Drop Ceiling

How to Install a Drop Ceiling

Installing a drop ceiling can make a cavernous room cozy and transform a drab room with new textures and colors. Although this job requires some careful planning, virtually any homeowner with a little do-it-yourself spirit can get the job done. If you’ve ever wondered how to install a drop ceiling, here’s what you need to know.

Check the Building Codes

Before you get too excited about drop ceiling styles, contact your local building code authority to determine whether you need a permit. Details vary widely from state to state. In some jurisdictions, a building permit is required before you start work and an inspection is required once the work is complete. You may even need to submit your drop ceiling designs.

Ask whether there are any requirements concerning minimum ceiling height. If the structural ceiling in your room is already near the regulatory minimum, you may not have enough room to go forward with your drop ceiling ideas. Most types of drop ceilings require at least four inches between the structural ceiling and the drop ceiling.

Choose a Drop Ceiling Product

All standard drop ceiling styles share the same basic form and follow the same basic procedures for how to install a drop ceiling. Beyond these basics, you have some choices to make. Ceiling panels are available in two standard sizes. The square-panel option measures two feet on a side, while the rectangular-panel option measures two feet by four feet. Many manufacturers offer drop ceiling designs in both panel sizes.

Identifying the best drop ceiling is a challenge due to the sheer number of options available. The basic white panels found in commercial offices make a perfectly good choice. However, if you want to add texture and color to a room, spend some time looking at the decorative options sold by the best drop ceiling manufacturers. If you’re lacking for good drop ceiling ideas, a few minutes browsing ceiling products can be a big help.

Purchase Your Parts and Gather Your Tools

Stabila Green 5 Point Laser Level Tool Set

Once you’ve identified the best drop ceiling for your remodeling plans, provide the vendor with precise room dimensions by taking measurements with trustworthy tools like those from Stabila. Take measurements along the wall close to the structural ceiling with a measuring tape. The measurements are used to lay out the ceiling on a sheet of grid paper to plan installation and determine the number of panels and parts you need to complete the work.

Most types of drop ceilings require the same set of parts. Wall angles are L-shaped rails installed along the perimeter of the room. The main tees and cross tees form the gridwork that holds the ceiling panels. All of the hand tools required for this job are widely available. A level and a chalk line are especially important to installing the wall angles accurately. That said, anyone who knows how to install a drop ceiling is sure to recommend a laser level instead. A laser level is one of the best drop ceiling ideas if you’re looking for simplicity and accuracy.

Tools and Materials Checklist

LadderCeiling panels
HammerWall angles
ScrewdriverMain tees
PliersCross tees
Tin snipsSuspension wire
Tape measureHooks
Stud finderNails or screws
Chalk line 

Create a Ceiling Perimeter

Stabila 78 inch Type 196 2 Spirit Level Tool

Now comes the nitty-gritty of how to install a drop ceiling. Go slowly and work carefully, and you’re sure to complete the job successfully.

With your local regulations in mind, choose a height for your new ceiling. For most types of drop ceilings, you need at least four inches of space between ceiling levels. Read through the documents for your drop ceiling design to determine whether there are any special requirements.

Choose a corner of the room, and measure down from the structural ceiling to the new ceiling height. Use a hand level, like Stabila level, to place pencil marks around the room at this height. The structural ceiling may not be level, so don’t simply measure down from the ceiling at various points. Use the hand level. Once you’ve circled the room. Snap four chalk lines to connect the pencil marks and create the perimeter.

Use the Wall Angles

Ingersoll Rand 3/8 Inch Angle Reversible Air Drill

Use the perimeter line to position and attach the wall angles accurately. Most drop ceiling designs include wall angles that can be attached with either nails or screws, but be sure to drive them securely into wall studs. Locate the studs with a stud finder. If you’re using screws, make sure you have the right power tools to avoid ruining your wrist with a screwdriver.

Install each new section of wall angle so that it butts up against the end of the prior section. When you near a corner of the room, use a pair of tin snips to cut the final section of wall angle to the correct length. If you want to create a miter joint in a corner, use the tin snips to make a 45-degree cut where the wall angle sections meet. Some types of drop ceilings include clip-on corner pieces to hide the corner joints.

Install the Suspension Wires

Installation of the suspension wires is the most important part of how to install a drop ceiling. First, use the installation plan you created when purchasing your drop ceiling to identify the position of the main tees. Mark the wall angles in your room to show where each end of each main tees rests. Stretch pieces of string between corresponding marks to represent the position of each main tee. Attach the strings with staples immediately above the wall angle.

Position a ladder at one end of the first string. Install a hook in the ceiling directly above the string where the first main tee and cross tee are to intersect. Be sure to secure the hook in a ceiling joist. Use a stud finder to locate a joist. Now move four feet down the string, and install another hook. Continue until you reach the opposite wall. Move to the second string and repeat the process, continuing until the room is finished. Cordless tools and even air tools help you work more efficiently. You can even purchase a special drill attachment to drive the ceiling hooks.

Finally, cut a length of suspension wire for each hook. Cut the wire 12 inches longer than the distance between the ceiling levels. Fasten a wire to each hook, stretch the wire taut with a pair of pliers and bend it into a right-angle where the string crosses the wire.

Install Your Tees

Most drop ceiling styles include 12-inch main tees designed to connect together. Position your ladder under the first suspension wire. Connect several main-tee sections and rest one end on the wall angle next to the string. Thread the suspension wire through the main tee. Before twisting the wire tight, check the main tee with a hand level. Now, extend the main tee along the string to the next suspension wire. Check it with the hand level, and tighten the wire. Continue on until you have installed all the main tees.

Reposition your ladder to the beginning. Using your installation plan for reference, connect a cross tee between the first and second main tee. Continue placing cross tees until you reach the opposing wall. If you are using a drop ceiling design with square ceiling panels instead of rectangular panels, you need more cross tees. Now, connect the second main tee to the third. After all the main tees are connected together, place cross tees between the wall and the first main tee. You may need to cut these cross tees to length. Place the final cross tees between the last main tee and the wall. The gridwork is complete.

Install the Panels

Start at the center of the grid, and begin putting ceiling panels in place. Starting from the center helps to force the loose gridwork into alignment as you work toward the edges. In standard drop ceiling designs, you don’t need to secure ceiling panels with any hardware. Tilt a panel, slide it through the grid and lower it into place.

Due to the fixed size of the panels, even the best drop ceiling plans require cutting panels for at least one of the perimeter rows. After installing all the regular-size panels, take careful measurements for the odd-sized row. Most drop ceiling styles can be cut to size with a straight edge and a sharp utility knife. Place the ceiling panel on a cutting board with the exposed side up. Cutting through the backside may damage the visible surface. Some types of drop ceilings have special procedures for cutting panels, so check the product documentation for more information.

With that, you now know how to install a drop ceiling in your own home from start to finish. So get busy working on your drop ceiling ideas and researching your style options. It won’t be long before you’re enjoying the best drop ceiling installation in the neighborhood.


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