Question Of The Week: How Do I Choose The Right Wall Covering And Installation?

Question Of The Week: Do you have any advice on how to choose the best wall covering and installation method for my facility project?

By Greg Laux

wall coveringAs a facility manager, you likely don’t consider yourself an expert in the design and specification of wall coverings. But, by understanding and managing the various life phases of wall coverings, you will certainly avoid headaches and frustration.

Any product can be viewed along a timeline, from the initial “Consideration of Selection” phase on down to the eventual “End of Useful Life.” For our purposes, let’s consider the front end/earliest elements of that timeline: “Selection and Installation.”

To choose and install the best possible wall covering, you will find that providing feedback to the decision makers is a crucial part of the process to achieve optimal results. Use these tips and tricks to save time, money – and your sanity.

Wall Covering Selection

wall coverings
Credit: Candice Olson Contract collection, MDC Wallcoverings

While most commercial vinyls will bring you many of the same criteria (Class A fire rating, meets all pertinent Specifications under CCC-W-408D or the Wallcoverings Association’s W-101), there are some intangibles that will make your life a little easier – and the final installation as beautiful as it is long-lasting. As you experience the performance of vinyls in a facility setting, you will come to understand the distinction in traffic areas. Carefully assessing current wall appearance will help guide you through a few management tips to maximize the appropriateness of the next potential wall covering:

  • Begin with the end in mind. Know your design cycle (let’s say every eight years as styles change). Advance planning to stabilize the post-removal skimcoat (or perhaps virgin gyp board) surface with the proper and robust acrylic wallcovering primer will prove beneficial when the eventual removal day arrives. Similarly, selecting a wall covering which has proven to be easily strippable (such as a woven backed/Osnaburg backing) and pairing that selection with a known strippable adhesive system will also ease your headaches later for the removal and resulting wall prep which is to come.
  • Learn from your existing wear and tear. What types of damage are you seeing? Is it mostly surface marks or are there penetrations through the existing wall coverings? What percentage of those surface marks have actually abraded through the inks/print layer and thus may be revealing the color of the vinyl film which lies beneath it? Will a new wall covering actually improve this result or can traffic flow be adjusted to influence wear?
  • Admit to hard traffic areas. Wall covering offers several advantages in areas of medium traffic. And yet, those hardest abuse areas may need a more robust protection than you can get from a decorative layer of vinyl. The heaviest traffic often requires the durability which is only found in certain panel systems. It may be useful to acknowledge that the typical wall covering is a combination of several distinct layers (the vinyl film, the inks printed on it and the backing laminated to it) and, as such, it is commonly somewhere around 1/16” thick. So, while it can absorb some hits, you are wise to recognize that it cannot always be as utterly bulletproof as is sometimes desired. For admitted heavier traffic areas, pay attention to the distinction between the ink colors and the film colors. Keep those two elements fairly close in color to help mask anticipated damage. Avoid linear embosses, as those can highlight scraping or abrasion damage. Inquire if a topcoat option is possible to further shield those ink layers.

Wall Covering Installation

  • Vet your installation crew. Be confident in their abilities. Seek references and then talk about education, experience and credentials. If you need a reference, the Wall covering Installers Association (WIA) offers accreditation/education classes for commercial installers. To find local accredited members, the organization provides a consumer search by zip code function.
    However, you’ll still need to consider:
    – Is the installation crew also doing the removal and surface repair? Know who is responsible for repairing any surface damage which will result from removal.
    – Are they using a primer and an adhesive from the same manufacturer, just in case there is a further issue? If not, who will resolve any finger pointing which might erupt?
    – What type of labor warranty is being offered by the crew?
  • Plan for attic stock for future repairs. Installing by floors or specific areas means you need to plan to set aside attic stock which is specific to that portion of the bolt sequence and has been marked as such. Make sure you have a system to organize attic stock and have it properly identified so that later, when you need it, some new installer can understand which bolt is the correct one to select for the right location. (And you may want to discuss your need for attic stock with the installers before they submit a proposal for the work. It may impact the additional material quantity which you will be requiring.)

Your wall covering knowledge and experienced voice can bring valuable information to the decision-making and installation process. Don’t be hesitant to speak up and share your site-specific insights early on in the process.

Greg Laux is the Technical Director of MDC. His practical experience and insights stem from years of association education work and time on actual job sites.

Do you have any thoughts or experiences to share about selecting and installing wall coverings? Please use the Comments section below.


  1. I don’t know any companies that have good primers and their paste is good also. Either get a company with a good primer or good paste. I have used great primers and great pastes. Never the same company. I think your point maybe don’t mix too many chemicals. Once the primer is dry and does his job use a quality adhesive. I’ve been a wallpaper installer for 42 years . Not to jinx myself but the past 25 years I haven’t had to go back for one repair. The biggest problem that causes failures is dust left on the wall before priming nothing sticks to dust

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