What to Do with Your Outdated Wood Paneling Problems

by Hometalk ExpertsMarch 5, 2015

Are you suffering from dark and dated wood paneled walls? While many homes have them, this particular design trend feels outdated and unappealing to many homeowners, and they’re looking for ways to makeover their space, without breaking the bank. Hometalker and carpenter Kevin Stevens, of KMS Woodworks, has a few clever ideas for fixing those dreary walls all on your own!
According to Stevens, one of the easiest ways to update some dark paneling in your home is to simply paint it. Like all painting projects, though, some proper prep work is required to get the best results. Paneling can be made from solid wood or thin plywood with a synthetic surface. In both cases, the surface should be thoroughly cleaned with some mild soap and a good rinse. Follow this with a cleaning using TSP (tri-sodium phosphate), to leave the panels ready for primer. Stevens prefers to use a dedicated primer as opposed to a paint and primer combination.


Most paneling will have some type of groove profile or, as in the case of solid wood T & G, a bevel between the planks. Paint will not fill these enough to yield a perfectly smooth surface – for that you will need to take it up a notch or two.

Stevens has seen some projects where the shallow grooves of sheet paneling were filled with a skim coat of drywall mud. With a bit of practice, this is a great alternative to the bigger task of a full replacement.

If you’re willing to do anything to change those dated walls, Stevens has some more intensive, costly makeover ideas as well. A more involved project is to completely remove the paneling and either install drywall or new paneling in a lighter color. One consideration in this process is that there may be some thickness issues with this upgrade. Sheet paneling is often only 3/16” to ¼” thick. When this thin layer is replaced with ½” drywall, it is possible that the space around an electrical box, as well as window and door trims, might be revealed. For that reason, despite the added levels of work this may require, wall makeovers might be a good time to make changes or upgrades to electrical and insulation needs as well.

Stevens recently completed a small bath remodel that had some dated wall paper covered sheet paneling. To eliminate the need to rework a lot of door trim etc., he and his team replaced it with some real wood oak paneling. In opening up the walls, they found a couple of stud bays that were not properly insulated: instead of the normal fiberglass batts, these bays were stuffed with kraft paper, which they upgraded to rigid foam. The end result was a much nicer space, with some energy upgrades to boot.

Whichever method you choose, don’t be afraid to give your paneled walls an up-to-date makeover, to refresh your space and beautify your home. For more information, go to our Home Maintenance and Repairs page on Hometalk. You can also follow KMS Woodworks, for amazing project inspiration and professional advice.

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Hometalk Experts
Hometalk Experts are standouts in their industry and provide trusted advice on home improvement and gardening projects. Experts include reputable interior designers, painters, contractors, craftsmen and real estate professionals. Hometalk Experts are an active part of Hometalk's community, answering individual questions and providing inspiration through their own completed projects.

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