Interior Design, Painting, Walls

Which is Better Paint or Wallpaper: Costs, Prep, Design, and Lifespan

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Hubert Miles

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Paint and wallpaper have been around for centuries, and at some point, one has been more famous than the other. First, however, one must ask themselves which of the two is better. The kind of look you are going for and the work that goes into achieving your desired results determine your choices.

Let’s discuss is paint or wallpaper better and why.

For the budget-conscious, paint is better than wallpaper because it costs less upfront, applies quickly, dries fast, and can be changed as often as one desires. Wallpaper lasts 15-20 years and has higher upfront costs but pays for itself over time. Wallpaper is better in semi-formal and formal rooms where a WOW factor is desired.

Both paint and wallpaper have their share of pros and cons. Consider different aspects of these wall treatments before deciding on what suits you best. Some of these aspects include:

  • Wallpaper vs. paint costs
  • Wall preparation work
  • The available variety
  • Design space suitability
  • Maintenance over time

What works for someone else’s design needs and preferences might not work for you. Set your criteria and think about how the pros and cons of wallpaper and paint affect what you want. This article will discuss how pricing, wall preparation work, design considerations, available options, and maintenance affect your decision.

Wallpaper Vs. Paint Costs

Your financial power determines your ability to purchase materials and pay for the labor associated with decorating your walls. Usually, Paints cost less than wallpaper upfront. 

Painting Costs to Consider

You can buy paints that cost much less upfront if you have a limited budget, though higher-quality paints last longer.

Cheap paints cost an average of $20 a gallon, but good-quality paint can cost anywhere from $30 to $45 per gallon. Some paints cost as much as $100 per gallon! 

Each gallon of paint will cover 350 square feet. So, you have a pretty wide price range to work with, depending on your budget.

The types of finish, area to be painted, paint brand, and type of paint you choose will affect the cost of painting your home.

The average cost of painting a room ranges from $350 to $850 per room and $1200 to $3900 per house. Labor costs account for 70% to 85% of the total price of painting. So, if you paint your home, you get to save hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Painting tools aren’t free. Of course, if you hire painters, you won’t need to buy most of the supplies. But if you intend to paint your home, you must purchase tools like brushes, furniture, floor covers, tape, and paint trays. But you could always borrow them from someone to cut costs.

Wallpaper Costs Can Be High

Typically, the upfront costs of purchasing wallpaper and installing it are much higher than of painting.

On average, buying wallpaper will cost you anywhere from $25 to $50 per roll. But designer wallpaper can cost you as much as $5000 per roll! 

Since each roll covers about 30 square feet, a 350 square foot area will cost you about $300 compared to a gallon of paint that costs $30.

Wallpaper installation costs are also worth considering. The labor costs range from $1 to $7 per square foot. So, a 350 square foot area will cost you $350 to $2,450. That’s much more expensive than hiring a professional painter or painting your home. 

However, you can buy removable wallpaper, which is cheaper than traditional wallpaper. It costs $1 to $5 per square foot. Additionally, you can quickly install it yourself. So, you don’t need to spend any money on labor.

Wall Preparation Work For Paint & Wallpaper

You may need to put some work into preparing a wall for either paint or wallpaper. You can paint in a day or two. But wallpaper can take many days, especially if an old version needs to be removed first.

Painting Prep Time

If you have peeling paint and cracks on the wall, you need to put some wall preparation work. That includes spackling and then sanding the walls to patch the existing holes, cracks, and imperfection, thus making it easier for you to paint evenly. If the damage is minor, these can be done in a day or two.

It’s always a good idea to use a primer after repairing your wall when painting over a darker color and if the wall is in an area that gets a lot of moisture. Also, use a primer when painting over unfinished wooden trim or other porous surfaces. One coat of primer may be enough. But sometimes, you may need two.

If you are retouching your walls, you only need to paint over once using a color of a similar hue. The same rule applies if you used a primer. However, you can create an excellent finish by painting your walls twice. 

It takes up to 8 hours for the first coat of paint to dry. So, painting could take a day or two for each room.

Wallpaper Prep Time

If you need to remove the old wallpaper from your walls to put in a new version, you will have to pay more. The biggest challenge is to remove your old wallpaper with minimal damage to the walls. You would need the right tools and a high level of expertise. 

The walls of one bedroom can take you a day. If you have an entire house to strip, it could take you more than a week to remove the wallpaper. Newer wallpaper is much easier to strip. And having a steamer makes the removal process smoother. But it does not come cheap. 

Therefore, if you have no idea what to do or lack the right tools to remove your wallpaper, hire a professional to do it for you. But brace yourself for the costs of doing so because the service doesn’t come cheap. 

You will need about $100 worth of materials for wallpaper removal. And the cost of labor will be about $3 per square foot. So, a 350 square foot area will cost you an additional $1,050 in removal alone.

You could always install removable wallpaper. But this kind of wallpaper sticks best on walls with a semi-gloss, eggshell, or satin finish. That means you may also need to invest in paint, which is an added expense. However, it has zero labor costs because you install it like a sticker.

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The Available Variety Of Paints & Wallpaper

Paints come in many different types, shades, and finishes. But concerning patterns and designs, wallpaper beats paint hands down.

Paint Color Spectrum is Nearly Endless

You can find paint in different shades and colors. And if you aren’t satisfied with what’s available, you can get a unique blend mixed for you using a computer.

You can also enjoy the various paint finishes available. These include:

  • The flat or matte finish – has very little shine
  • Eggshell finish – a popular option because it’s relatively flat with a bit of shine
  • Satin finish – a mix of flat and shiny
  • Semi-gloss – has more sheen than the satin version and reflects more light
  • High-gloss – give a mirror-like feel 

The shinier the paint, the less likely it is to cover imperfections if it is poorly done. However, glossier paints are more durable.

