Whether on its own or as part of a whole-wall chair rail and paneling system, crown molding adds a touch of sophistication to an otherwise ordinary space. It comes in a variety of materials and profile options. Here are some of the considerations to make before you install.
Crown molding can do wonders for the character of a room, adding height to a small space and definition to a bland area. It can also serve a functional purpose, hiding blemishes, concealing installation gaffes and even protecting the room’s walls from unsightly expansion and contraction cracks.
Many synthetic molding products, like this 4-inch plastic crown from Easy Crown Molding, look just like real wood when installed. Photo courtesy of Easy Crown Molding.
Installing crown molding is an easy way to upgrade any room in the home. And with more than a few material options, a room can be outfitted with new crown molding in even the most frugal of budget scenarios. It’s a relatively straightforward installation process even for novice do-it-yourselfers. There are even pre-cut, peel-and-stick molding solutions for the tool-wary. Professional installs, however, can better guarantee against unsightly seams and over-caulked corners.
Choose a Molding Material Material selection can impact the installation method, including the tools required and the time it will take to complete the job. Common crown molding materials used for the exterior or interior of a home include wood, plaster, composite, metal and synthetic materials like vinyl and foam (also called “expanded polystyrene” or “EPS”). Wood species range from less expensive pine to luxurious mahogany and also include poplar, oak maple and Douglas fir. Medium density fiberboard (MDF) remains a favorite among professional installers. “MDF is more stable,” says John Langan, owner of JL Molding Design, a professional molding installation business in Hillsborough, N.J. “It is less likely to expand and contract, and it paints easily.” Installers will commonly opt for the MDF “Ultralite” (sometimes denoted as “MUL”), a lighter MDF that is easier to install.
Crown molding is sold by the linear foot and can come in a few length options, depending on where it is purchased. Professional installers usually purchase molding from suppliers in 16-foot lengths, which allow for longer runs in bigger rooms, reducing the number of seams. Big box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s sell molding in eight-foot lengths, which requires fastening two lengths together in larger rooms during installation. “When molding is bought in six-and-a-half or eight-foot lengths there are a lot more seams to make disappear,” says Tim Larkin, owner of T.F. Larkin, Inc., a professional molding installation business in San Diego, Calif. Cost for the molding depends on the material selected and can be influenced by availability, particularly in the case of real wood. MDF Ultralite molding is available for under $1 per foot in most markets while real wood can easily reach double-digit levels. The size of the molding and the intricacy of the profile will also impact cost.
Wood molding may require staining, which will add time to an installation and cost to the overall job. Homeowners interested in painting the installed molding will want to consider materials that are ready-to-paint.
EPS or Styrofoam® molding materials can sometimes be installed without nails—these materials make for an easier DIY project and require only adhesives to attach the product to the wall. Some synthetic options like urethane can also be purchased with pre-casted inside and outside corners, which can save the DIYer the challenging steps of mitering the corners.
If purchasing a real wood crown molding, it is a good idea to inspect the material prior to staining and installing. Real wood can have inconsistencies in the grain and color. Consistency is important to achieve the look of one long, uninterrupted length of crown molding surrounding a room.
Style Points Crown molding comes in a wide selection of style options. Depending on the installer or supplier, styles will have different names. Crown molding styles range from simple designs, with one line or bead, to intricate, ornate pieces with multiple lines, beads and other stylized features like dental blocks or egg-and-dart. The elegant “built-up” molding look—traditionally achieved using two base pieces and a crown piece—is available in single pieces of the synthetic materials like EPS.