Tips for Replacing Baseboard Without Losing Your Mind
When the Martins built their home over 100 years ago, they argued over most of the designs. One thing they didn’t argue about was installing baseboards in all the rooms. And they definitely didn’t talk about eventually replacing baseboard that ran throughout their home.
Baseboards cover not only that awkward intersection between the floor and the wall — they also protect walls against feet, pets, mops, toys and assorted assaults. With seven kids, three loyal dogs and a seemingly infinite rotation of cats in the Martins’ future, the walls would need all the help they could get.
Now the Garcias own the home. Replacing those worn, nicked and scratched baseboards was near the top of the list. Swapping out long, straight boards seemed so simple at the time. Who knew the job could be so maddening?
Instead of learning the hard way, benefit from their experience with these tips.
Walls are supposed to be flat and straight. Theoretically. In practice, many have bumps and curves because the drywall wasn’t hung or spackled precisely. Why? Does it really matter? Now’s not the time to assign blame. It’s time to find a solution.
Rather than attacking the walls and cursing the original installer, you need to modify the placement of the baseboards. That’ll adjust the mistake — at least until the next owners try to put in new baseboards and run into the same issue. Then they’ll have fun, too.
If your selected baseboard is ¾-inch thick, it won’t bend to fit your curvy walls. Fill in any gaps between board and wall with high-quality acrylic latex caulk. Make sure it’s labeled “paintable.” That’s the ingenious part of the plan.
Squeeze the caulk into the gap. It’s OK to overfill it, just use a damp cloth to clear off any excess. But when the caulk is dry, you can — wait for it — paint it to match the walls. Sheer genius.
Thinner baseboard offers more flexibility. Hold a board against a wall to see if there’ll be any gaps. If so, run construction adhesive along the board’s top and bottom. Nail up the board, and then use scrap wood to brace the board tight against the wall.
Attach braces to the board with 1-inch brads, if necessary. You can always fill in those teeny-tiny holes when you cover the nail heads. By the next day, the adhesive will have set, so you can remove the braces.
Sometimes when replacing old baseboard, new baseboard fits against the floor, but it doesn’t rest flush against the wall. This typically has two possible causes. There’s a gap between the flooring and the drywall, or the drywall is narrower near the floor. Or, if you’re like the lucky Garcias: both.
Not to worry. There are several ways to approach this challenge:
- Use wider baseboards. Problem solved.
- If you’re putting baseboard in a carpeted room, rest boards on top of the carpet rather than on the floor itself. Carpeting takes up about ¾ inch of wall space. That’s usually enough to fix the problem. If you’re installing carpeting after the baseboards are up, rest the baseboards on thin spacers before nailing the boards to the wall. Remove the spacers and tuck the ends of the carpet beneath the boards.
- Wood, vinyl or laminate floor? Insert ½-inch pieces of plywood into the gap all the way around the room. Leave a few feet between shims. Then lay your baseboards. Be sure the nails go into the wall itself, not the empty space. Or, like the Garcias, your first few impeccably placed boards will fall off.
If a wall is longer than your baseboard, replacing baseboard will require combining two pieces of board. Beware: It won’t look good if you use straight cuts on the ends you’re joining. Instead, use a scarf joint.
Cut the decorative top sections at 45-degree angles so they fit snugly. Cut the bottoms of the boards straight down.
Why is this called a scarf joint? Good question. Why is the little plastic end of your shoelace called an aglet? Who knows. Don’t worry about why it’s called a scarf joint. These types of joints serve their purpose, especially when installing molding and trim.
Typically, you handle outside and inside corners differently. Why?
It’s all about that base… ‘bout that base… board.
- Outside corners are mitered. For those of you carpenter newbies, both sections of a mitered joint are cut at 45-degree angles. When you measure, add 1/16 of an inch to the end of the boards for a really tight fit.
- Coped joints are better on inside corners. It’s like fitting puzzles pieces together. One board end is cut straight, while the next board is cut to exactly match the first. Especially on old houses, that doesn’t mean another straight cut. The whole bumpy-wavy-curvy wall thing.
When you’re all done, you might notice some holes or gaps. They are most certainly not your fault. You’ve done flawless work.
But if you’ve been cursed by the home improvement gods, use wood filler to cover imperfections. When it dries, sand it smooth. Caulk will cover any openings between the wall and baseboard top. Replacing baseboard doesn’t have to be a pristine or perfect project by any means. Just functional.
Installing your boards might take a while. More than a few boards could be wasted. Tears could be shed. Many oaths could be uttered — but now, on to the next job. Who’s up for a bathroom remodel? Anyone?