Drop Ceiling Installation Basics

A drop ceiling installation offers several advantages over typical drywall ceilings. Drop ceilings (also known as suspended ceilings) allow easier access to overhead pipes and wiring, making them perfect for basement remodeling. Drop ceiling installation is also easier than drywall, requiring only common household tools. Finally, a drop ceiling provides a better sound barrier between floors than a drywall ceiling.

Drop Ceilings Described
A typical drop ceiling installation is made up of metal brackets that are fixed to the perimeter wall or suspended by wires from the ceiling. L-shaped perimeter brackets can be fastened to the walls of the room with nails or screws. T-shaped brackets called main runners are installed at 4-foot intervals across the room. Main runners are typically installed perpendicular to existing ceiling joists. Brackets called cross tees are installed perpendicular to the main runners every 24". Lightweight, 2' x 4' panels rest between the runners, forming the main part of the ceiling.

A Typical Drop Ceiling Installation

  • Measure the room. Carefully measure the perimeter of the room and transfer the dimensions to a graph paper sketch. Take your sketch to a drop ceiling distributor who can guide your purchase of the necessary supplies.
  • Establish the ceiling height. Most municipal building codes call for a minimum 7-1/2' ceiling height. You'll want to measure down from the lowest point of the existing ceiling joists at least 4". If your installing lighting in the ceiling, you'll need to provide enough clearance for the lighting system you choose.
  • Set the perimeter. Using a level and chalk line, mark the perimeter of room at the planned height of the ceiling. It might be worth it to rent or borrow a laser level to insure an accurate line.
  • Install perimeter brackets. Locate the studs around the room and attach the perimeter bracket to the studs so that it surrounds the room. You should overlap inside corners, but outside corners will have to be cut at a 45-degree angle and mitered.
  • Install main runners. The main runners are installed at four-foot intervals, perpendicular to the ceiling joists. Main runners should be centered in the room so that partial panels (if required) end up at the edges of the room. Your drop ceiling distributor can help you with this part of the layout on your room sketch.
  • To install the runners, stretch a string between perimeter brackets to establish the height of the runners. Main runners are suspended from 16-guage wire attached to the ceiling joists. Attach wires to every second or third joist and make sure they hang 12" below the height of the ceiling. Connect a main runner to the perimeter bracket and then connect the suspension wires as need to securely fasten the runner across the room to the opposite perimeter bracket. Repeat this process until all main runners are installed.
  • Install cross tees. The cross tees snap into pre-cut holes in the main runners. As you install the cross tees, check regularly that the runners are square. The cross tees should be placed 2-feet apart and the pre-cut holes will make sure this is the case.
  • Lighting and ductwork. Once the brackets and runners are installed and squared, you'll need to install any light fixtures or ductwork that will project through the ceiling. Make sure all fixtures are level with the planned surface of the ceiling before continuing.
  • Install panels. Full ceiling panels have a built-in flange that will rest on the runners to hold the panel in place. For smaller panels, cut the panels to size with the finished side up using a straightedge and a sharp utility knife. Resist the urge to use power tools-they create way too much dust. Custom cut panels will need to have a flange cut into them. Lay a complete panel over the edge of the custom panel to measure the width of the flange, and then cut half the thickness of the panel away to create a new flange.
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