The Design Capacity and Durability of Vinyl Wall Coverings

Whether in an office, restaurant, retail shop, or family den, a room’s walls experience constant abuse. While paint and wallpaper are versatile decorating tools and establish a minimum defense, they are not effective in protecting a room’s interior against the impact of constant human traffic. That’s a job for a vinyl wall covering. The first recorded use of wall coverings dates back to ancient Egyptian nobles and decorative papyrus. Commercial applications of paper wall coverings most likely didn’t begin until 14th-century Germany, when the invention of the printing press made manufacturing more cost-efficient. Since then, the technology behind wall coverings has improved to include polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic alternatives, which bring durability and ease-of-maintenance to these once merely decorative products.

Getting what you pay for
At a glance, wall coverings can seem more expensive than paint. However, for commercial spaces and high-traffic areas, wall coverings clean more easily and retain their appearance far longer, which can make them a better investment.

Depending on the degree of wear and tear, many paint finishes often endure only three or four years before requiring reapplication and touch-ups. Vinyl wall coverings typically last about a decade—if not longer—and can be better equipped to sustain abuse. In most cases, paint inevitably reveals every ding and scratch on a wall, with marks standing out like rust on a car door. Vinyl is better at hiding similar damage, as well as common wear and tear.

Not only can vinyl be the most versatile and durable option, but vinyl wall coverings are also continually becoming easier to apply, partly due to improvements in wall cover pastes. In fact, vinyl is arguably the easiest wall covering to hang, available three ways:

a vinyl sheet attached to a paperback
a vinyl sheet attached to a cloth back
vinyl-impregnated cloth attached to a paper back

Selecting for style
Vinyl wall coverings can duplicate the look of more expensive, natural surfaces so flawlessly, that it is almost impossible to tell the difference between them. With such a wide array of wall covering options to choose from, it is important to select a color suitable for its environment. Generally, darker or more neutral colors diminish visible wear in high-traffic areas, while lighter hues—though more susceptible to aging—tend to brighten a room. Although patterned coverings can be more challenging to install than in solid colors, they can be ideal for aging buildings or spaces with dent-riddled walls, where soft but distinct design successfully masks unsightly marks.

When installed with a tight seam, vinyl creates a nearly impermeable seal against moisture, protecting walls from splashes or spills. This makes them especially well-suited for bathrooms, kitchen areas, and healthcare facilities. The surface of vinyl wall coverings can also hold up to washing and thorough scrubbing, which helps control germs and bacteria.

Installation and repair
Prior to installation of the wall covering, have substrates such as gypsum wallboard primed properly so that any future removal does not damage the walls. Vinyl wall coverings are installed to last and sustain damage, which can make their removal more challenging than that of paper or paint products. For a remodel, it is important for wall coverings to be installed before the wall has sustained too much damage. Preparation and application can become more difficult on an older wall that has built-up dirt and grime, compromising the effectiveness of the wall covering paste. In such cases, select an installer who values the importance of surface prep. Routine maintenance will let vinyl sustain its original beauty and live up to its full potential. Washing the walls regularly helps keep wall coverings looking fresh for years, outlasting virtually any paint job.

About the Author

John Jacob is the commercial sales manager for Hester CommercialPainting, a division of Hester Decorating Co. He attended Chicago,Illinois’ Washburne Trade School, where he was a NationalWallcovering Panel Contest winner.