How high should you wainscot a bathroom wall?

Dear Angie: We are about to gut a small bathroom and want to install classic black and white subway tile around the tub, and white wainscoting around the other three walls. Should we go all the way to the top with the wainscoting or 3/4ths of way up wall? Which will make it look bigger? Will the wainscoting hold up in a bathroom given moisture? – Donna H., Boston

Dear Donna: Most wainscot paneling runs about 36 inches from the floor up, but it’s not unheard of to go as high as 48 to 52 inches. Wainscoting involves a textured wall board (traditionally wood, but these days, the board can even be plastic) with molding at the top of it that separates the wall into two, distinct looks. If you installed it all the way up the wall, you would sacrifice the duality that makes it stand out and essentially have paneling. However, how far up you take it is ultimately a personal decision and depends on the overall look you are trying to achieve. Remember, factor window heights and towel bar placement into your project.

With the amount of moisture and potential for mold and mildew growth in the bathroom, an exterior grade wainscoting product would likely work best. If you’re installing tongue and groove wainscoting, be sure to prime and paint the wood before installation. If you do paint it, use a latex paint designed specifically for bathrooms – one that is mildew resistant. A good exhaust fan will help reduce moisture in the air.

If you’re not an experienced remodeler, this job might best be left to a highly recommended remodeling pro. You’re looking at a lot of prep work and potential for mistakes. What you don’t want to do is start a project yourself, only to have to have a professional come in and fix it, which in the end will cost you more than if you hired it out to begin with. However, if you’re patient, research and follow the proper steps, you should end up with a beautiful new bathroom.


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