Install Drywall Over Old Paneling

By James Dulley

November 1, 2018 4 min read

Dear James: My house has old paneling with vertical grooves, and I want to cover it with drywall and paint it. I am not sure how to handle fitting the wood trim around the doors and windows. Do you have any tips? — Ronald D.

Dear Ronald: Installing drywall over old paneling is one method to improve the appearance of a room. As you noted, it can be a difficult task to extend all the window and door trim to fit over the thicker wall with the drywall attached, but it can certainly be done.

Before you finalize your decision to add the drywall, consider just painting the old paneling. It might not sound attractive, but it actually can be. The vertical grooves in the paneling can create an interesting pattern and will simulate wallpaper to a degree.

Give it a try first on the smallest wall in the room. Thoroughly scrub down the paneling with soap and water. Lightly sand the surface with medium-grit sandpaper or a sanding block. Roll on a coat of primer and then paint in the color of your choice. Move the furniture back into place, hang any paintings and drapes and see how it looks. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

If you still want to add drywall over the paneling, you will first have to remove all the window and door trim and the baseboards. Pry them off carefully. Some of the wood trim may be finger-jointed, which can be quite fragile. If you are having difficulty, you may just choose to install all new wood trim and quickly rip off the old.

Once all the trim is removed, you will be ready to install the drywall. Unless there are some space constraints, use drywall that is 1/2 inch or 5/8 inch thick. It is stronger and easier to work with than thinner drywall. It also is available in stretcher sizes in case your walls are higher than 8 feet. Using larger stretcher sheets eliminates the need for an extra narrow strip and drywall joint.

You will have to extend the window and door jambs out to the outer surface of the new drywall. Use lumber with a high-quality finish and fit it over the jamb to create the appearance you desire. You may choose to offset it to the side a bit to create more window detailing. Size the extension strips so they will extend out about 1/32 inch beyond the drywall. This makes it easier to fit the finishing trim over the drywall.

Depending upon the rigidity of the paneling, you may be able to glue the drywall to the paneling instead of nailing it through the paneling to the wall studs. There are many easy-to-apply construction adhesives available at most home improvement stores. If you have any concerns about the flatness of the paneling, use nails or screws to apply it.

Check your local building codes about the maximum distance (gap) between the electrical box in the wall and the wall surface. If it will be too large, you can move the electrical box outward or install a box extension ring.

Because you will be covering the wall with drywall, you can cut away a section of the paneling to gain greater access to the electrical boxes. Don't forget to switch off the circuit breakers first.

Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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