Can You Put Up Paneling Without Drywall? [Answer Explained]


Wood paneling has seen a resurgence in popularity lately, and common practice is to install it on top of drywall.

But if you want to save as much time and money as possible, you might wonder if you can put up paneling without drywall.

Depending on your local building code, you may be able to put up paneling without drywall if it’s more than ¼” thick. However, this isn’t recommended because wood paneling is very flammable; adding drywall increases fire safety. In addition, wood paneling without drywall can bulge between studs and look unprofessional, and not having drywall limits where you can hang items.

Keep reading to learn about why it’s not the best idea to put up wood paneling without drywall.

We’ll also provide an overview of the installation process, talk about whether paneling or drywall is preferable, and compare the costs of these two materials.

Do You Need Drywall Behind Paneling?

If your paneling is less than a quarter-inch thick, then it requires a solid backing like drywall.

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In most cases, you can install wood panels that are a quarter-inch thick or thicker directly over the studs or furring strips using nails or panel adhesive (or both). 

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However, it’s always important to check your local building code. In some locations, you may find that your paneling needs to be a half-inch or even ⅝” thick to not require drywall behind it.

Why It’s Better To Install Drywall Behind Paneling

Even though you can put up paneling without drywall, it’s not recommended to do so. 

Fire Safety

On its own, wood paneling will spread fire quickly and burn at a very high temperature. Most people decide to install drywall behind their paneling for fire safety reasons.

Drywall acts as a flame retardant. While it’s not as fire-resistant as concrete, it’s still slow to catch on fire and spread it. This is because of its high gypsum content.

Almost half of gypsum’s volume and more than 20% of its weight comes from water, so wood paneling with drywall behind it is much better for fire safety than wood paneling on its own.

More Professional Finished Product

Aside from fire safety concerns, another reason to put drywall behind paneling is to prevent the panels from bulging between studs.

When you have drywall behind the paneling, you can spread the adhesive evenly and keep the panel application much more uniform.

Unlimited Options For Hanging Decor And Other Items

Putting up paneling without drywall also limits you as far as where you can hang items. You’ll only be able to hang items in the areas where the studs are located.

However, when you have drywall behind your paneling, you can hang items anywhere you’d like.

How To Put Up Paneling Without Drywall

If you’ve chosen to put up paneling without drywall, here’s an overview of the process.

1. Measure The Area

The first thing you’ll want to do is measure the area and cut the wood paneling to fit.

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If there are any outlets or piping that will need to be accessible, measure and cut out holes to allow for that.

2. Use 2x4s To Stabilize The Paneling

Attach 2x4s to the wall vertically to serve as supports for the paneling. You can install as many supports as you’d like, and you can even skip this step.

However, adding these 2x4s will result in a much more stable, smooth, and even finished product.

3. Add Insulation

Install insulation between the supports to improve temperature regulation and cut back on noise.

4. Install The Paneling

Use a nail gun to attach your wood paneling to the wall.

5. Add Baseboards And Corner Pieces

If you’d like a more polished look, you can also use a nail gun to attach baseboards and corner pieces to your wood-paneled wall.

This will make it appear cleaner and more professional.

Can Wood Paneling Be Used Instead Of Drywall?

You can use wood paneling instead of drywall in some cases, depending on your local building codes, especially those that concern fire safety.

It’s more commonplace to put wood paneling over drywall instead of using paneling in place of drywall. 

Drywall installation tends to be more difficult than paneling installation, but it’s cheaper to purchase drywall than wood panels. 

Wood paneling is stronger and better for hanging heavy items, while drywall is prone to dents and damage.

However, although wood paneling is generally durable, it’s susceptible to issues from moisture that are especially prevalent in warmer, more humid climates. 

A benefit to drywall is that it’s better at preventing noise from traveling between rooms. Meanwhile, wood does not create much of a barrier against sound.

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Visually, drywall and wood look quite different. Without taking the extra step of decorating either wall material, drywall has a lighter and more airy look, while wood paneling is darker and can appear outdated.

You can paint over either material, but wallpapering over wood paneling is quite a challenge. With drywall, you can also add various textures for different aesthetics. 

Is It Cheaper To Use Drywall Or Paneling?

Generally, drywall is cheaper than paneling. However, if you’re planning to have your drywall professionally installed, that will increase its overall cost.

The average price for a four-foot by eight-foot panel of drywall is $15, with a typical range that runs from $12 to $20. 

For a four-foot by eight-foot sheet of wood paneling, you can expect to pay between $12 and $40. 

As you can see, these two materials cost about the same on the low end, but wood paneling can be much more expensive, especially if you select genuine wood of high quality.


You can usually put up paneling without drywall if it’s at least a quarter-inch thick, but it’s not recommended; always refer to your local building code. On its own, wood paneling is very flammable and can spread fires quickly. Pairing it with drywall is much safer.

Another potential issue with installing paneling without drywall is that it’s likely to bulge in between the studs. When you have drywall underneath, you can spread the adhesive or nail it in evenly for a smooth and more professional-looking finished product.

Installing paneling without drywall also limits the areas where you can hang items like decorations or a TV. You’ll have to hang them on the studs since the paneling alone won’t be able to hold much weight.