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Replacing RV Wall Paneling: A Complete Guide

This post was updated on March 15th, 2024

Grey, arched, headboard with colorful pillows against a white shiplap wall - replacing RV wall paneling.
Replacing RV wall paneling is a very doable DIY project.

Update Your RV With New Wall Paneling

Although not a very common job, replacing RV wall paneling may be something you are faced with at some point.

In a worst-case scenario, you have water damage and need to remove wall paneling to properly repair it. You may also be replacing RV wall paneling with another surface for an upgraded look.

Either way, removing RV wall paneling can seem like a difficult and even scary job. This guide will ease your concerns and walk you through the process. When planned out and done properly, replacing RV wall paneling is actually a very doable DIY project.

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Before you remove the paneling

Pulling the wall paneling off can be unnerving for a couple of reasons. Firstly, will you ever get your RV back together as it was, and secondly, what will you find behind the paneling?

If you are removing the paneling for repair reasons, there is a good chance things will be worse than you expected. Water damage is the most likely reason you will be replacing RV wall paneling for repairs, and water damage spreads far and fast.

Whatever your reason for removing the wall paneling, you must be prepared to deal with any issues you find inside the wall. Water damage, mold, dead rodents, whatever it is you find—once you see it, you have to deal with it. Your plan to just remove a small section could easily grow to an entire wall.

Electricity and plumbing

There is a good chance there will be electrical, plumbing, or both in the wall you are working on. It is important to shut off the power and water supplies before starting.

A wire detector is a great tool to quickly scan for electrical wires running through the walls. Many stud finders have them and they’re a cheap investment.

In most cases, you will be able to remove RV wall paneling with little to no cutting. However, if you are cutting, it is very important to be careful of any systems that may be behind the paneling. Remember, sometimes electrical and plumbing lines can be run in unpredictable ways. RV construction doesn’t always make sense.

Required tools and supplies

It’s a good idea before starting any job to gather everything you need to complete it. This job requires only a few basic tools and supplies.

As mentioned above, a wire detector combined with a stud finder is a smart choice. RV wall paneling is usually easily located, as it is generally fastened to each stud. In some cases, however, you may need to locate the next stud, and knowing where the wires are is an important feature.

A multidriver with the bits for the three main screw types—Robertson (square), Phillips (star), and slotted—will be needed. There will likely be items that need to be removed from the wall before you can start.

A small pry bar and hammer will be useful to lift the edges of the paneling. The thinner the better for the pry bar teeth. There is no serious prying that needs to be done; it will be more of a light encouragement.

Seals, seams, and old paint may need to be dealt with, and a blade knife is an easy answer. Running it along the joints you are separating will help free up the panels.

Removing RV Wall Paneling

No turning back now; it’s time to pull back the curtain and see what’s back there! One thing you will almost certainly see is construction debris from when the RV was built.

Sawdust, screws, and offcuts from plumbing and electrical are all commonplace. This is a great time to clean everything that was left behind by the manufacturers.

In most cases, RV wall paneling will be joined to wall studs. The wall stud will have a plastic track in the center to receive another cap for the joint. These caps simply press into the track fastened to the stud. To remove them, start a corner with a flat screwdriver or thin pry and peel the cap from the track.

A second option manufacturers use is seam tape. This is simply a tape matching the color of the wall paneling that covers the seam. When removed, it will most likely have to be replaced with a new tape. Having it centered over the joint is important to completely cover the length of the seam.

With the cap or seam tape removed, the edges of the wall panels will be exposed. Small finish nails, or more commonly staples, are used to fasten the panels to the studs. It is very difficult to remove both of these, and in most cases, they will be pulled through the panel and remain in the stud.

This is okay; however, you will have to remove all the staples or nails from the stud. Pliers are your best bet for this annoying job.

The panel will most likely be fastened to all studs and also to the top and bottom plates where the wall meets the floor and ceiling. It is best to remove full panels rather than cutting panels. The joints are located on studs for support, so the joints can be covered easily.

Removing RV wall paneling between joints will result in a difficult job securing that new joint when you replace the paneling. If the paneling you are removing is being replaced with new paneling, the removal process can be made easier by cutting panels if needed.

Replacing RV Wall Paneling

Before replacing the paneling, it is important to make sure any damage or suspected issues are dealt with.

If you are reinstalling the old paneling, care should be taken when removing it to keep the edges in as good of condition as possible. There will be less than one inch of stud surface to attach the panel edge.

Staples or small finish nails will be used to attach the panels to the stud. The edges will butt up against the edges of the track in the middle of the stud. When the panel is fully secured on the studs and top and bottom plates, the plastic cap can be pressed back into the track.

Upgraded Paneling

Whether you had planned on doing some remodeling or not, this is a great time to add some character and replace that boring wall paneling.

One consideration to make in replacing the paneling with a different type is the thickness of the new paneling. Anything that protrudes through the wall paneling will have to be double-checked to ensure thicker paneling won’t cause any issues.

Wainscoting and shiplap are both popular choices for upgrades. RV wall panels are cut to size, whereas any upgraded paneling will likely have to be cut to fit. If you are unable to have pieces that extend from stud to stud, you may have to add a stud to make things easier and add support where needed.

If required, a stud the same size as the existing ones can be added with corner brackets. This may allow you to better utilize the dimensions of the paneling you are using.

The plastic track for the joint cap will likely not be used in this case, and it can be removed from the studs. Larger track and cap systems can be used, or a simple piece of wooden trim can be nailed with small finish nails over the gap.

You don’t want to butt the panels tight, as the RV will move around, and this can cause issues such as the joint buckling. If the original paneling is free of water damage or mold, shiplap and wainscoting can be applied over the top, which makes the job easier.

Replacing RV wall paneling can be a great way to upgrade your interior or may be necessary to repair the damage. Whatever the reason, it isn’t as scary of a job as it may seem at first.

Take your time with the removal, especially if you plan to reuse the panels. If new paneling is being used, realize that some modifications may have to be made. Once you’ve put everything back together, you can feel confident there is nothing hiding inside your walls and you may have a fresh new look in your RV.

Make sure you keep track of all your RV maintenance and repairs with an online tool such as RV LIFE Maintenance. Not only can you keep all of your documents in one place, but you’ll also receive timely reminders when maintenance is due to help you avoid costly repairs and potentially serious accidents.

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