Wall treatments invariably stamp a house with their era. Think about the bright (even garish) mixed-pattern papers used in Victorian design, or the bold geometric papers used in the '30s, '40s and '50s. Or the ubiquitous off-white paint that dominated ,, the '60s and '70s. Knotty pine paneling was popular in the '50s and '60s, especially for dens and club basements. The look can be quaint or dated, but most people who buy an old house long to update the surfaces.
That's the goal of a reader who said in an e-mail message, "I have some knotty pine paneling I'd like to paint, rather than replace with drywall. Can you give me advice on prepping it and also on what kinds of treatments look best?"
For answers, we turned to Larry Horton, vice president of Budeke's Paint Inc., based in Fells Point. Here's what he suggests:
*Start the prep with a good cleaning. Use TSP (trisodium phosphate), available at most places where you buy paint. (Mr. Horton said similar cleaners are phosphate-free, if you are concerned about keeping phosphates out of the water supply.) Once the surface is clean, rinse it to remove all residue and let it dry. You want to make sure all the wax has been removed, which is one reason you need a strong cleaner.
*After the surface has dried, sand it lightly to remove any remaining sheen. Mr. Horton said never sand before you clean, because that would force the dirt back into the paneling. After sanding use a tack cloth to remove any remaining dust.
*Once the surface is dry and dust-free, prime it with a 100 percent acrylic primer. This type of latex primer is designed to adhere to hard and slightly glossy surfaces. Painters traditionally used oil-based primers in this situation, but the newer latex primers do the job without the hassles of working with oil-based paint. (Mr. Horton recommended two brands, to make sure you are getting 100 percent acrylic primer: Coronado Grip & Seal, and Zinzer 1-2-3.)
*Let the primer dry the length of time recommended on the label. Then cover the primer with any type of finish paint. Mr. Horton noted that the higher the gloss in a finish, the more imperfections would show. If the paneling is somewhat battered, a lower-gloss finish, such as eggshell or flat, would probably look better, though flat finishes are harder to wash.
We also recommend buying good-quality paint. If you are going to go to the trouble of prepping properly, you don't want to ruin the job with cheap paint.
We had one more concern about painting in the winter when ventilation can be a problem. Paints traditionally were made with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can pollute indoor and outdoor air. Some paints are now being made without the volatile organic compounds, a trend that is becoming a requirement in some areas where states are trying to reduce pollution levels.
In the past, Mr. Horton wasn't happy with the performance of the non-VOC paints. However, he said, "The new paints are more user-friendly than the first ones out. They work more like regular latex paint."
Mr. Horton said that most of the no-VOC paints are white or
off-white (one brand is Benjamin Moore's Pristine). If you add tint to color the paint, you will be adding some compounds, but the paint will still be low-VOC.
The reader wondered what kinds of finish treatments would work best on paneling.
It depends on what aspect of the paneling you are trying to do away with. Often paneling seems to make a room dark, and it generally makes it look informal or rustic. It will always look like wood, because of the contours, but painting it a light color, such as off-white, beige or light gray, would lighten up the room and make it look more formal, more sophisticated. Soft, muted colors probably work best on wood, but you could get a sophisticated country look with Burgundy, yellow ocher, forest green or slate blue.
The reader also asked about removing wallpaper. "Is there an easy way, or is it as much of a nightmare project as everyone says?"
Well, some people might actually like removing wallpaper: Once you get a rhythm going, there is plenty of time to think, rather like when you mow the lawn. But nothing has happened to keep removing wallpaper from being labor-intensive and messy.
The difficulty of removing it varies with the type of paper. Test a small area first and check what the surface looks like after the paper has come off. If you start removing paper and the plaster finish comes off, you may want to seek another solution.
The paper, especially coated paper, needs to be scored with a sharp tool so the removal solution (often simply water) can get through. Randy has used a utility knife to score through multiple layers, but you can buy a scoring tool that works better.
A wallpaper-removal contractor would probably use a hose attached to a sink and a fine sprayer. The paper soaks overnight, then the contractor comes back and scrapes the walls clean. Having a contractor do the work certainly removes some of the nightmare aspects, and it may be less expensive than you think. Wallpaper purveyors might have a recommendation for a contractor.
Mr. Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.
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