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Ask Eli - Chair Rail Trim Molding Height

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At what height should a chair rail trim be? – Anonymous


Typically you want your chair rail molding to be 1/3 of the height of the wall, from the floor. So, for an 8’ wall you would put it at 32” up from the floor. 8’ is equal to 96”. If you divide 96” by 3, you get 32”. If you have vaulted ceilings that are 8’ on the low sides and taller on the vault sides then you might want to go a little higher.

Your chair rail molding does not have to be exact. You can put it at a different height if you want to or if you think it will look better, but 1/3 of the wall height is typical. I have done jobs where it looked better a little lower because of the height of the bottoms of the windows. Sometimes it looks a little more dramatic if you put it a little higher and then install crown molding which can make the ceiling look a little taller. If you are planning on the chair rail molding actually doing the job it was intended for and protecting the wall from chair backs, then you will want to put a chair against the wall and see where the back of the chair hits the wall. It is normally installed just for looks though. 

If you still aren’t sure what height you want to put it, you can put a strip of masking tape across the wall at different heights to see what looks best for your room. If you are starting with a furnished room, I would do this before moving any furniture away from the wall or out of the room. You can also take some paint and put it above and below the tape so you can see how your colors look in the room. Pay attention to any other horizontal lines close to the height of the chair rail molding, such as counter tops. You can also tack a piece of chair rail molding up on the wall with a couple nails where you think you want it and leave it there for a couple days. If it doesn’t look right you can take it down and move it.

Room with chair rail

Here's How You Do It:

You can get your level line around the room to locate the chair rail molding using a couple different methods. One method is to use a level and a pencil to draw the lines around the room. I normally mark the corners of the room and snap chalk lines from corner to corner. Be very careful when you do this because the chalk will stain anything it touches. If there are carpets in the room, you don’t want to let the chalk line drop on the floor. It is a good idea to cover any flooring before you start a project like this and leave it until the project is complete. 

You can find the corner marks by measuring from the floor up to the line or from the ceiling down to the line. If you have carpets you will probably want to go from the ceiling down. You can also use a laser level that shoots a straight laser line on the wall. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to look good. I normally measure from the floor up to get the first corner. Then I measure from the ceiling down to that mark to get a measurement for the other corners. Then I measure from the ceiling down to make the rest of my marks.

You will want to paint the wall before you install the chair rail molding so you don’t have to mask it off to paint. If you are planning on painting the wall above the chair rail a different color than the wall below the chair rail, then you should snap a chalk line around the room at the height you want the middle of the chair rail molding to be before you paint. I normally just use the 32” measurement for the height of this line on an 8’ wall. Then paint the bottom of the wall as close to the line as you can without covering it up. Next paint the top half and paint down over the line a little bit, but make sure you can find it at the corners of the room when you are done painting. You can use these lines at the corners of the room to snap new lines after the painting is done. Remember that the chair rail molding will cover up the line and some of the paint so you can leave a little bit of the wall without paint below the line. Measure how tall the chair rail molding is and make sure you get close enough to the line that it will cover up any imperfections in your paint job.

After the paint is dry you can transfer your corner marks up to where the top of the chair rail molding will be and snap the chalk line around the room again. I normally like to caulk the top of the chair rail molding at the wall after it is installed so I leave the chalk line visible above it. The caulking will cover up the lines. If you don’t want to caulk the top then you should set the chair rail molding so that it just covers the line. Or you can use a string line without chaulk and put small reference marks across the wall instead of a solid line.

Chair Rail Trim

Chair Rail Trim Tip:

Now that we have answered the question, what height should a chair rail be, make sure you know which way the chair rail molding goes before you install it. I have been in houses where the owner did their own chair rail molding and half of the room was right side up and the other half was upside down! When you buy the chair rail molding, see if there is a brochure that will show you which way it goes. Often they will have a brochure that shows the different kinds of moldings that they sell and it should show them right side up. Normally the thickest part of the molding will be in the top half.

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