How High Should Wainscoting Be?

Wainscoting is a decorative but functional feature you can have in your home. It protects the surface from dents or scuff marks so your walls can maintain their pristine look. The design has evolved from its conception in the 18th century, including how it is placed along the wall. That said, how high should wainscoting really be? We have researched answers to find out. 

It is best to place the wainscoting on 1/3 of the wall’s height, which usually ranges from 36 to 42 inches. This means that if your walls are 9 feet (or 108 inches), divide it by three to get the appropriate measurement. 

Wainscoting is a popular design method that satisfies both function and aesthetic appeal. It has a lot of styles that can satisfy everyone’s preferences and is usually made of sturdy material, making it a timeless feature in the house. If you want to learn more about how wainscoting can affect your home, keep reading below!

white wainscoting and chair rail on wall of orange peach dining living room of colorful home house - How High Should Wainscoting Be

How To Measure Wainscoting Height

When determining the height of your wainscoting, maintaining proportion is key to making the space visually pleasing. Here is how you can measure the appropriate height for your wainscoting:

  • Measure the wall and note the height
  • Divide the number by three
  • Mark the appropriate height on your walls to prepare them for the wainscoting.

Some homeowners prefer higher wainscoting. In this case, it can occupy 2/3 of the wall. This height can make your walls look more textured and be a balancing factor if the room already has a lot of design elements.

What is Wainscoting?

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white wainscoting and chair rail on wall of orange peach dining living room of colorful home house

Wainscoting originated in 18th-century England, so it is typically prevalent in period houses.

The appeal has evolved, however, as it can now fit into more contemporary interiors where wainscotting injects a cozy and traditional charm to create harmony with modern design elements. 

Wainscoting may have decorative features, but its main purpose revolves around preventing the walls from getting scratched by furniture. Today, it has more of a design purpose, although can hide fingermarks and prevent dirt from sticking to walls. 

Wainscoting is a mark of a well-built house regardless of the year it was built. It adds visual interest to a room, although is usually painted with solid neutral colors for aesthetic versatility. 

Wainscoting used to be built by hand, but today, you can purchase pre-made panels for easy installation.

See this Wainscoting on Amazon.

How Much Do Wainscoting Cost?

The cost of wainscoting typically ranges from $1,050 to $1,600 --inclusive of labor and materials. It generally depends on where you live, the size, and the complexity of the design.

If you opt for cheaper materials, expect to pay around $1 per square foot, especially if the design is minimal. The cost can shoot up as high as $40 per square foot if you intend to use solid hardwood or if you want a raised panel that frames the walls. 

Make sure to strike a balance between functionality and affordability so your wainscoting can last for a long time. 

What Materials Does Wainscoting Come in?

Black Wainscot Wall Blank Room

Wainscoting can come in different materials, including vinyl, medium density floorboard, or plywood. 

Vinyl Wainscoting

Vinyl wainscoting is highly durable. This material is warp-resistant, which is ideal if you live in an area where the weather fluctuates regularly. It resembles real wood, so your space can have that homey and rustic appeal that wainscoting tends to lean toward. 

Medium Density Floorboard (or MDF)

MDF is one of the most affordable wainscoting materials you can find. It is made with recycled wood which came from sawdust and shavings, but MDFs have a decent amount of hardness and durability. 

If your house has a pest problem, MDF is ideal since it is pest-resistant. It is also weather-resistant, making it ideal for homes experiencing heat fluctuations.

However, MDF reacts negatively to humidity since it tends to absorb water more, which can cause it to warp. It has also been pegged as a material that emits small amounts of harmful gas unless properly sealed. 


Plywood can create the most elegant look on your walls. This is also the most durable, so they typically installed in high-traffic areas. Make sure to get a competent contractor to install plywood wainscoting since it requires a lot of attention to detail to become functional. 

Benefits of Wainscoting

white wainscoting and chair rail on wall of orange peach dining living room of colorful home house

There's a reason wainscoting has been around--and has evolved over the years.  Wainscoting already has aesthetic appeal, but the primary selling point is innate functionality. 

These are the benefits of wainscoting.

Added Energy-Efficiency

Wainscoting adds a layer of insulation to your house ,which can save energy.

Increased insulation means less heating or cooling, so you decrease your energy consumption when it keeps all the heat inside or outside. 

Shields the Walls

This one is a no-brainer since it was the reason wainscoting was invented in the first place. It protects the walls from scuffs and fingerprints, making your walls look pristine consistently.

Makes The Space Elegant

The aesthetic appeal of wainscoting makes it blend into any interior design. It won't look lost nor be visually overwhelming --a perfect balance when crafting an elegant-looking space.

Challenges With Having Wainscoting

White trim and chair guard with beige textured wall paint

Of course, no material or fixture is perfect, including wainscoting. If you are thinking of installing one, you should be aware of the challenges you could face so you can have an informed decision.

Here are the challenges that come with having wainscoting. 

Not Waterproof

Although modern materials may be water-resistant, they are not waterproof. This means the material could potentially rot if it absorbs too much water or is exposed to too much humidity. 

Installation Errors

If an inexperienced person attempts to build your wainscoting, it will leave a lot of room for error. It may not show immediately, but it will eventually be obvious after a period of time.

Bulging and denting are some of the things you may face if a professional contractor had not installed the wainscoting.


The material may shrink or warp if the wainscoting loses too much moisture. To prevent this, seal the material properly.

Wainscoting Vs. Wall Paneling — Is There a Difference?

Wainscoting and wall paneling are often used interchangeably. Although it is not incorrect, it's important to be familiar with their distinction so you'll know what to expect and avoid confusion.

Here is their key differences in a nutshell:

  • Wainscoting is a type of wall paneling that only covers the bottom third of the wall. It has molding that frames the wall.
  • Wall paneling is a general term that refers to panels that can be placed at varying heights, typically from floor to ceiling.

See this wall paneling on Amazon.

How To Clean Wainscoting

As with all home fixtures, maintenance is key to making them last longer, regardless of the material. Here is how you can effectively clean your wainscoting.

  • Prepare two soft cloths, vinegar, a sealed jar, and water. You may also get a vacuum for faster cleaning.
  • Wipe down the surface using a dry cloth. Supplement it with vacuum cleaning.
  • Clean the sealed wainscoting with equal parts water and vinegar using the soft cloth. Add drops of essential oil to lessen the pungent smell of vinegar.
  • Dry the surface with another soft cloth. 

For easier and seamless cleaning, using the vacuum is highly recommended.

What Are The Types of Wainscoting?

Empty room with power outlet. The wall has a blue beadboard wainscoting and a patterned wallpaper

If you want to have wainscoting, it is essential that you know the main designs that can help you make your home look more sophisticated. Here are the types of wainscoting you may want to explore.

Raised Panel

Raised panel wainscoting is an expensive design since it improves insulation. This design is most prevalent in colonial homes used by wealthy families in the past. 

Flat Panel

Flat panel wainscoting has a minimalist design. It has seams that outline the board and add visual appeal to the paneling.The surface can be embellished with wood or metal, depending on your preference.


This type of wainscoting is also one of the most expensive to build since it is a combination of raised and flat panels. It has a neoclassical design that can be incorporated into contemporary interiors.

Final Thoughts

Wainscoting is a classic architectural feature that can elevate our homes both in form and function. They have evolved with time, so they can suit various preferences without losing their classic touch. 

As always, make sure to maintain your wainscoting material so it can remain in pristine condition for a long time.

To learn more about how to design walls, check out these articles:

How To Paint Trim Without Brush Marks

What Color To Paint Molding, Baseboards And Overall Trim? [3 Options]

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