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Do I need to remove wallpaper before carrying out insulation work?

Property Clinic: I have recently purchased a 1970s-built house which requires extensive refurbishment

I have recently purchased a 1970s-built house which requires extensive refurbishment. I am considering opting for internal insulation. All internal walls are wallpapered, some with multiple layers. I have got different advice regarding the need to remove the wallpaper before carrying out the insulation work. Could you please advise?

A reader may well wonder, in the context of an extensive refurbishment, as to why removing or not removing wallpaper would be an issue. It is fair to say that in the past many wall surfaces have been covered and lined over to save the time, effort and cost of removing them. Similarly, as anyone who is or has been involved in the refurbishment of older buildings would be able to attest, removing the layers of paper can sometimes reveal matters of historic interest.

The fact that the house was built in the 1970s is particularly interesting as some of the old wallpaper, including say woodchip-type paper, that were used back then, are particularly difficult to remove. However, with the passage of time, improved systems of undertaking various works have evolved and there are now great tools available for stripping wallpaper linings. However, even using these tools, some wallpaper can prove particularly difficult to remove and there is a risk that damage will arise to the wall as a result of the removal of the paper. In those cases, I would suggest that it is better to leave the wallpaper in place thereby minimising the risk of damage to the wall linings.

Of course, that raises another question. Will leaving the wallpaper in place give rise to a lower standard or shortcoming in the work? While the answer more often than not is that it would have minimal impact on the proposed works, there can be issues with paper de-bonding or becoming loose in time and/or creating uneven surfaces. This could give rise to a risk of air movement behind the insulation and thus it would be preferable to have a prepared, even surface for which to fix any new drylining, and thus, while noting the caveat above, it is preferable to have the old wallpaper removed.


We would consider this particularly important where there are multiple layers of paper, as there will be a greater risk of these peeling off in time. This will inevitably give rise to a need for some additional effort, time and cost. Ultimately, this will lead to a slightly improved end result, and there is no substitute for aiming for the best standards when undertaking a major refurbishment of a property.

Val O’Brien is a chartered building surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland

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