Greg Mrakich’s Tips for Painting Wood Paneling

Many homes built in the 1950s through early 1980 have wood paneling in at least one room. Some of the paneling is very high end – solid wood tongue and groove and is a great addition to the look of the home. When I lived in Los Angeles, one of my customers had me paint the philippine mahogany wood paneling in her dining room – it nearly killed me to paint over such beautiful (and expensive) wood. Other paneling is mass produced 4 foot by eight foot sheets of thin plywood that is stained on one side. This type of paneling can (and does) date the look of a home. It will also hurt a home’s resale value. So what do you do with the paneling?

There are two options. The first option would be to remove the paneling and replace it with drywall. This is expensive, and with the EPA rule requiring the use of lead safety practices for homes built before 1978, also makes it very time consuming.

The other option is to paint the paneling. It is easy to do if you follow the steps necessary to prepare the paneling for paint:

  1. Lightly sand the paneling with 120 grit sandpaper.  Use a sanding pole and this will go quickly.  You are just sanding enough to take the shine off.  If you are creating dust or removing stain,  you are sanding too hard. When the sanding is done, wash down walls with a de-glosser, such as TSP.  Let the paneling dry over night.
  2. Paint the wood paneling with an oil based, stain blocking primer. Paint first coat and let dry.  Now all the nail holes, cracks and gaps should be visible. These should all be caulked and/or filled. When caulk is dry and nail holes filled, sand the filled nail holes. Then apply a second coat of the stain blocking primer.
  3. Now you are ready to paint the walls and trim as you would any other room.  I have painted many paneled rooms and the change from dark wood to a lighter shade makes a huge difference.

A word of caution. If your home was built before 1978 and you plan to hire a contractor to do the work, he or she must be certified by the EPA, and must follow the specific work practices to prevent lead contamination. Greg Mrakich Painting, based in Indianapolis, Indiana; is an EPA certified firm. Homeowners doing the work themselves are exempt from the law, but that being said, please take the time to review the EPA guidelines and follow the specific safe work practices for lead containment. It’s about keeping you and your family safe.

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