Wallpaper vs. Paint: The Best Choice for Your Walls

Cans of Paint and Paint Brush
© Rob / Fotolia

There comes a time in every homeowner’s life when the walls demand a change. You may be resurfacing them for a number of reasons, such as repairing damage, re-coloring to match new furniture, or simply because you want a change. This inevitably leads to the question of using paint or wallpaper, both of which have their own distinct advantages. Before investing in a particular wall covering, it is a good idea to compare them to ensure you are making the best choice.

The Pros and Cons of Paint

Paint has been the most popular form of wall covering for decades, although improvements in wallpaper have made it a major competitor in recent years. Paint still retains many advantages, however, and is generally cheaper and easier to apply than wallpaper.

Application Time

If you don’t wish to spend a long time waiting for a room to become usable again, paint is the way to go. Primer takes approximately 24 hours to dry, and you will need on average two to three coats of paint. Drying time for each coat depends on the type of paint you are using and amount of ventilation. On the flip side of the coin, paint is a messy substance which is known to splatter, drip, and betray heavy brush strokes.

Changing Up

Recovering a wall is relatively painless when using paint over paint. Again, a primer is required, and the neutral tone of the primer will help when using a dark paint over a light one or vice-versa. In most cases, it only takes a few coats to completely cover the previous color, and there are even some wallpapers available that may be painted over. Stripping paint from woodwork, such as a door frame, for staining is also relatively simple. A good paint job may last 10 to 15 years, but you can change it at any time you desire.

Environmental Concerns

While paint no longer contains traces of lead, there are still some environmental concerns. The biggest of these is the risk of VOCs (volatile organic compounds). These harmful substances can be released over time and are harmful to the human body. Be sure to do some research before selecting a specific brand in order to minimize the risk of VOCs.


Paint is fairly fragile compared to wallpaper, and it may scratch, chip, or discolor in high-traffic areas. Luckily, repairs are easy and generally consist of adding a touch of paint over the damaged area. By taking a sample chip of the paint to your local paint or hardware store, the color can be matched almost exactly, although some brands will not be a perfect match, even for mixed colors.


The color spectrum provided by paint is somewhat limited, although it is available in matte, semi-gloss, and gloss finishes. What makes paint more versatile than wallpaper is that you are able to paint designs. For example, you may decide to paint a tree in your child’s room, with leaves spreading onto the ceiling and grass or other landscaping giving way to a blue sky.

Wallpapers with similar patterns may be purchased, but lack the ability for you to make custom themes for video games or other less common topics, as well as limiting color to the walls whereas paint may incorporate the ceiling into your theme.

Paint is also useful in areas where moisture is an issue. Bathrooms, for example, tend to be too humid for wallpaper and may lead to mold or other damage, whereas using a good exterior paint means the color will last for some time.

The Pros and Cons of Wallpaper

Wallpaper and Roller
© TMakotra / Fotolia

Wallpaper was once highly popular and is beginning to see a return to that popularity. It is now more affordable, more durable, and easier to apply than it once was. Modern wallpaper enjoys several advantages over paint, although it also has some disadvantages to consider.

Application Time

Wallpaper is not a project to undertake when you have limited time to prepare a room. Unlike paint, wallpaper does not require multiple coats. However, wallpaper comes in strips which must be lined up and carefully applied to avoid air bubbles, wrinkles, and other flaws. This can become quite time consuming, and any rips or other damage to a piece you have applied is permanent, requiring you to either replace the strip or attempt to hide the damage.

Changing Up

Old wallpaper must be scraped away using stripping tools or other chemical solvents which might damage your wall if you aren’t careful. The wall must also be clean and dry before attempting to paper. Some wallpapers require glue while others have a dry glue backing and must be wet to activate the glue. Applying wallpaper to a painted wall does not require additional preparation unless there are chips or other damage to the paint which will show through.

Environmental Concerns

Wallpaper itself poses little environmental risk by itself. However, the chemicals used to remove old wallpaper can be toxic to humans and the environment.


Perhaps the biggest downside to wallpaper is the inability to affect simple repairs. In some cases, damage may be repaired by cutting both the damaged section and a matching section from a backup roll. However, even with a perfect fit, the patch may be visible upon examination. Another downside to wallpaper is that damage from nails cannot be easily hidden, so hanging pictures requires more planning. Thankfully, wallpaper tends to be more durable than paint and carries an average lifespan of 15 years barring moisture damage.


The largest advantage of wallpaper is the sheer variety of patterns, colors, and textures available. You may choose a specific color, a design incorporating multiple colors, landscapes, basic patterns, textured or glittery deigns… The possibilities are extremely varied. Unfortunately, wallpaper doesn’t fare well in bathrooms or a kitchen that has a lot of moisture, and will fade over time if in a room exposed to excessive sunlight, such as a sunroom.

Using a Mix

One option which has become very popular is to incorporate both paint and wallpaper into a single room. This is most often the case for special wallpapers such as landscapes or textures, but may even include basic colors. A common example of this is to paint all but one wall of the room and place a landscape on the remaining wall to resemble a mural.

Additional Resources

The American Coatings Association website offers guides on choosing paint, as well as news and articles about all things paint related.

Sherwin-Williams offers a list of resources concerning VOC regulations and green programs involving paint. While meant to focus on the brand’s own compliance, the information itself encompasses all paint brands.

