How to Install Wall Paneling

A living room with decorative wall paneling

aprott / Getty Images

Project Overview
  • Total Time: 2 - 4 hrs
  • Yield: 16-foot by 8-foot wall
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $150 to $250

Installing wall paneling is a fast way to decorate and protect walls while disguising minor flaws. The striking feature of wall paneling is its large format: sheets 8 feet high by 4 feet wide. Most installations just need a few inches trimmed from the end of the panel, and then the panel is ready to be attached with adhesive and fine nails or plastic rivets.

Choose decorative wall paneling when appearance, flaw coverage, and minor impact resistance are most important. Or install FRP wall paneling for wet installations or when extreme impact resistance is required.

Decorative Wall Paneling vs FRP Wall Paneling

Decorative Wall Paneling
  • Medium-density fiberboard (MDF)

  • Looks like wood, brick, or stone

  • Wide range of textures

  • Not waterproof

  • Wipeable but not washable

  • Living rooms, bedrooms, dining rooms

FRP Wall Paneling
  • Plastic reinforced with fiberglass

  • Solid colors only; mostly white

  • Pebbled or smooth

  • Waterproof

  • Washable

  • Laundry rooms, basements, mudrooms

Depending on the room of the house and on your needs, you may decide to install either decorative wall paneling, usually made of MDF, or moisture-resistant panels made of FRP, or fiber-reinforced plastic.

Decorative Wall Paneling

Decorative wall paneling is hardboard in 4-foot by 8-foot sheets that looks like real wood due to its top image layer. Some wall paneling is even embossed or grooved for a 3D effect.

Decorative wall paneling works best in living rooms, hallways, bedrooms, and other low-moisture areas. These panels install fairly easily with just adhesive and finish nails.

Decorative wall panels cover minor surface imperfections. They offer some impact resistance, though the top image layer can be damaged by scratches and major impact.

FRP Wall Paneling

Fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) paneling is plastic 4-foot by 8-foot sheets that usually come in white or off-white, though it's possible to find FRP panels in a handful of other basic colors. Most FRP panels found at home centers are textured or smooth.

As a utilitarian material, FRP paneling is designed to be used in laundry rooms, basements, garages, and mudrooms. FRP is moisture- and impact-resistant. FRP stands up well to mold and mildew. If it does develop mold or mildew, it can be washed down.

FRP panels require a few peripheral materials that influence the overall installation cost: moldings like dividers, outside corners, inside corners, and end caps, as well as special nylon rivets for attaching to the wall.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Wall Paneling

  • Circular saw
  • Caulking gun
  • Utility knife
  • Putty knife or drywall knife
  • Jigsaw
  • Tape measure
  • Laser or bubble level
  • Hammer
  • Electric nailer (optional)

FRP Wall Paneling

  • Cordless drill
  • Laminate roller
  • Circular saw
  • Hammer
  • Putty knife or drywall knife
  • Jigsaw
  • Caulking gun


Wall Paneling

  • Decorative wall paneling
  • Wall panel adhesive

FRP Wall Paneling

  • FRP wall paneling
  • Moldings: caps, corners, and divider bars
  • One-piece nylon rivets, pack
  • FRP panel adhesive
  • Silicone sealant


How to Install Decorative Wall Paneling

  1. Let Panels Condition to Room

    Set the wall panels on edge in the room where they will be installed for 48 hours. Place a couple of scrap two-by-fours or a similar material between every adjacent two panels for airflow.

  2. Prepare Wall

    Sand down high spots on the wall. Fill in low spots with drywall compound. Remove obstructions like baseboards and molding.

  3. Cut Panels

    Cut the wall panels to size with the circular saw. Cut the panels facing down for a cleaner cut. Leave a 1/4-inch expansion gap on all sides.

    So, if cutting wall panels for a room that's 7-1/2 feet or 90 inches tall, subtract 1/2-inch to account for the expansion gap at top and bottom: 89-1/2 inches.

