Boxing in pipes: How to recover from ugly plumbing

No matter how much work you've put into your interior design, unsightly exposed pipes can quickly spoil the effect. While many newer homes have their pipes built in behind the walls, many older properties don't, and having them moved is probably going to rack up a huge bill.

Instead, you could just cover up your pipes with a box. There are pre-made casings you can buy in the shops, but it might be a lot more cost-effective – and more fun – to build a pipe box yourself. We've partnered with the H is for Home Blog to show you how you can hide those ugly pipes with just a few tools and some basic materials. To build a pipe box, you'll need:

  • A screwdriver
  • A drill
  • Some construction glue
  • 3x2½-inch screws for each metre of your batten (or 3-inch ones – see below)
  • 3x1-inch screws for each metre of your front panel
  • A ½-inch-thick piece of plywood (with an area large enough to cover the pipes)
  • A length of 2x1 timber to make a batten (long enough to cover the length of the pipes)
  • A 9mm-thick piece of Marine Plywood for the front panel (with an area large enough to cover the pipes).
  • Some waterproof sealant, such as plumber's caulk.

For simplicity, these steps assume that you're working on a 2-inch skirting board cover to hide pipes running horizontally near the ground. But the same approach can be used for similar-sized vertical pipes, or horizontal ones near the ceiling.

Fitting a backboard

If the wall behind your pipes is uneven, or if it's a hollow wall that doesn't seem too sturdy, you can use the construction glue to attach a ½-inch-thick piece of plywood behind the pipes first. Just use a few screws to hold the board in place while the glue dries. This backboard will give you a solid foundation to attach your skirting board covers to. Remember to use or cut a piece of plywood that's about the same height as your skirting board when you're using it as a backboard. Since the backboard will determine the height of your finished box, making one that matches the skirting in the rest of the room means that the box is less likely to be noticed. It can be useful to use a spirit level to get your skirting board cover perfectly horizontal. But pay attention to what's around it, as well. If your floor isn't level, but the top of your box is, you might end up with a box that doesn't look straight, so use your judgement and aim for what looks most natural.

Laying the batten

First, you'll need to cut the 2x1-inch timber batten to the length of the section you're trying to hide. This will form the top of the box, as well as making a sturdy frame to hold the front panel. Drill some guide holes for the screws along the 1-inch edge of the batten – roughly 40cm apart is a good spacing. Using 2½-inch screws (or 3-inch ones if you're sure you won't damage anything behind the wall), attach the batten to the top of the backboard above the pipes, so that its 2-inch width is parallel with the ground.

Attaching the panel

Cut the piece of Marine Plywood to the same size as the backboard. Its length should be the same as the section you're trying to hide, and its height should run from the top edge of the batten to the floor. This should now fit perfectly onto the front of the frame you've created. The top of the front panel should be aligned with the top of the batten, and the bottom of the panel should be touching the floor. Screw this panel into the batten with the 1-inch screws. Again, a spacing of around 40cm is ideal, but be careful not to do it directly on top of the screws that you attached in the previous step. Just remember to take care in choosing the material for your panel. MDF isn't usually moisture-resistant, which means it's not a good choice for bathrooms or laundry rooms. That's why we recommend a piece of Marine Plywood, and we also recommend using a waterproof sealant where the skirting board cover joins the wall and the floor.

Camouflaging your box

You've now got a sturdy box to hide your pipes. But if you want to make sure it doesn't get noticed, you'll need to add a few finishing touches. If your room has wallpaper, you can use the same design for your new skirting board cover – or you could just paint them so that they’re the same colour as your existing skirting boards.

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