Tuesday, 26 February 2013

DIY: Removing Panelling and Wallpaper

Flashbacks anyone?
Remember that wood panelling from the 1970's that was in everyone's basement. Well, we've got some here in our house, but not in the basement. There is one wall in my dining room / kitchen that is covered in the panelling. And it's painted (by the previous owners, I swear), the same colour as the rest of walls, but this one is panelled. So where the other walls are smooth plaster this one has a slight woodgrain texture, vertical grooves, and most noticeably, seams between the panels.

We started renovating the dining room and kitchen last year and have been going back and forth on whether to remove the panelling. The big question is "Why is it there in the first place?" I think someone put it in to be a feature wall in the room and it just got painted over at some point. My husband worries that is was used to mask a horror wall of crumbling plaster. To make matters worse, we knew there was (some) wallpaper behind it, they didn't quite cover it all when putting the panelling up behind the bulkhead / curtain valance.

Before - Painted Panelling

So it could be a gamble, should we just paint it like all the others before us? For me, it's been on the list of Stuff That Has To Go for a long time. I crossed my fingers, hoped for the best, and went to work. This is how I tackled the project.

Here's the tools you will need to remove the panelling:

  • prybar
  • olfa knife
  • hammer

1. Use the olfa knife to cut the caulking where the panelling meets, the baseboard, ceiling or other walls, and the seams if necessary.

2. You may not need to do this, but we had to completely remove the baseboards because they were installed on top of the panelling and we wanted the save them.

3. Gently insert the the prybar behind the panels to remove the little nails. For me they were just around the outside so this was really easy. Don't push too hard or you could damage the walls behind.

4. Remove the sheet and throw it in the bin for the dump.

5. Use the hammer to remove any nails, your prybar may work for this as well, depending on what type you have.

Now it's time to tackle the wallpaper. A friend recommended using diluted fabric softener solution and it worked great on the border in the kitchen so I tried it here. This stuff was much more stubborn. I'm pretty certain this wallpaper is 50 years old. To make matters worse, they overlapped the seams requiring a double application. That's when we discovered the second layer of wallpaper under the first. With every step this job got bigger and bigger.

All the layers on the wall. Left to Right - the original plaster walls (in mauve), 1st layer of wallpaper 1950s?, 2nd layer of wallpaper 1960s?, and the painted panelling. The black squiggly lines are globs of panelling glue just to make it a little more challenging.
Supplies for removing wallpaper

  • paper tiger
  • fabric softener
  • bucket
  • rag
  • sponge
  • putty knife
  • white vinegar

Paper Tiger at work
1. Use the paper tiger to score the wallpaper. This makes lots of little holes for the water and fabric softener to get behind and start working on that glue. I didn't have one, and really didn't want to run out to the store or delay my project, so I used a sewing tracing wheel, because I already had one. It's a little wheel with lots of little points on a handle for tracing patterns from paper onto fabric. It worked great, but took it's toll on the tool, so if you use it for sewing, get a paper tiger.

2. Dilute the fabric softener. I filled the bucket up halfway with warm water and added a capful.

3. Liberally apply the solution to the wallpaper. Do this in manageable sections. You will need to keep the paper wet, if it starts to dry it gets sticky again so don't try to do the whole wall at once. I found removing each vertical piece, seam to seam, worked well.

4. Keep re-applying the solution to keep it very wet. It should start bubble up a little. After 10-15 minutes and 3-4 applications, it time to start removing.

5. If you are lucky, the entire piece will come off in tact. Use the putty knife as needed. We have hard plaster walls and I did not have to worry about the putty knife doing damage. If you have drywall you will have to be much gentler.

Pull off the entire sheet, if you are lucky. I was generally unlucky.
6. After all the wallpaper was off my walls were still covered in adhesive. Get a clean bucket of fabric softener solution and apply to the walls using a similar method as above. Use the putty knife to scrape off the excess glue. The next step is to mix a 2 water to 1 vinegar ratio in a spray bottle. Spray the wall, let it sit, then sponge off with a bucket of warm soapy water. Finally the walls are clean!

Clean plaster wall at last. Patching and painting still to be done.
After all that work we discovered the walls were in great condition!  There are lots of little holes to patch from the panelling nails and other hardware used to hang pictures and shelves. My husband's nightmare did not come true and now the wall will be the same as all the others, not some weird painted panelling.   The answer to why the panelling was there in the first was is "To cover the wallpaper"!  I found in a few places, on both layers of wallpaper, where someone had started removing and, I am assuming, they gave up because it is work and much easier to just go over top.  I know painting the panelling is a common solution for a quick fix, but if you can, remove it and repair the wall, it's something you won't regret.

And to all of you who are wondering, what is up with the green carpet?  We know.  It's on the List too. 

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