Suspended Ceilings - Tools, Materials and Planning

Lead Image
  • 72-96 hours
  • Advanced
  • 450-550
What You'll Need
20-25-foot metal tape
Putty knife
Framing or combination square
Drywall pan
2-4-foot level
Sharp utility knife
Nail belt
Face mask
Safety goggles
Miter box
Coping saw
Aviation snips
Fine-toothed hacksaw
Hanger wire
Cross tees
Wall molding
Molding nails
Lighting fixture

Planning for Time

Installing either a tile or suspended ceiling in a 9x12-foot room will require 14 to 20 work hours. It may take longer if unusual situations occur. This job is best undertaken by two people.

Planning the Tools

Suspended ceilings are hung from the ceiling joists with a metal grid. It creates the cavity between the joists and the ceiling where pipes, wires, and ductwork can be installed and worked on. A tile ceiling is either glued directly to an existing ceiling or onto "furring strips" that are glued or nailed to the existing ceiling. This type of ceiling works well to either cover an old existing ceiling or for projects where height is a consideration and an ordinary suspended ceiling would drop too low.

A suspended ceiling isn't hard to install and requires no exotic tools. Installing the metal grid work, especially for 12-foot main runners, requires two people.

Everything you need comes in one kit.

Permits and Codes

You probably won't need a permit to work on your ceilings, but check in with your local building permit department to be certain. Often there is a minimum floor-to-ceiling height required (usually 7-feet 6-inches). You may also need at least 5-inches between any lighting fixtures and the old ceiling.


suspended ceiling tiles with lights built in

Ceilings needn't just look nice. They can also do things such as muffle noise, support lights, and slow flames. An acoustical ceiling with tiny noise-trapping holes or fissures in the design is a great choice for noisy rooms like kitchens and entertainment centers.

For rooms where fires are a possible concern, you can get ceilings made of mineral fiber, which is noncombustible. If you want to put lights in your new ceiling and relocate them without a lot of trouble, a suspended ceiling may be your best bet. You can buy fluorescent fixtures that easily fit into the grid system in place of a standard-size ceiling tile.

Suspended and tile ceilings have several advantages. The greatest of these is weight. The ceiling is the only area of the room where gravity is working against you. Installing and securing heavy ceiling materials (such as drywall) can be difficult. The acoustical ceiling uses space-age technology to create a ceiling that is both lightweight and durable. It is easy to install and secure because of its weight.

Many types absorb sound and thereby add to the sound control of the room. They come in many different styles, sizes, and colors and are easily obtainable from any home center or hardware store. You can get tiles or larger panels that look like marble, oak, and other natural materials, with the designs authentically hued, shaded, veined, and striated. If you prefer traditional white, pattern choices have broadened to include reproduction of bleached wood, sculptured plaster, and rough-troweled stucco.

Most Common Mistakes

ornate silver ceiling tiles

Because of the complexity of this project, there are many common pitfalls. Avoid these errors for a great finished result:

  1. Not planning the ceiling layout on paper first
  2. Not checking local code for minimum ceiling height and clearance.
  3. Failure to plan grids so they do not run into posts or columns.
  4. Measuring the ceiling height line on a wall from a sloping floor, which creates a sloping ceiling.
  5. Not laying out runners so border tiles will be more than half a tile.
  6. Not installing the runners level.
  7. Soiling the tiles during installation.
  8. Neglecting to do the rough electrical work for the ceiling light fixtures before installing the ceiling.
  9. Not allowing the required clearance between old ceiling joists or wiring and new ceiling light fixtures. Check your local code.
  10. Neglecting to correct any ceiling leaks prior to installation of new ceiling.
  11. Applying loose-filled or roll insulation directly on top of the ceiling panels rather than in ceiling joist cavities.
  12. Installing ceiling below an existing ceiling that contains embedded radiant heat coils