Category: Walls & Ceilings

Bob Vila Radio: Why Not a Wainscot?

For a low-cost, high-impact way of adding character to a lackluster room, give a second thought to installing wainscoting.

If you’re looking to dress up the interior of your home but are working on a limited budget, why not consider adding some classic wainscoting to the walls?

Installing Wainscoting


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The term wainscoting refers to a broad range of moldings and panels usually applied to the lower third of walls. Besides a character-lending decorative effect, wainscoting also performs a practical role, protecting the walls from damage.

In close quarters with a great deal of foot traffic—halls, for example, or entryways—beadboard has been a favorite for centuries. For a more formal look, you can eschew beadboard and its country connotations in favor of panels that you design and build yourself or buy pre-made. Solid wood wainscoting remains an option, though it’s also now commonly made of medium-density fiberboard, plywood, and even PVC.

In the design phase, some do-it-yourselfers create cardboard stencils of prospective wainscot panels, temporarily mounting them on the walls to experiment with different configurations. Don’t be hesitant to try whatever you like. It’s your home, after all!

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free.

So, You Want to… Install Wainscoting

Careful planning leads to getting the look you want with wainscoting, be it crisp or ornate.

How to Install Wainscoting


The term “wainscoting” refers to any type of paneling that covers the lower portion—usually the lower third—of an interior wall. Originally, wainscoting was meant to protect plaster walls from dings and dents, but today it’s primarily decorative. Whether it’s elaborate and elegant or simple and casual, wainscoting adds warmth and character, making a room look more inviting. If you’ve ever seen a beautiful wainscot, you might think it’s not possible for a do-it-yourselfer to re-create the look. But the fact is, if you’re comfortable working with wood and handling a few basic tools, you can install wainscoting yourself over a long weekend.

How to Install Wainscoting - Beadboard Painted


Wainscoting took off in the 19th century, when industrial milling made low-cost wood products widely available. These days, although many homeowners continue to install wainscoting made of solid wood, newer and cheaper materials like MDF and PVC are perhaps the most commonly used.

If you’re planning to paint, not stain, the wainscoting, give due consideration to MDF. Because it comes with no knots, it’s easy to cut and work with. Plus, MDF resists the sort of warping and splitting that solid wood might undergo due to seasonal expansion and contraction. One caveat: Standard MDF fares poorly if exposed to moisture, so if you’re wainscoting a bathroom or mudroom, be sure to purchase (and expect to pay more for) the moisture-resistant variety.

Alternatively, for wainscoting that stands up well to both heat and moisture, think about opting for PVC. No, you might not think of PVC as the most stylish stuff for a home interior, but once painted, it looks no different from more traditional materials, and it lasts a long time without maintenance.

There’s one major downside to inexpensive sheet wainscoting products: As easy as they are to install, they can accentuate an uneven or wavy wall. If yours is an older home that’s fallen out of plumb, it’s probably worth it to spring for tongue-and-groove solid wood wainscoting. Here, you can use furring strips to correct for minor imperfections, and you can sand down any protrusions.

When you set out to install wainscoting, don’t underestimate the importance of planning. To a large extent, the installation process hinges on the design decisions you make early on. In fact, some people choose to create cardboard stencils and mount them on the wall in order to test different looks.

One key question: Do you want the wainscoting to have decorative panels? Know that eschewing panels tends to make for easier installation. Unlike panels, commercially sold tongue-and-groove strips simply need to be snugged together and nailed (or otherwise adhered) directly to the wall.

That said, frame-and-panel wainscoting is by no means beyond the skilled amateur. Get ready to use your tape measure, though. For the installation to look right, you must figure out a design that allows the wainscoting panels to be of equal size. If uniform panels are simply not possible given the size or shape of the room, there’s a compromise: Only panels on the same wall technically need to share the same dimensions. So if you are adding wainscoting to multiple walls, different walls can have panels of a different set size.

During the planning stage, it also helps a great deal to settle on a finish. If you decide to stain or clear coat the wainscoting, it’s easiest to do so prior to installation. Another reason to get your ducks in a row before getting to work: You can buy prefinished wainscoting products, which can save you significant time.

