What's under wood paneling?

To my dismay, whoever(s) built and remodeled many, many houses in the area where I want to buy a house apparently had a real fetish for wood paneling - it seems like virtually every house built 40 or more years ago has at least some. Some houses I’ve seen photos of have it in every room - even the kitchens, even the bathrooms. Dark brown as far as the eye can see. I can’t stand it.

Since new houses start at over 300k, I’m likely to buy one of these poor wood-paneled houses. And in thinking about the likelihood of wanting to replace all the wood paneling, I realize that I’m not actually sure how it went up. I imagine if the house was built during the 50s to 70s they might’ve built the house that way, and there’s nothing under it but the studs.

But what about even older houses that were remodeled to put paneling in once upon a time? Are they likely to have removed drywall/plaster to put the paneling up? Or did they just layer it on over the drywall or plaster?

Sometimes you find nice hardwood floors under carpeting - is it naive to hope there’s drywall under all that god awful paneling?

I would say it’s put over dry wall if it’s older than the 70s. Wood paneling is put up over furring strips attached to 2×4 studs. If it’s glued as well as nailed it will be a bitch to remove. Covering it with dry wall can be done. I have a friend who bought a house with really nicely done wood paneling and she had it cleaned and painted white and it looks great. It completely changed the look of the rooms. So think, paint. Look to make sure the joins are done well and there is no warping of the paneling, that may mean it is composite, like masonite, not real wood.

In older homes, while it’s possible the panelling was put up for style, not unlike wallpaper, it’s often installed because the walls are in very rough condition.

And since no one just panels one wall, it’s not really possible to just lift one panel and look.

My experience with wallpaper is that the truly egregious damage will be under the last piece removed every time.

(We discovered perfect, undamaged inlaid hardwood floors under forty years old wall to wall broadloom in our house! After having lifted corners to ascertain that it WAS hardwood underneath. Had no idea about the inlay.)

Could be anything. Could be layers of lots of things. Each house will be different.

Hell, we’ve discovered an unexpected/interesting thing or two in our typical suburban development 2001 build house we bought a few years ago…in a house that’s 40+ years old, there’s certainly no way to know for sure unless/until you look.

The same friend of mine pulled up something like 10 layers of carpeting and linoleum and found hardwood. It was in bad shape and not really salvagable. Peeps don’t usually cover things that look good. They go the easy way to fix an eyesore. And of course taste and what’s popular is what goes. Look at all the people who were putting Pergo-type flooring down. I know people who are pulling it up and going back to vinyl or tile.

My mother’s house, built in the early 70s, has a couple of paneled walls with no drywall behind them. You can always tell when someone upstairs flushes the toilet.

You can paint over paneling. It really doesn’t look bad and to someone not looking for it, it’s not that noticeable.

Even if you don’t like the look of it painted, it would be a cheap way to buy some time so you can deal with drywalling it later.

Good lord if you could see the bedroom I grew up in. It was not even wood paneling, it was vinyl wallpaper that looked like wood paneling. It was also a green colour. I suppose it went well with the green shag carpet.

The wrek is correct. Paint it.

A friend of mine painted it, then threw towels with different colors of paint on the painted paneling. It was beautiful! But, she is an artist and knew stuff about colors.

As to the question, “what is behind the paneling?” Lots of glue, for sure. Won’t be pretty to remove.

Our farmhouse in Vermont was built about 1850, etc. Lots of fake wood paneling when we bought it. Tore it all out. 2 random walls were actually drywall. The rest were lathe and plaster. Some old plaster with horse or pig hair. Some old walls were solid and perfect, some just crumbled.

I got good at repairing plaster. Refuse to use drywall. Although I did use metal screen instead of wood lathe where it was missing.

An old house with thick solid plaster walls is super quiet and warm. Resist the urge to tear out to studs and then drywall!

The house where I live now has (real) wood panelling in every room…bathrooms, toilets, kitchen (including the cupboards), the whole lot. Even the ceilings are wood panelled.

Now it does indeed make the house a bit dark, especially in the depths of winter. But it does exude a warmth that is hard to beat.