  4. Make Cutouts

    Cutouts in the wall paneling need to be made for electric light switches and outlets. Turn off the circuit to the light or the outlet. Remove the faceplate and set it aside. Remove the light switch or outlet. Push the wires back into the box. Use chalk or an old lipstick to draw on the outward-facing rim of the box. Briefly press the wall panel firmly against the wall and remove it. The outline on the back of the board is where you should cut.


    If you have a laser level, there's an even easier way to locate boxes on boards. Shoot the level on crosshair line mode to outline two perpendicular sides of the box. Place the panel on the wall. Place a spare box backwards on the crosshairs and draw around the box.

  5. Apply Adhesive

    Apply a generous bead of panel adhesive in a zig-zag pattern to the back of the panel.

  6. Apply First Panel

    Start in a corner. Don't assume that the corner is plumb or straight. Set the first panel with the laser level or bubble level. Starting in the center of the panel, nail the panel to the wall. Using an electric nailer is recommended since you'll need to drive 20 to 25 nails per panel. After driving the center fasteners, work outward to the perimeter of the panel.

  7. Continue Panels

    Continue the other panels on the wall. Smooth down each panel with your hand or with a roller to distribute the adhesive on back of the panel.

How to Install FRP Wall Paneling

  1. Prepare Wall Surface

    The wall surface must be porous, clean, and flat. FRP can be installed directly on bare drywall. For painted drywall, lightly scuff the surface of the drywall with sandpaper. Abrade the paint but do not abrade the drywall paper.

  2. Prepare Wall

    Repair holes in the wall and, using a putty knife or drywall knife, fill in gaps with drywall compound. Gently pry off baseboards and door and window trim.

  3. Cut Panels

    Mark and cut panels with a circular saw equipped with a carbide blade. When cutting the panels, keep in mind the required 1/4-inch expansion gap between panels and between the floor and ceiling,

    Maintain that distance within moldings, too. For example, divider bars (which cover seams between two panels) have a wall in the center of the bar. So, you'll need to be mindful of the expansion gap even within moldings and make sure that the moldings fit a bit loosely.


    Wear breathing protection when cutting FRP panels since they contain glass fibers. Also wear eye and hearing protection.

  4. Make Cutouts

    Cutouts must be made in the FRP panels for light switches and outlet boxes. After shutting off the circuit breaker, remove the light switch or outlet. Use old lipstick to draw on the room-facing edge of the boxes. After pressing the board to the wall, the board will have an imprint of the boxes on the back. Chalk won't work for FRP since it doesn't stick on the plastic.


    A sure way to locate electric boxes is with a drywall marker kit. A magnetized plastic target and locater work in tandem to positively find and help you mark electrical boxes. Kits cost $10 to $20.

  5. Apply Adhesive to Panel

    With the caulking gun, apply a generous bead of FRP panel adhesive to the back of the panel.

  6. Attach Panels to Wall: Center Holes

    Panels typically have pre-drilled holes in two areas: the center of the panel and around the panel's perimeter. Start with the center holes. Drill through the pre-drilled hole, into the wall. Follow by inserting the nylon rivet in the hole. Lightly tap the rivet. Continue until the back of the rivet's head touches the panel.

  7. Insert Sealant in Moldings (Optional)

    For complete moisture-resistant installation, run a thin bead of silicone sealant into the channels of all of the moldings.

  8. Flatten With Roller

    With the laminate roller, start at the middle of the board and roll outward in all directions to help flatten the panel against the wall.

  9. Attach Moldings

    Slide the moldings into place on the panels, observing the 1/4-inch expansion gap. Use divider bars between panels, inside corners on inside corners and outside corners on outside corners. Cap moldings go at the end of a panel series: side, top, or bottom.

  10. Attach Panels to Wall: Perimeter Holes

    Conclude attaching panels to the wall by following the manufacturer's recommended sequence of rivets around the perimeters. FRP panels are usually held in place by 20 to 30 rivets per panel.