Yes, it’s easy to install wainscoting, but there are some complexities. Perhaps the hardest part is ensuring that the wainscoting gets along with the door and window trim in the room. Depending on the thickness of the wainscoting that you’re adding, it may even be necessary to replace the door and window casing.

Also, remember that wainscoting must be notched to fit around electrical boxes. And because building codes normally require electrical boxes to be flush with wall paneling, you may need to extend the boxes. Luckily, box extensions are inexpensive, widely available, and easy to fit behind either switches or receptacles.

Whether your home was recently built or has been around for more than a hundred years, wainscoting imparts depth and texture, giving any interior space a three-dimensional appeal that no mere coat of paint could possibly achieve, no matter how striking the color.

Bob Vila Radio: The Right Height for Chair Rails

Chair rails remain a popular option for dressing up interior walls, but while their installation can be straightforward, homeowners need to know where on the wall this type of molding looks best.

Chair rail molding adds a tasteful touch to rooms, especially when combined with wainscoting or crown molding. But if you’re thinking of installing chair rails, here are a few points to keep in mind.

Chair Rail Height and Width


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To be the most visually appealing, chair rails need to be installed at the right height. Most experts say that ‘right height’ is about one third the distance from the floor to the ceiling. So for a room with an 8-foot ceiling, you’d want to nail the molding about 32 inches from the floor.

The best width for chair rail molding will vary a bit, depending on the dimensions and the wall color of the room. Two to three inches is most common.

Chair rail-type moldings were used as far back as the Greeks and Romans. But the term ‘chair rail’ didn’t come into common usage until the 19th century. That was when Shakers installed pegs in their moldings. Their purpose? To hang chairs out of the way during sweeping and mopping!

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

Bob Vila Radio: The Tool-Free Way to Locate Wall Studs

Though an stud finder would make things a bit easier, not everyone has one—and the fact is that you don't always need one. Here's how to locate a wall stud without the aid of a tool.

If you’ve got a heavy mirror to hang on the wall, you’ll need to find a stud that will support the weight. The easiest way to do that is with a stud finder. Electronic and magnetic versions are both readily available at home centers.

Locating Studs

Photo: KStansley

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But if you’d just as soon stay home—and save some dough—try looking for nails in the baseboard. They are usually hammered into studs. Studs are usually spaced 16 inches from one center to the next. So if you find a nail in the baseboard, just measure over, in 16-inch increments, to where you want to hang the mirror.

Also remember that electrical outlets and switches are usually attached to studs, either from the left or the right side. Try knocking gently on the wall directly to the right and left of the outlet or switch. If one side sounds hollow, then the other side is where you can expect the stud to be.

Still can’t find a stud? Well, you can always drill a small test hole to make a way for a bent coat hanger, which you can then twist around until you knock against a stud. Aftewards, you’d repair the test hole with a little spackle and paint.

But if you’re going to go through the trouble of drilling, spackling, and painting, you might as well run to the store for a stud finder. Hey, you gave it your best shot.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

So, You Want to… Knock Down a Wall

Your quest for more light and openness might lead you to removing a wall (or several). Before you start swinging the sledge, make sure you understand what you're getting into.

How to Remove a Wall


You live in an older house populated by a warren of small, cozy rooms. Lately, you’ve been thinking of knocking down a wall or two to open up space and bring in more light. While it’s true that removing a wall can help accomplish that aim, there are several important factors to consider before taking your plans any further.

Is the Wall Load-Bearing?
First things first. Before you plow ahead, you must determine whether or not the wall in question is load-bearing. In other words, is it keeping the house standing? Here’s a quick way to find out: Inspect the floor joists beneath. If the joists run perpendicular to the wall, chances are it’s a load-bearing wall. That’s not to say that your dreams of an open floor plan are outside the realm of possibility. It only means that you must consult a professional—a reliable contractor or engineer—to help you devise a strategy for removing the wall that will not compromise your home’s overall structural integrity. In general, though, removing a non-bearing wall is a much more modest proposition.

How to Remove a Wall - Plan


What’s Inside the Wall?
OK, so it’s not holding the house up. That’s good. But what else is the wall doing? Is it hiding wires, gas lines, or heating ducts? If you jump the gun and saw right into plumbing, electrical, or HVAC work, you may suddenly find yourself dealing with a much more complicated (and expensive) job. Before you start demolition, be certain that you know exactly what you’re dealing with. Not sure? Look closely at your building plans or call in a contractor. It’s certainly possible to remove a non-bearing wall no matter what it contains, but a professional can help you figure out how to reroute those components without causing any lasting disruption to the normal operation of your house.

