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Basics on Wall Panel Installation

Wall panels are one of the simplest ways to change a room. They look great with almost any interior design theme.

Before you start paneling, preparing the existing walls is a good idea. It will ensure your new panels are adequately anchored and won’t buckle over time. You’ll need construction adhesive for this job.

Prep the Walls

If you’re installing wall panels on walls that don’t have a backing or are in new construction, installing horizontal furring strips 16″ on center before paneling them is essential. It will ensure that the panels are nailed into studs and not blocks. It’s also good to level and chalk vertical lines down the wall to indicate where studs, joists, or trusses are. It will help you later when you nail the panels to the studs and make it easier for you to line up the seams.

Next, you need to sand and smooth the surface of the walls to remove any bumps or dents that will show through the wall paneling. You can use a manual sander or an electric sander, depending on the size of your project. Be sure to sand evenly and avoid going over areas that have already been sanded, as this will create a noticeable unevenness in your finished product.

If your home has existing baseboards, you can gently pry them away and reattach them once the wall paneling is up. If your wall has a newer baseboard, you’ll need to cut into it to allow for the new depth created by the new paneling.

Cut the Panels

Depending on your panel style, you may need to cut them to size for wall panel installation. If you’re working with an existing wall, this will involve removing any baseboards in place and cutting away any areas that are too close to the wall. It’s best to use a circular saw for this step, as it’s easy to control and doesn’t require much skill.

It’s a good idea to test the panels on the wall once you’ve cut them to size. It will help you see how the panels look and allow you to practice your cutting skills. It’s essential to cut the panels symmetrically so that they fit correctly. Before installing the panels, note the location of any light switches or electrical outlets on your wall to ensure they will fit around them.

If you’re dealing with an existing wall, the next step is to find and fix the studs. The framing in walls usually runs vertically on 16″ or 24″ centers, which makes it easy to find a stud by eye or with a stud finder. Once the studs are located, snap a vertical chalk line (or use tape) several inches out on both the ceiling and the floor to create a guide for nailing the paneling into place.

Apply the Adhesive

Before applying the adhesive to the walls and panels, ensure they are clean. Use a mild soap solution to clean any dust, filth, or grease from the walls. Then, sand down any rough places that require it, and wash the surface with a moist cloth to remove any residue that may interfere with the panel’s finish.

Once the surface is ready, mark a level line from an inside corner on any wall that will be paneled using 4-foot wide panels. Tack a full panel into place with its long edge aligned to the plumb mark and its opposite short edge against that same corner, then check to see if this panel fits into the corner properly before fastening it permanently in place. If it doesn’t, you can scribe it to fit the corner contours by tracing around the uneven panel edge with a pencil compass point, then cutting the panel down to size with a coping saw to match.

Apply a thin application of panel glue to the back of the first panel and the wall. Allow it to set before continuing. Apply the rest of the panel adhesive to the wall in a zigzag pattern, working serpentine to cover all areas of the marked area. Then, apply the panel to the wall, pressing firmly and evenly across it to squeeze out any trapped air.

Install the Panels

Before the paneling can be installed, doing some prep work is essential. It includes repairing any holes in the wall, cleaning the walls, and sanding them down to help them accept the panels. You should also check for studs on the ceiling and floor and mark their locations. 

It’s also a good idea to install matching edge J-trim and corner trim to finish the panels at their edges. These can be cut by hand or with a saw. If you fit panels into corners, it’s recommended that you measure and cut each panel individually. It will ensure that the corner panel is fitted snuggly into the wall.

When fitting the panels, leave a slight gap of about the dime’s thickness between each panel. It allows the wood panels to expand and contract with humidity level changes. Leaving the gap between panels will prevent them from moving independently of one another and creating a noticeable “show-through.” Suppose your panel design features dark vertical grooves. In that case, it’s suggested that you paint thick stripes of a similar color at locations where joints meet to avoid showing gaps between panels as humidity fluctuates.

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