Chair Rail Installation Tips and Ideas
Lee has over two decades of hands-on experience remodeling, fixing, and improving homes, and has been providing home improvement advice for over 13 years.
Updated on 09/30/22
Deane Biermeier is an expert contractor with nearly 30 years of experience in all types of home repair, maintenance, and remodeling. He is a certified lead carpenter and also holds a certification from the EPA. Deane is a member of The Spruce’s Home Improvement Review Board.
- Working Time: 2 – 3 hrs
- Total Time: 1 – 2 days
- Skill Level: Intermediate
- Estimated Cost: $25 to $50
Chair rail moldings installed along the walls first came into use as a buffer to prevent the backs of chairs from hitting delicate plaster walls in dining rooms, where chairs were constantly being moved back and forth around the table. As plaster walls turned into wallboard and formal dining rooms lost their popularity, so too did chair rails. But now the chair rail, along with other traditional types of ornamental trim, such as wainscoting, tall baseboards, and crown molding, has surged back into homes as a desirable design element. There are plenty of modern, simple, and inexpensive chair rail ideas for all rooms of the house, from bedrooms and stairways to hallways and kitchens. For example, chair rail tile trim (often called pencil tile) in a bathroom often offers a clean divide for a tile and wallpapered wall.
Chair rail molding is easy to install, and there are many styles to choose from. If you’re considering adding a chair rail to any room, here are some considerations to keep in mind and then read on for instructions on how to install chair rail.
What is the difference between wainscoting and chair rail? Wainscoting is paneling that goes on a wall. Chair rail is the trim that is placed on the top edge of wainscoting to give it a finished look. However, chair rail can be installed on a wall without wainscoting.
Determining Chair Rail Height
How high should you install your chair rail molding? In the past, when a chair rail was actually used as a bumper for chair backs, the answer would have been "as high as the backs of the chairs." But chair rails are now used more as a design element than as a practical device for protecting walls. You can look at chair rail height from two perspectives:
- Height above the floor: In rooms with 8-foot-high ceilings, you can place chair railing between 30 and 48 inches above the floor. In most instances, though, a chair rail will be between 32 and 36 inches from floor level.
- Relative placement: Not all ceilings are 8 feet high; some ceilings are 10 or 12 feet. In this case, the room could easily accommodate a chair rail that is as high as 48 inches. The general rule of thumb is to position a chair rail in the lower one-third of the wall height. If you imagine the wall height divided vertically into three sections, the chair rail is best placed at the line between the bottom and middle thirds of the wall. For example, in a 10-foot-high room (120 inches), the chair rail can be placed 40 inches above the floor.
Of course, in rooms where the chair rail serves its classic function of protecting dining room walls, it should be installed where it will successfully protect the walls from being marred by the backs of dining room chairs. Measure the height of the chair backs and position the chair rail molding at this height. In almost all instances, this will fall into the classic zone for chair rails.
A chair rail is the ultimate DIY project since few tools are needed and almost anybody can do it. This is a project that provides a lot of satisfaction for a modest investment in time and materials. Even though chair rail molding can be fairly pricy stuff, you won’t be using a lot of it. Even so, you don’t want to waste any of this precious product by making mistakes with the installation.
Consider painting your chair rail molding before attaching the pieces to the wall. This can be considerably easier than trying to paint a chair rail after it is attached.