Brace Yourself for Dust
No matter how you slice it, the job of removing a wall is a messy one. Be prepared for dust, and lots of it. Because that dust can do nothing but harm to your belongings, be sure to partition off the work area, using tape and plastic sheeting. Move everything you want to protect beyond the partition, and then cover it carefully; it’s amazing how much of that fine dust can make it past even a conscientiously devised and well-executed partition.

Beware of Hidden Hazards
Was your house built before the 1980s? If so, lead may be present in old layers of paint on the wall you’re removing. Hiring a professional inspector can be pricey, so check into some of the test kits readily available at home centers. The results are generally reliable, especially if you cross-test with a couple of kits that use different methods of detection. If you discover that lead is indeed present, follow the EPA guidelines for proper disposal.

Pull a Permit
Before you or a contractor you’ve hired actually picks up a saw or sledgehammer, be sure that you’ve secured all the necessary permits. Some municipalities charge stiff fines for undertaking projects without proper permitting.

All those considerations aside, there’s no doubt that removing a wall can dramatically transform the look of an interior. It can be a big job, but if you’ve done your homework, you’ll efforts will probably be well worth the result.

Bob Vila Radio: Pros and Cons of Cathedral Ceilings

There are many reasons to love cathedral ceilings—and one big reason to temper your affection.

Vaulted ceilings, also called cathedral ceilings, have some great attributes, but others you may not be so fond of. On the one hand, they do give your room a light and airy feel, and they can make a small room appear bigger than it really is.

Cathedral Ceilings


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But when it comes to energy efficiency, cathedral ceilings a bit of a bust, especially during the winter. That’s because air you’ve spent your money to heat ends up at the peak of the ceiling, not down where it can keep you warm (although a ceiling fan can help with that).

As an energy-saving alternative, you might consider what’s called a ‘tray ceiling.’ Tray ceilings look like conventional flat ceilings, except all but the outer part of the ceiling is raised a foot or so. The reduced height of a tray ceiling can help keep your heating bills within reason, but you’ll still get some of that light-and-airy feel.

Before you start cutting into collar ties, be sure to check with a contractor or structural engineer.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

How To: Hang Picture Frames on a Brick Wall

It's not hard to hang picture frames on a brick wall. First, read through our simple instructions. Then grab your drill, some wall anchors, and a friend—and get to work!


Although exposed brick offers a warm, appealing aesthetic redolent of history, many homeowners are puzzled by the question of how to hang pictures on a brick wall. If you’ve never done it before, this may seem like a daunting proposition. Whereas drywall or plaster yield easily to a nail, bricks and mortar obviously require a different approach. And yes, the steps involved are different, as are the necessary tools and materials, but even a beginning do-it-yourselfer can hang pictures on a brick wall. Simply follow the instructions detailed below.

- Chalk
- Spirit level (optional)
- Drill
- Masonry bit
- Wall anchors
- Flush-mounting picture hooks or screws
- Screwdriver

You may never before have considered picture hanging a messy project, but when you’re working with brick, there’s the risk of dispersing dust around the work area. So before you begin, it’s a good idea to cover fragile items nearby with either plastic sheeting or a drop cloth. Doing so will minimize the amount of time you’ll need to spend cleaning up once you’ve completed the job.


Use chalk to mark the location (on the mortar, not on the face of a brick) where you want to install the picture hook. Don’t worry—chalk can be rubbed away when you’re done.

Ask a friend to stand in the middle of the room while you hold the picture frame over the chalk mark you’ve made on the mortar. Taking into account the manner in which the frame is going to hang—from a wire or by means of a D-ring or sawtooth hanger— confirm that you’ve chalked the correct spot. If you are hanging multiple pictures, you may want to break out the spirit level so you can make sure everything aligns.

Attach a masonry bit to your drill/driver and proceed to drill a hole into the mortar where you marked it with chalk. Drill deep enough to accommodate a wall anchor, but not so deep that you might puncture any wires or pipes behind the brick.

