Most of us never really notice the skirting boards that line the walls of pretty much every room we’ve ever lived in. We usually just scrape them with the vacuum cleaner and occasionally think of giving them a swipe with a duster, but most of the time they’re just, well, there…
Why are they there, though?
Skirting boards serve three functions in houses and other buildings.
They finish off a room and in older houses they tend to be higher – anything up to eight or nine inches in height – and have their own mouldings and decorations.
They protect the bottom of the wall from all the scrapes, paws, feet, vacuum cleaners and wheels that it’ll have to contend with throughout its long life. Most of the everyday attrition and damage occurs at foot level and a simple piece of wood is easier to replace than a layer of rendering and plaster.
They cover up gaps
The final function is that of covering up gaps between floors and walls. Most buildings have expansion gaps there so that the structure can expand and contract with rises and falls in temperature without stresses and cracks. These can be unsightly, most builders have used some skirtings to hide them away and to exclude draughts.
Do modern houses still need them?
Probably, as that expansion gap will still be there. The good thing is, if you’re doing up an older house, or putting the finishing touches on a newbuild, then you can choose your skirting boards from the massive ranges available online.
If you’re laying a new floor, you might as well take the opportunity to install some modern skirtings, or replace old and worn ones with like-for-like if you’re traditional at heart. You’ll have to take the skirtings off to fit the floor anyway, so it’s a good time to do it. Many people make the mistake of thinking removing old skirting boards is tricky and can damage the plaster or even the bricks, but they’re wrong and so they end up living with tatty old boards that no longer fit in with the new floor.
If you do decide to change your skirting boards
If you’re deciding what you want in a soon-to-be completed newbuild, or if you’re taking a fixer-upper back to the bare brick before starting again, it’s important to choose the right style, size and even colour of skirting board before you remove the old ones.
Even if you’re just putting down a new floor or carpet it’s a good idea to take your boards off first so that the flooring is as flush to the wall as possible (still allowing for the expansion gap). If for some reason you don’t want to take the boards off, then you can still fit a new floor, you’ll just have to use beading all the way round the bottom of the wall to cover up the small gaps and irregularities that are inevitable.