How to Install Wainscoting in a Bathroom

Lead Image
What You'll Need
Tape measure
Miter saw
Table saw
Circular bit
Construction adhesive or brad gun
Caulking gun

Whether you're remodeling or you just have some wall damage that you’d like to cover up, installing wainscoting is a great way to change the look of a space. This has traditionally been done by creating a design with wood planks. However, you can create a similar impact by using manufactured beadboard, a product that is especially nice in bathrooms where you often have limited space in which to work. Here are the steps you need to know.

1. Plan

Planning out your project is the key to success. Consider the following:

Height. How far up the wall do you want your wainscoting to cover? Do you have towel racks or mounted mirrors that might interfere with that height? Also, consider the height of the countertop and back of the toilet. Think about how any renovations affect the height. For example, if you are replacing an in-cabinet sink with a pedestal sink, you may want to cover the wall markings left behind by the removal of the cabinetry. Trim choice is one more thing to consider in establishing the height. Since you will have both lower and chair rail trim, this will add to the total height. The general rule of thumb is to have the wainscoting cover approximately 1/3 of the total wall height.

Products. Manufacturers are now producing beadboard with a variety of options. It can be found in large 4 x 8 sheets that you can cut to size. Trim can be found in a variety of sizes and you’ll need to consider whether you want the same material to trim both the bottom and the top, or if you want to vary the look with two different styles.

Important: if you choose a trim that sits flush against the wainscoting rather than a style that overlaps the top of it, your overall height will be different, so be sure to factor this into your planning stage.

White wainscoting.

For ease of installation, wainscoting kits are also available. These kits come with pre-cut beadboard that fits together neatly. It also includes the trim pieces, made to overlap the top and bottom of the wainscoting. One possible disadvantage of these kits is that the pre-established height, most commonly 32 inches, might not suit your needs.

Measure. Making sure you have the right amount of product will save you a lot of hassle and extra trips to the home improvement store. You will want to measure the distance around the room to get an idea of overall width. Next, consider the width of the product and how it will lay out. Since boards, pre-cut or not, typically come in 4-foot widths, consider how many of those widths you will need. Also figure out whether you are willing to piece together smaller sections. For example, if you have an 8 and 1/2-foot wall, after installing two 4-foot sections, you will be left a 6-inch width. While this is fine, another option is to group together 3 boards with larger widths, such as a 4-foot, a 2-foot, and a 2 and 1/2-foot. This is a matter of preference rather than functionality. Also remember that if you are purchasing 8-foot-high sheets and your desired height is no more than 48,” you will be able to get two 4-foot widths out of each board. Use these same measurements and considerations to calculate the amount of trim you will need.

2. Install

Installing wainscoting is fairly straightforward. If you are using full sheets, rip to your desired height using a table saw. Warning: Use safety glasses and ear protection while using a table saw. If you know your lengths and widths, you can ask the team in the lumber section at your local home improvement store to cut them for you.

Begin with any wall that requires cutting around plumbing pieces. Use a circular bit attached to your cordless drill to create a circle that will allow you to install over piping extending out of the wall. Cut and lay out all pieces to ensure proper placement before mounting. If you are using a trim with a preformed edge, slide the wainscoting into the lower portion before adhering to the wall. Use a steady bead of adhesive around the back of the board to mount it to the wall. Alternately, or in addition to the adhesive, use a small brad gun to mount the boards.

A white bathroom cabinet with tile floor and beadboard.

When using a kit, the boards will go together in a tongue-and-groove fashion. With beadboard, they will butt up against one another. At this point, cut and attach your chair molding to the top of the boards. For very long walls, you may need to join two trim pieces together. When cutting these pieces, cut them both at a 45-degree angle so that they overlap rather than butt up to each other. This will make the seam more discrete. Finish the project by running a bead of caulking along any gaps in the edges, seams, and corners, which will conceal the seam points. Use putty to fill brad holes and paint.

The craft of wainscoting has been around for a long time. For centuries it has been used to help insulate homes and cover up water damage. But the technique also offers an easy way to add texture to a room. The use of beadboard makes the process quick and efficient. Plus, it’s a task beginner DIYers can tackle!