You also have the option of choosing between oil-based and water-based paints. Oil-based paints tend to be more abrasion-resistant and last longer. 

However, in colder temperatures, these oils tend to dry even slower when you apply them. And when it’s too hot, they tend to blister. It’s also worth noting that oil-based paints contain many harmful chemicals and are not very good for the environment.

On the other hand, their water-based counterparts are less durable. But they take less time to dry, are washable, easier to use, and retain their color for longer. Also, they contain less harmful chemicals, which make them more environmentally friendly. 

Unfortunately, paints do not offer a wide variety of intricate designs. So, if you want to create unique designs on your wall, you would need to hire a creative painter to do that. And it is likely to cost you more.

Wallpaper Patterns, Styles, & Textures Offer Lots of Possibility

Wallpaper comes in already-made patterns, images, and colors. Wallpaper also comes in a wide variety of textures. These depend on the materials that have been used to make it and include paper, fabric, and fiberglass. 

Some have intricately designed patterns that create textural effects using items such as pearls, fabric, and all manner of glitter. So, if you don’t mind putting in the work, you can enjoy many unique designs on display on your wall.

With self-adhesive wallpaper, you can experiment with different designs that suit your fancy. They are cheap to buy and install. You can change them every few days if you want, thus changing the entire appearance of your home simply by changing the removable wallpaper designs.

Unlike with paints, with wallpaper, what you see is what you get. Therefore, you don’t have to pay more to get the designs you want.

Design Space Suitability for Wallpaper & Paint

Paint is more suited to a wider variety of spaces in and outside your home. Wallpaper works best in some spaces and not so well in others.

Paint is Available in a 4 Basic Finishes

Some paints are meant for high humidity areas than others. So, you would use paint with a semi-gloss or high-gloss finish in humid bathrooms because it absorbs less moisture. On the other hand, flat and eggshell finishes won’t do so well in such spaces because they encourage mildew growth. 

You can also find paint that works better in warmer areas. In kitchens, for example, you have to consider both the heat and the moisture in that space. So, you can use water-based paints with a satin or gloss finish. 

On the other hand, you can use both water-based and oil-based paints for home exterior design projects. But oil-based paints tend to break down faster under sunlight exposure. However, they work well on doors and trim, where they last longer and resist dirt better. 

High-gloss finishes are better for the places you often touch, such as the shutters. But if you need to hide imperfections, matte and eggshell finishes will help you do that.

Some paints accommodate the needs of paint owners because they have minimal volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can be harmful to pets.

Wallpaper Offers Variety in Textures and Materials

Wallpaper is suited to the interior of the house. 

However, in the presence of lots of moisture, which is common in wet or hot and humid areas, wallpaper may encourage the growth of mold or begin to peel off. So, you may want to avoid installing it in bathrooms or pick a less-absorbent version like vinyl wallpaper with a fabric backing. 

In high-traffic areas or spaces where children and pets spend a lot of time, wallpaper made of regular paper is likely to tear or get scratched easily. So, fiberglass wallpaper may be the best option for your needs. But it doesn’t come cheap.

How Long Do Paints & Wallpapers Last?

Over the long term, wallpaper, which has higher upfront costs, may require less effort and money to maintain. That’s because it is highly durable when taken care of. Paint, on the other hand, is less durable and will require continuous retouches. As a result, it may end up costing more.

Paint Only Lasts a Few Years

If you get tired of the paint colors and patterns you have on your wall, you must buy new supplies and repaint your space.

Also, the functional and aesthetic value of paints diminishes considerably over time. Well-applied paint lasts anywhere from 5 to 10 years. Of course, the higher-quality paints will last longer. But do remember that the climatic conditions will also affect the durability of your paints.

You may need to do a few touchups on some painted areas, though. These include high-traffic areas or areas likely to get dirty frequently, such as the kitchen or nursery. You can do a touchup every 3-5 years

Wallpaper Outlasts Paint

Wallpaper may cost more upfront, but it also lasts much longer and requires minimal maintenance if it has been professionally installed. For this reason, it offers an excellent return on your money over time.

You can remove the self-adhesive wallpaper whenever you want. First, you peel it off with your hands.

If traditional wallpaper starts to peel off, you can use wallpaper glue to stick it back again. And since most wallpaper is washable, you can clean it often, thus ensuring it continues looking great. 

However, some materials can tear easily, so be prepared to replace them. And if that happens, remember that wallpaper retouches are not as easy as repainting. First, you would need to invest in old wallpaper removal, buy a new one and pay for its installation.

However, the traditional wallpaper can last an average of 15 years, even in areas that experience a lot of use and high traffic.

 Fiberglass wallpaper can last as long as 30 years! It is very durable and highly resistant to scratches and abrasion, which is great news for pet owners. But it doesn’t do well if improperly applied, especially within hot and humid environments. 

Final Thoughts

So, is paint or wallpaper better for your home? There is no right and wrong answer. Your needs and preferences will determine what you choose.

If you have a smaller budget, prefer a multi-functional product, and want to fix your walls in a short amount of time on your own or by spending little on a professional, then paint is the best option. Also, choose paint if you don’t need intricate designs on your wall or mind doing touchups every few years.

However, if you want to spend decades without thinking about what’s on your walls and want an excellent return on your investment, wallpaper is the way to go. This option also works great if you live in a rental property, love intricate designs on your walls, have a larger decorating budget, and don’t mind putting in more work to make your home look lovely. 

So, find what works for your needs and make the right choices to suit them.

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting professional home inspections since 2002. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Professional Inspector (CPI), Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.
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