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Dear James: My kids have done a real number on our drywall. Instead of repairing them, I thought adding wainscoting would be attractive. Is there a simple and inexpensive way to do it myself? — Mark T.

Dear Mark: If you have ever been in an older house with wood wainscoted panels and trim on the walls, you can’t help but notice it. Lining the walls of a stairway with wainscoting can also be truly stunning.

To answer your specific question, installing wainscoting is not a difficult do-it-yourself job. However, it is not inexpensive either. Several companies make wainscoting kits for people to do on their own, but it still costs between six and twenty dollars per square foot. This might sound like a lot, but it is much less than having a carpenter build it from scratch.

Traditional, scratch-built wainscoting is made from solid pieces of wood that are carefully fit together. It consists of many vertical and horizontal pieces of wood that surround raised, wood panels.

These look great when they are first installed, but humidity and temperature change throughout the year cause the wood to expand and contract. This can result in joints that do not fit well, and the wood may even crack or split.

Newer types of wainscoting materials are often made of laminated, engineered lumber, covered with a high-grade wood veneer. You can choose from oak, cherry, maple, etc. that can be stained and finished just like solid wood. If you are planning to paint the wainscoting, select a lower-priced material that uses a durable synthetic veneer.

With an engineered laminated base there is much less expansion and contraction among the pieces, so they should provide a true fit for many years. It is also better for the environment, as it uses less of our natural wood.

There is no need to do all the walls in a room. Just one or two will do, for starters. In fact, it makes sense to start on the plainest wall in the house, so you get a feel for installing the wainscot. Once you get a wall or two under your belt, you should have no problems tackling walls with windows and doors.

If you use the pre-made pieces from one of the two companies listed, the installation procedure should be quite simple by following their instructions. The individual pieces can be nailed and glued to your existing wall with little, if any, surface preparation.

Before starting your project, measure the wall carefully and then measure it again. These dimensions will be used when making and selecting the individual wood pieces. Visit the companies’ websites for guidelines in making your measurements.

When you start installing the wainscot, use a level to make certain that the base rail is horizontal. If it is off, all of the panels will also be off. It will be very apparent on the walls because the edges will not be plumb.

Consider where your electrical outlets are located before you start attaching pieces. The outlets look best when they are in the flat area of a panel. This may require you to move them. Since the wainscoting will cover the drywall anyway, any damage to the drywall will be hidden.

Send your questions to Here’s How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.

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