And another plus, you never have to wipe dirty marks off the walls. They just blend in.


When we remodeled part of our unfinished basement into a playroom back in the 60’s, we used wood paneling. It had vertical grooves at irregular intervals, and we were able to nail it to the studs with finishing nails. Insulation, but no drywall. You could tell there was nothing behind it if you tapped it. But no-one used it but us and we didn’t care.

In my house it was put over drywall on some walls, and not on others. Interior walls, usually over drywall. Outer walls, just over the insulation, so it goes concrete/brick, furring (I always forget that word thanks for using it), insulation, wood paneling.

There was a lot of it. Somebody offered a big discount. It’s all over my neighborhood as well, but thankfully not all over my house anymore. It is what I consider to be fake wood paneling, in that it’s actually wood, but it’s reformulated, sculpted wood, not natural planks.

There are many brands of that fake wood stuff with a picture of wood on top. You can tell that stuff by the way it ripples and warps in a damp environment. The real, real wood paneling is very expensive. Many people didn’t want it for a basement rec room, because of the cost. I live in a log cabin house, I wanted to put some of the Real stuff up in a few small rooms, that had no log walls. The laundry room and a small dining room, the price made me choose dry wall instead.

There can be darn near anything under paneling. Someone might have put the paneling up because they liked paneling. They might have just hated painting periodically. They might have been hiding damage to the wall underneath. There might be drywall, or there might be bare studs, or something else entirely. Might be layers and layers and layers of wallpaper. You never know what you are going to find.

My house had paneling in it when I purchased it. My first thought was “where was the fire?” When we took the paneling down though, there was no damage. There was however clear evidence that someone in that house was either colorblind or mentally deranged. One room was literally three walls of Halloween orange and one wall of Barney purple. Several rooms had what was quite possibly the world’s ugliest wallpaper on three walls, with a matching ugly paint on the fourth wall. One room was school bus yellow.

I got to spackle about 40 billion nail holes and it took two layers of killz to cover up that mess. We also found that two archways had been roughly hacked with a saw of some sort so that they could make square paneling doorways, so that took some major patching to fix.

I personally hate painted paneling. I would tear down the paneling and put up new drywall if necessary instead of painting paneling, but that’s just my 2 cents on it.

We had wood-panelling effect wallpaper (not vinyl) in our kitchen. And they’d papered around the cupboards, because in the squares behind the units there was still psychedelic 60s style blue swirly paper. It was kind of cool.

We also had wood panelling. It was attached to wooden battens that were nailed into the plaster. The plaster was actually in pretty good shape… until we levered out the nails holding the battens, at which point fist-sized chunks of it fell out around each nail. Fun times.

(I’m in the UK, where we don’t tend to build houses out of drywall: internal walls are made of breezeblock, skimmed with plaster.)

Depends, quite often paneling in a basement is over a frame over cinder block.

In many cases the paneling is over sheetrock that is trashed from a crappy wallpaper removal attempt. Cheaper developers use to wall paper over unprimed sheetrock and it is then nearly impossible to cleanly remove the wall paper. Paneling was one way to hide this, putting wall paper back up another.

But most paneling was put up over sheetrock, however if it was done with a liquid nails type glue, then the sheetrock will be trashed trying to take the paneling down.

In my old home, it would be dinosaurs.

Mom painted them on the walls when we were little kids, and then couldn’t bear to paint them over when we were older, so we had paneling put up on the bedroom walls instead. The paneling was still there when we moved out in the early '80s. I’ve always wondered what later residents of the house who finally removed the panels and found the dinosaurs intact beneath thought of it.

IIRC, the painted walls were drywall.

Former owners of my hundred year old city house put up paneling in just about every room. Eight foot tall sheets in rooms with ten foot ceilings. It was ugly. I got really excited when I pulled down a sheet and saw the beautiful old wooden baseboards underneath. Then I pulled down another sheet and it looked like they’d taken an ax to level the baseboards to match the depth of the strips/shims that the panels were nailed to. It was heartbreaking. I put the panels back up and painted them. Walls underneath were lath and plaster.