9 for a 4’ X 8’ sheet, so it really is not too expensive to start with a new drywall finishing project.  Some downsides to this is the drywall finishing process.  If you are not familiar with finishing drywall (mudding and taping) then you might end up having to pay someone to finish it, which depending on where you are it could be expensive.  If you don’t mind your house being in a state of construction for a week or so, you could go this route to have a brand new wall!  Painters in Belleville IL can come in and quickly paint a new wall without having to apply a substantial amount of primer.

I wonder what it would look like if I just painted the paneling?

Disclaimer alert, I ended up going with this route.  If you have never painted wood paneling there are some things you need to consider.  Priming the wall is extremely important.  I once tried to use a water based primer and ended up putting on 4 coats before I stopped seeing the wood bleed through.  The bleed through is often caused by the tannins in the wood paneling, and everyone has their own opinion on how to prevent this bleed through.
    If you thought you could just buy some fancy paint and throw one coat on the wall and assume everything will look great, you are going to be disappointed with the results.  Water based primer is one option that you can use, here are some benefits:

  • Easy water cleanup
  • The fumes are much more tolerable than oil based primers.
  • Less expensive than oil based primers

The bad side to using a water based primer is that you may have to apply multiple coats of primer before your wall is ready to accept the finishing paint.  Like I said previously, I have applied 4 coats of primer to a wall before the bleed through was no longer visible when trying out a water based primer.

     Oil Based Primers are nice simply because they typically need very few coats to be able to seal the wood before a finishing paint is applied.  Some painters in Belleville IL refuse to work with oil based paint due to the odor and cleanup required.  One major downside to painting indoors with an oil-based paint is the fumes.  You better be prepared with a high quality respirator that will filter out the fumes or you will find yourself with a contact high in no time.  Sure it may seem like a good idea to inhale those fumes, but you will regret it later!  Also, you will notice as the oil-based paint is curing that there will be off-gassing.  It may smell like there is a gas leak in the house somewhere, which could be unnerving.  Make sure if you are going to go this route that you have a good method for air-exchange!  

Let's evaluate some examples shall we?

 In the photo above we have a perfect example of a finished wall where wood paneling meets drywall.  This photo is from a basement finishing St Louis job that we decided to keep for documentation purposes in the future.  An oil based primer was used on the wood paneling, and we only needed to apply one coat of the primer before we put a finishing coat of paint to match the drywall paint.  The oil base paint primer we used in this instance was kilz original interior primer that we picked up from our local home improvement store.  Just one coat of this primer sealed the wood and locked in the natural oils preventing bleed through.  Anytime I need to seal a surface I apply this stuff.

The next photo is an example using water based primer

Tell me, can you spot the pale yellow stain that is trying to sneak through the paint on this wood paneling?  I chose to try a water based primer for this wall to try and avoid the fumes and the price of the kilz primer.  I put 3 coats of primer on this wall, and a finishing coat of paint.  With 4 total coats, the stains are still lightly visible on the wall.  I am sure that most people who walk through this room will not notice this imperfection, but I will.  I am sure there are other water based primers that can be used with better results, but I am still a fan of the kilz primer when it comes for locking in stains and wood oil.

In Conclusion

 At the end of the day, you have to choose what option will work best for you.  If you would rather start over and have a fresh new drywall finish then go for it, however if you are looking to save yourself some time, you might just try and see what some paint will look like over your wood paneling.  If you focus on painting a small area allowing you to get an idea of what the end product will look like, this may help you to decide whether or not it will work to paint the entire wall.  You may be pleasantly surprised by the finished product!