Wood paneling is a great addition to any home and can enhance your interior decor. However, old wood paneling can become faded and outdated, and you may wish to replace it. When replacing wood paneling, it’s helpful to know whether there’s drywall behind it.
Most wood paneling has drywall behind it, especially in modern homes. Some older homes won’t have drywall behind the wood paneling since the panels are usually much thicker in these homes. Having drywall is important as it provides a base for the wood paneling.
In this article, I’ll discuss whether you need to have drywall behind wood paneling, the risks of not having drywall, and how to check whether your wood paneling has drywall behind it.
Is Drywall Necessary for Wood Paneling?
In the introduction, I mentioned that most wood paneling has drywall behind it. Let’s take a look at why drywall can be necessary for wood paneling:
- Check your local building code. Before embarking on a wood paneling project, check with your local authorities about their rules around drywall behind wood paneling. Some building codes may allow you to install wood paneling without drywall provided the paneling is of a certain thickness.
- Consider your wood paneling installation from a safety perspective. Ask yourself some questions. Is the wood paneling more likely to break if weight is applied to it? How much weight can the paneling bear without giving way? If your building engineer confirms that you can safely install wood paneling without drywall installation, then you can consider it.
- Consider the type of wood paneling you want. In older houses that don’t have drywall behind the wood paneling, the panels are much thicker and are less likely to give way under pressure. On the other hand, cheaper wood paneling will almost always need support from drywall or another structure.
Modern wood paneling is one reason why new homes burn faster than older ones but thankfully, drywall is a fire retardant.
How To Check for Drywall Behind Wood Paneling
The easiest way to check for drywall behind wood paneling is to remove an electrical outlet in the wall and check the material behind the paneling. If there’s a space behind the electrical outlet and you don’t see any drywall, then you don’t have drywall behind the paneling.
The other method is to drill a hole through the wood paneling to check the material behind it. If you plan to remove the wood paneling anyway, then you can take off larger sections to see what’s behind it. Otherwise, drill a small hole and cover it with wood filler.
Unless it’s a garage or storage room, you’ll usually find drywall behind the wood paneling.
Reasons to Install Drywall Behind Wood Paneling
While you can install wood paneling without drywall, most experts advise against it. Even if the wood panels are thicker and won’t compromise the structural integrity of your house, installing them without drywall is usually a risk.
Some of the benefits of having drywall behind wood paneling include the following:
While wood paneling may enhance your house’s interior, it isn’t the best material for improving your home’s fire resistance. Drywall, on the other hand, is fire resistant and provides more protection to your home during a fire.
Drywall’s fire resistance is the main reason many local building codes require it behind wood paneling.
It’s also why older houses are more likely to burn down if they catch on fire since wood is used in most of the basic structures.
Another benefit of having drywall behind wood paneling is its soundproof properties. Wood isn’t a great sound insulator, and having paneling without drywall behind it will negatively affect your home’s acoustics.
For additional soundproofing, consider installing two layers of drywall behind the wood paneling.
Unless you use very thick wood paneling, your walls won’t have much strength if there’s no drywall behind them. Modern wood paneling comes in beautiful designs, but it’s made from much thinner wood.
Having drywall behind the wood paneling helps strengthen your house’s walls.
Reasons Not To Install Drywall Behind Wood Paneling
Not all building codes require drywall behind wood paneling, and there are some reasons you may not need drywall behind wood paneling, including:
A common reason building contractors and homeowners try to avoid installing drywall is to reduce building costs. If you’re renovating your home and you’re on a strict budget, leaving out the drywall can be an easy way to save a lot of money.
Drywall installation can be costly, usually starting from $8000 for a 2000-square-foot house.
Drywall May be Unnecessary
Many people reason that if you cannot see the drywall and your wood paneling is thick enough, you don’t need it. If you’re meeting the local building codes and your wood paneling is thick enough to withstand considerable weight, drywall may be unnecessary.
In such cases, you’ll have to consider the extra risk of reducing your home’s fire resistance and soundproofing.
While you may save on drywall installation costs or you may not need it from a legal standpoint, you may have to pay more for home insurance and high-quality wood paneling.
How To Install Wood Paneling Without Drywall
If you want to save costs by installing wood paneling without drywall behind it, you must ensure that it’s properly secured to the wall. In most states, you can install wood paneling directly over walls if they are at least ¼ inch (0.635 cm) thick, but this varies across different municipalities.
If your local building codes allow you to install wood paneling directly on walls, you should ensure that the paneling is secure.
The first method of securing wood paneling to a bare wall is with a stud. This is a cost-effective solution and doesn’t require as much work as installing drywall. Most studs are made from timber and form a base for you to nail in the wood paneling.
However, there are several problems with installing wood paneling directly on wooden wall studs. While wood is sturdy, it’s also flammable, and wood studs and paneling is certainly not fireproof.
Wood can also weaken over time if it’s exposed to moisture, and the wood paneling may begin to lift.
The other solution is to install metal framing behind the wood paneling. Unfortunately, metal is expensive, and you may actually save more when installing drywall than with metal wall studs.
Always make sure that the wood paneling is securely fastened to the supporting wall studs, and only install wood paneling on studs if the wall’s thickness meets the building code requirements.
Alternatives to Wood Paneling
Wood is solid, has great aesthetic appeal, and is less costly than many other building materials, but it’s not the only solution to cover drywall. Plus, you may worry that wood paneling may decrease your home value or become a dealbreaker when you want to sell the house. [Does Wood Paneling Decrease Your Home Value?]
Now that I’ve discussed alternatives to installing drywall behind wood paneling, let’s look at some alternatives to wood paneling.
If your house already has drywall installed, you can install tilling or wainscoting instead of wood paneling.
Tiles can be expensive, but they are easy to install, are incredibly durable, and usually fireproof. If you want to maintain a ‘rustic’ or slightly antique look that a wood design brings, you could opt for a stone or textured tiles.
Another excellent tiling option if you like the look of wood paneling is a wood-look tile. Interestingly, wood-look tile is only slightly more expensive than wood paneling and may only cost $1 or $2 more than paneling.
Wainscoting can be installed over drywall. It is slightly cheaper than wood paneling since it’s made from thin painted panels. It’s also much easier to install and can be applied to walls with a special adhesive.
Wainscoting is also applied to half to one-third of the walls, unlike wood paneling which covers the whole wall area. If your wainscoting is in a contrasting color to the wall above, it can create an elegant and striking look.
However, you’ll need drywall behind the wainscoting.
Lastly, you can opt for a simple design and not install anything on top of the drywall. Many modern homes don’t have anything on top of the drywall. If you choose the right paint or wallpaper, you can enhance your home’s interior with a plain drywall style.
If you want to have a “wood” effect in your home design, you can use wallpaper with a wood design instead of wood paneling. Wallpaper is the cheapest alternative, but you’ll need to have drywall installed first.
On average, wallpaper costs around $4-$10 per square foot, which is almost half that of wood paneling (if you consider the cost of installing wood paneling).
When renovating an older house, you should check whether the wood paneling has drywall behind it. Whether you’re doing renovations or building a new house, always install drywall behind wood paneling for improved fire protection, soundproofing, and structural integrity.
If you choose to install wood paneling without a drywall behind it, you should first check whether your local building codes allow it.
Alternatively, you can use tiling, wainscoting or wallpaper instead of wood paneling. If you want to save on the costs of installing wood paneling, use painted drywall instead.