If you think laminate flooring would look great on your walls, you're not alone. Interior designers have been using it for cabinet facing, backsplashes and accent walls. The installation process isn't as simple as you might think, though. Because the flooring won't be "floating" on a horizontal surface, you'll have to devise an unobtrusive and secure way to attach the planks to the walls. The keyword here is "unobtrusive" -- no face nails allowed.
You Need Glue and Nails -- Usually
If you're renovating a room and already have the walls down to the studs, you have the option of covering the studs with fiber cement board, which will provide a secure backing for glue. You can't rely on drywall or plaster to hold glue, though -- drywall paper can separate, and plaster can crumble. Companies that manufacture plastic laminates don't recommend gluing those materials to drywall or plaster. Laminate flooring, which is heavier, would be even more problematic. That means you need nails -- and to make them invisible, they need to go through the tongues of the boards so that you can cover them. This requires small nails and a nail gun, which can drive nails without splitting the fragile core material of laminate flooring.
Consider Trimming the Edges
Another challenge to consider is how best to deal with the edges of the flooring/paneling. Laminate manufacturers recommend a 1/4-inch expansion gap around the edge of the flooring to prevent buckling from expansion. On the floor, this gap is usually hidden by the baseboard. While buckling may not be as much of a problem when the boards are glued down, you should still plan to trim the edges, because it's virtually impossible to avoid a gap when installing the last board flush against a wall.
Step 1 Rack the Boards
Lay out the boards on a flat surface, the way you want them to appear on the wall. Maintain a 6- to 12-inch stagger between the ends of boards in adjacent rows to avoid unsightly lines cutting across the grain of the wood. Cut the boards with a circular saw to fit at the end of each row, and use a straightedge to ensure the ends are straight. Trim the tongues and grooves off the ends and sides of the boards around the perimeter of the arrangement.
Step 2 Lay out the First Row
Horizontal Arrangement -- Lay the first row along the floor, counter or trim piece demarcating the bottom of the paneling, and use a level to check the level of the top edge. Trim boards as needed to make this edge level.
Vertical Arrangement -- Measure the distance between the tops of the walls or the edges of the area to be paneled, then make the same measurement at the bottoms. If they aren't the same, find the difference and trim the first row of boards to compensate for this difference.
Step 3 Find and Mark the Studs
Use a stud finder to find the wall studs, and snap a chalk line along the center of each one.
Step 4 Install the First Row
Lay an S-shaped bead of construction adhesive on the back of the first board, set it in place and drive 2-inch finish nails into each stud that the board intersects. Spread glue on the next board, tap it into position and nail it to the studs. Continue until you reach the end of the row.
Step 5 Brace the First Row
Lay a length of 1-by-2-inch lumber along the edge you didn't nail, and drive two or three nails through the brace and into the studs to secure that edge. You'll remove this brace later, and the three nail holes should be the only ones in the whole installation -- not including the same holes on the last board -- that you'll have to fill.
Step 6 Wait Overnight
Let the glue set overnight before continuing. This ensures the first row is stable and won't move when you tap boards against it.
Step 7 Install the Rest of the Boards
Spread adhesive on each board before you install it, then tap it into place and nail the tongue-edge to the studs.
Step 8 Install the Last Row
Remove the brace from the first row and use it to brace the edge of the last board, driving three or four nails through the brace to secure it. Leave the brace overnight before removing it and filling the nail holes.