Q. I have several problem walls with hairline cracks, gouge marks, stains and so forth, and am thinking of giving them a new look with wall panels. I’m old enough to remember when panels were very popular and saw some recently in a house that looked very good. Are they hard to install and where can they be bought these days?
A. Wall panels are still available at some home centers and building-supply outlets, but many panels have little resemblance to the old grooved, fake wood that were popular in the 1970s and 1980s. Modern wall panels are available with just about every wall-decorating appearance prefinished. The finishes include textures, wallpaper-style patterns, beadboard, ceramic tiles, and even bricks. You can get a good preview of panel patterns by using a search engine and the words Buy Wall Panels; one good sampling is on the Lowe’s site.
Many home centers once stocked large selections, but in-stock panels began to dwindle in the 1980s when many homeowners tired of the paneled look and turned to paint and other means of decorating walls.
Panels are an excellent treatment for problem walls. They generally measure 4 feet by 8 feet, are often light enough in weight to be handled by one person, and are relatively easy to install if the wall is flat. Moldings should be removed from the tops and bottoms of walls to be paneled; they can be replaced after the panels are installed or matching moldings are sometimes available.
Most panels are attached with adhesive, but precolored nails can be used with some patterns for extra holding power. Most panels are cut with a fine-toothed plywood blade in a circular saw; saw across the back of the panel to avoid marring it. Some panels might include special installation instructions, and those should be followed when included, of course.
Panel prices differ widely depending on the materials and finish, but many are in the $15 to $40 range for a four-foot by eight-foot panel, so that most walls can be covered at nominal cost. An additional decorative use of wall panels is for wainscoting. A layer of paneling about 36 inches high, topped with an appropriate molding, can be a handsome decorative element.
Q. My house has vinyl siding, which has held up very well for years except on one side of the house that faces another house. On that side, an area of the siding is distorted and appear to have been subjected to very high heat. I think the heat is coming from reflected sunlight from windows in the house next door. Is that possible? The neighbor disagrees, very strongly.
A. It is possible. The National Vinyl Siding Institute, a trade group, said the damage occurs “only under a unique set of conditions.”
Vinyl siding is able to withstand normal sunlight without problems, but concentrated, reflected sunlight can reach abnormal temperatures and cause damage.
The source of reflected sunlight is sometimes energy-efficient windows that have taken a slightly concave shape so that they literally focus sunlight (and heat) much like a concave mirror.
The solution is to provide some sort of buffer to keep the focused sunlight from hitting the siding. This can be done by using trees or shrubs to intercept the sunlight, or install awnings or screens on the offending windows. Some solutions would require the cooperation of the neighbor, of course.