Place a wall anchor into the hole you’ve drilled. Next, screw a picture hook into the embedded wall anchor. Finally, hang the picture frame over the hook you’ve secured into place. Now you’re done. Last but not least: Stand back to enjoy the view!

Additional Tips
- Choose a masonry bit that’s the correct size for the wall anchor you’re using.

- Use two wall anchors to safely secure a heavy, glass-fronted picture frame.

- When drilling, be careful to protect your eyes from the dust that may scatter.

How To: Patch Drywall

If you're setting out to patch drywall, whether the problem at hand is a few nail holes or a large gash, these simple tips can help you restore a smooth surface ready for paint.

How to Patch Drywall


Sooner or later, most of us need to patch drywall, whether for purely cosmetic reasons—filling nail holes, for example—or for comfort or safety—say, a hole has left wiring exposed. Although accomplishing the latter requires more materials and a greater investment of time, rest assured that a do-it-yourself solution exists, no matter the scale of the repair. Read on for guidelines for patching drywall in small-, medium-, and large-size projects.

Tools and materials:
- Sandpaper
- Spackling paste
- Putty knife

The smaller the hole, the easier it is to patch. Start the process by sanding the area smooth. Next, load a bit of spackling paste onto your putty knife and apply the product directly to the hole. Work in enough of the paste so that it leaves a small mound over the hole, then press the flat side of the knife firmly against the mound in order to flatten it. Finally, swipe the blade in a broad motion across the repaired area, leaving the filled-in hole perfectly level with the finished drywall. Allow the spackling sufficient time to dry. Dry times vary, so refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for an accurate estimate. Sand lightly when dry.

Tools and materials:
- Sandpaper
- Putty knife
- Joint compound
- Drywall mesh tape

If you want to patch a somewhat larger hole—an area with a diameter of one or two inches—the process becomes slightly more complicated, if only because it involves a material you might not have on hand: mesh tape. (You can buy mesh tape either as a roll or as a precut square.) After sanding the area to be patched, completely cover it with mesh. This now becomes the base to which you’ll add joint compound, a product that goes on like spackling paste but achieves a stronger result. As you spread the joint compound, pay special attention to the seams where the mesh tape meets the surrounding drywall. Once you can no longer see the tape, use the putty knife to flatten the mounded joint compound, then scrape the surface in wide, smooth side-to-side movements that create an even finish. Finally, allow the joint compound to dry for about eight hours—consult the manufacturer’s directions—before sanding and repainting the wall.

How to Patch Drywall - Large Hole


Tools and materials:
- Drywall panel
- Utility knife
- Drywall saw
- Drywall screws
- Screwdriver
- Drywall mesh tape
- Putty knife
- Joint compound
- Sandpaper

A larger patch involves a commensurately greater commitment of time and effort to complete. In fact, the patching process here is not very different from the one that was used to install your drywall in the first place. Begin by using a drywall saw to cut evenly around the problem area. You should be left with a hole that’s rectangular in shape; use a utility knife to clean up the edges, if necessary. If possible—and to do this, you may need to make the hole larger than seems strictly necessary—make your hole big enough to expose one of the wall studs. Failing that, you’ll need to run a wooden member horizontally between the two closest studs. Why? You’re going to fill the hole in the wall with a piece of new drywall, and that piece needs a surface to which it can be securely attached.

Next, use a drywall saw to cut out a section of the drywall panel you’ve procured either from the surplus in your garage or from the aisles of your local home center. Measure and cut carefully, as the piece must fit perfectly into the rectangle you’ve cut in the wall. Once you’re certain that you’ve got a snug fit, use drywall screws to attach the new drywall to the stud (or horizontal member).

With the drywall patch firmly in place, apply mesh tape over all the seams between the patch and the existing drywall. Then load up your putty knife with joint compound and proceed to cover the mesh completely. (Don’t forget to smooth compound over the drywall screws, too.) Use the blade of the putty knife to flatten out the compound in any spots where it’s mounded, then scrape across the seams in wide strokes, either side-to-side or top-to-bottom, depending on the orientation of the mesh. Allow the compound to dry for about eight hours before you begin the final stage: sanding the patched area and repainting the freshly repaired drywall.

