Over the course of renovating rental property, there have been several times I had to explore cheap baseboard alternatives. I needed something that would be functional and look decent while staying within the confines of a sometimes-strained budget.
My solution won’t win awards but costs a few cents per foot.
But first, if you have baseboards but they’re beat up and worn out, you can patch and paint them. That’s cheaper and easier than replacing them, even with my cheap replacements. Consider that first.
Cheap baseboard alternatives: 1×3 or 1×4 boards
When nice moulding isn’t in the budget, I buy either 1×3 or 1×4 boards. Smooth appearance boards look best, but cost more. When you’re on a super-tight budget, you can buy 8-foot lengths sold as furring strips. 1×4 boards cost less than $2 for an 8-foot length, and 1×3 boards cost less than $1.25.
These boards tend to be pretty rough. After all, people normally hide furring strips behind drywall. But with some patience and luck, you can find enough boards that are smooth and straight enough to look OK. Some people learn to love their rustic appearance. I’ve even used them for door or window moulding, or to make a plank ceiling.
I recommend you paint or stain the boards before use. It’s much easier to paint or stain them outdoors before putting them on the wall. You can stain them to make them look more like pricier wood, but white paint tends to be cheaper. Do what you need to do to meet your budget. If you can, paint all four sides of the boards, as this will make the boards more resistant to warping.
Installing the boards and neatening their appearance
Nail the boards to the wall near the floor, ideally driving the nails into the studs. This helps keep the boards straight. Cheap boards have a tendency to want to warp, so the extra help compensates. I’ve also used construction adhesive in places I can’t use nails, such as along concrete walls, but nails tend to work better.
This doesn’t work as well with stained boards unless you can find a caulk that happens to be close in color to your stain. But you can use caulk to further improve the appearance of painted boards.
After you attach the boards, caulk the edge along the floor and the wall. Put a piece of masking tape along each edge to help keep a neat line. Remove the tape before the caulk cures completely for best results. The caulk helps fill the gaps, disguise the round edges, and give a neater, more finished appearance.
When you combine makeshift 1×3 or 1×4 baseboards with inexpensive vinyl tile, you can make a room look a lot better at a low cost. And then, when the budget permits, you can come back and upgrade.