Posted on Categories Interior

Heat Pump vs. Furnace: What’s Best for Your Home?

Heating and Air Conditioning Heat Pump Units
© Christian Delbert / Fotolia

Whether your old furnace needs replacing or you are constructing a new home, the topic of heat pumps may have arisen. However, you may not understand what a heat pump is or how it stacks up against various furnace options. Knowing the differences and comparisons will help you make the best choice for your project.

How a Heat Pump Works

The term “heat pump” may be slightly misleading, as his device does more than simply heat your home. The primary propose of a heat pump is to transfer heat from one point to another, as opposed to creating heat via fossil fuels. Various types of heat pumps perform this task differently, and there are three major varieties of heat pumps, as well as a few less common types.

Absorption Heat Pumps

Of the three types of heat pumps, absorption pumps are unusual in that they do not use regular electricity. Instead, this system is fueled by solar, propane, natural gas, or geothermal power. Available primarily for larger homes, absorption pumps use ammonia and water for heat transfer. As ammonia is absorbed into the water, it runs through a low-pressure compressor. The mixture is then heated, boiling the ammonia out of the water before restarting the process.


Also known as air-air heat pumps, this is one of the most common types of heat pumps. The external portion of the system pulls heat from outside through a system of refrigerant-filled coils similar to those on your refrigerator. A fan pulls warmer outside air over the coils, causing the refrigerant to evaporate. The expanded gas then passes through a compressor, increasing both the temperature and pressure of the refrigerant.

The compressed mixture flows along pipes into a second set of coils inside your home where another fan blows the hot air into your ductwork. As heat is transferred away, the refrigerant cools and condenses back into a liquid allowing another pipe to carry the refrigerant back outside, continuing the process. The flow may also be reversed to pull excess hot air from your home.

Air-source pumps may be modified to work in conjunction with other HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning) systems. Please note that commercial models tend to be housed in a single roof-mounted unit, as opposed to having both indoor and outdoor sections.


Although the basic premise is the same, ground-source pumps have a different external setup. There are two variations, both of which absorb heat from underground water sources or the ground itself. Closed-loop systems may use either refrigerant or water and function almost exactly the same way as air-source pumps, except for the fact that heat is pulled from the ground source directly instead of via fan.

Conversely, open-loop systems connect solely to underground water sources. Water is pumped up to your home where heat is removed and the water is returned to its source. This latter system often employs a man-made source such as a well, and has some similarities in function to geothermal heating systems.

Other Variations

All-Climate heat pumps are a relatively new type of pump that works in extremely low temperatures. Boasting as much as 60 percent higher efficiency over standard heat pumps, this model is excellent for northern latitudes. Unfortunately, all-climate pumps are less efficient at cooling and thus not recommended for primarily hot climates.

Cold-Climate pumps are similar to the all-climate models, although this pump type is still in development. The advantage of cold-climate pumps is their ability to calculate the minimal amount of energy needed for heating or cooling your home. It then automatically adjusts to those settings, making it perhaps the best alternative for green living once the design becomes widely available.

Mini-split heat pumps are used in homes that lack ductwork. A single external unit connects to multiple smaller internal units. These are connected in turn to space heaters or water heaters. When retrofitting a house, this type of heat pump proves ideal, as the small interior components may be placed where needed and are relatively easy to install.

Comparing Heat Pumps to Furnaces

Gas Furnace
© Amy Walters / Fotolia

Heat pumps generally have many advantages over furnaces when it comes to efficiency, although there are times when furnaces have the advantage instead. Now that you are aware of the various heat pump options, a direct comparison between pumps and furnaces is possible.

Energy Use

While most modern furnaces run off of gas or electricity, a large part of their energy consumption is spent towards heating or cooling the air. As such, they are generally not as efficient as heat pumps in moderate climates. Cooler climates are different, however. Heat pumps expend high amounts of energy absorbing heat in freezing temperatures, with the exception of cold-climate and all-climate models. In states where the weather frequently drops below freezing, a furnace tends to be the more energy efficient choice.


Heat pumps are designed to distribute heat evenly throughout a house. This has the advantage of leaving no cold spots. However, the overall heat is milder than a traditional gas or oil furnace, meaning you may feel chilly if you are used to furnace-based heating.

Placement Considerations

Unlike furnaces, heat pumps have an external unit which must be placed in a location where airflow is unobstructed. Shrubs and other potential blockages must be kept pruned back for the pump to function at peak efficiency. Furthermore, you will need to consider aesthetics, as the eternal unit cannot be hidden and therefor might be best placed on a side of your home which sees the least amount of outdoor use.

Supportive Systems

One common fact between heat pumps and furnaces is the fact that both need supporting systems or components to function properly. In the case of a furnace, these supporting systems usually consist of air conditioners or other cooling devices and a dehumidifier. Heat pumps are generally able to function without these, especially ground-source and air-source pumps, as they dehumidify the air naturally.

However, there are times when a heat pump cannot function as efficiently due to low temperatures. In such cases, a backup heat source, such as a modified gas furnace or supplemental electrical heating becomes necessary. Be sure to consider these added components before settling on a specific heating system.

Additional Resources

For more information on how heat pumps work, as well as choosing a type for your home’s needs, HowStuffWorks offers a detailed guide.

The U.S. Department of Energy offers an in-depth guide on air-source heat pumps, with links to additional guides and articles at the end.

Posted on Categories HVAC