Bob Vila Radio: Removing Popcorn Ceilings

Once popular, popcorn ceilings have fallen out of favor with many homeowners. Read on to learn how you can get rid of these textured applications yourself.

So-called “popcorn ceilings” became popular back in the 1950s and 60s, because they hid imperfections in ceiling surfaces and added some soundproofing between floors. Unfortunately, they often contained asbestos fibers, which not only helped them fall out of fashion but also made them tricky to remove.

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Popcorn Ceilings


The potential for asbestos makes it critical that you have your popcorn ceiling tested before you even think about removing it. If your ceiling tests positive, this is not a DIY project. Call in the pros to remove the material safely.

If you’re lucky enough to have an asbestos-free popcorn ceiling, you can take it down yourself. It’s not difficult work, although it can be messy. Remove all furnishings from the room and cover the floor with plastic. Cover doorways with plastic sheeting as well to cut down on dust throughout your house.

Using a spray bottle, spray a five-square-foot section with water. The goal is to saturate the popcorn layer without damaging the ceiling underneath. Wait 15 minutes for the water to penetrate, then start scraping. Keep working in small sections, so that only one area of the ceiling at a time is wet. Continue until the entire ceiling is scraped, then allow to dry overnight.

To finish the job, you’ll need to sand the ceiling, fill in any gouges with drywall compound, and finally prime the ceiling for the paint that will be eventually applied. It’s a tough job, but the results are really worth the effort.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

How To: Clean Baseboards

It's not a glamorous task, but cleaning the baseboards goes a long way toward making a room look tidy and dust-free. Follow our suggestions for cleaning your baseboards more thoroughly—and less often—than ever before.

How to Clean Baseboards


You can spend hours washing the floor, dusting the furniture, and vacuuming the nooks and crannies in any given room, but so long as its baseboards are dirty, they are going to attract attention and create an overall impression of shabbiness and neglect. It’s by no means difficult to clean baseboards; this is not one of the great housekeeping challenges that you will face in life. Indeed, the trickiest bit is overcoming inertia. So if you’re actually reading this, the hard part is over!

- Vacuum (with brush attachment or duster)
- Sponge
- Dish soap, vinegar, or wood cleaner
- Cotton swabs
- Dryer sheets

Rather than set out to clean the baseboards in every single room of your house all at once, make an agreement with yourself: Each and every time you break out the sponge and plastic gloves, you will clean the baseboards thoroughly in one room only. That way, the task of cleaning baseboards never becomes overwhelming. Also, remember that baseboards accumulate the dust and dirt that housework stirs up. Save the baseboards for last—don’t waste effort cleaning the same thing twice.

How to Clean Baseboards - Detail


Begin the process by removing as much dust and dirt as you can from the area. If your vacuum has a brush attachment, use it to suction along the length of the baseboards, paying special attention to the crevice where the trim meets the floor. In lieu of a vacuum, you can rely on a duster to do a decent job of freeing up debris, which you can then corral and remove with a broom and dustpan.

Once you’ve removed all loose dirt and dust, you can begin to address stains and stuck-on grime. (Particularly in the kitchen, baseboards are the notorious hosts of unidentifiable splatters.) Dip a sponge into a mixture of warm water and dish soap (vinegar works well too), then go about scrubbing any marks that you can find. Note that if the baseboards in the room you are cleaning are stained, not painted, it may be preferable to use a cleaning solution formulated specifically for that application.

As you’re already crouched over cleaning the baseboards, you might as well do as good a job as possible. For those hard-to-reach spots—the crevice between the trim and flooring, for example, or around any imperfections that appear on the wood surface—use a cotton swab dipped in the cleaner.

Protect the baseboards’ newly acquired cleanliness by rubbing them with a fresh dryer sheet. Not only will this leave a fresh laundry scent that lasts a few days, but also—and more importantly—the sheet’s antistatic properties actually repel dust. Perhaps it sounds like overkill, but going this one step further can really pay off.

Unless you live in a fraternity house, you’re unlikely to find that your baseboards need to be cleaned weekly. In the grand scheme of housekeeping, baseboards are rather low maintenance. If you’re like me, you probably notice baseboards only when they are not clean. So if on each occasion that you clean, you live up to the promise of doing the baseboards in one room only, you may never notice them again!