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How to Install a Suspended Ceiling

A suspended or “dropped” ceiling, first common in office buildings and commercial spaces, is also popular in homes for certain types of rooms-notably basements, garage conversions, and recreation rooms.

Suspended ceiling mounts around the room's perimeter.

Suspended ceiling mounts around the room’s perimeter.

Made up of a gridwork of metal channels that hold lightweight panels, a suspended ceiling hangs beneath the home’s original ceiling or the underside of the floor above it, often concealing heating ductwork, pipes, other mechanical equipment, or a badly damaged ceiling.

In a residence, the panels that fit into the grid are typically made from lightweight, sound-absorbing mineral fibers and are sized 2-by-2 or 2-by-4 feet. Their sound-deadening qualities, especially when paired with sound-attenuation batts of insulation placed above them, can do a great job of controlling noise.

Because the panels simply drop into the upside-down T-shaped channels of the grid work, they are easily removed for replacement or to access mechanical equipment in the area above. Specialty panels and equipment such as fluorescent light fixtures and sound speakers are also designed to fit into the grid.

A disadvantage of a suspended ceiling is loss of headroom. This type of ceiling literally “drops” the ceiling. So that panels can be pushed up through the grid and then set into place, a minimum clearance beneath the lowest objects (such as floor joists) is required-typically from 3 to 8 inches.

In addition to the panels on display at most home improvement centers (and available by special order), look at some of the commercial offerings in manufacturers’ catalogs and on their websites. Leading manufacturers of suspended ceiling systems are Armstrong, Certainteed, and USG. Each make the panels in patterned, textured, and smooth designs. Some also produce metal tile-like panels and wood-like panels.

Panels are usually sold in packages containing a certain number of square feet of material. To estimate the quantity you need, measure the length and width of the room, eliminating areas that will not be covered with panels (a skylight or a ceiling fan, for example). Multiply these figures for the square footage and add 10 percent for waste.

For a professional-looking job, plan to create equal-size borders on opposite sides of the room. To determine the nonstandard width of panels needed for perimeter rows, measure the extra space from the last full row of pieces to one wall and divide by two. This final figure will be the width of border pieces against that wall and the opposite wall. To complete your calculations, repeat this procedure for the other room dimensions.

If this project looks like more than you want to try to handle yourself, this free service that will help you find a local pro: Suspended Ceiling Installation Pros.

Attach L-shaped support tracks along level line on the walls.

Attach L-shaped support tracks along level line on the walls.

Step-by-Step Installation

Installing a suspended ceiling is a fairly easy do-it-yourself project. Here’s how:

1Start by calculating the height the ceiling will be. The minimum should be 7 feet, 6 inches, and it should also be 3 inches below any plumbing and 5 inches below any lighting. Once you have figured out the ceiling level, snap a chalk line to mark it. Then install the track supports on the walls, around the perimeter of the room, so that they just cover the line.

Hang central support tracks from the joists above.

Hang central support tracks from the joists above.



2Using tin snips or a hacksaw, cut the main tees to length. Place them on the track supports and hang them from the joists with #12 wire attached to eye screws inserted every 4 feet.



Interlock perpendicular supports in the tracks.

Interlock the 4-foot cross tees (perpendicular supports) in the tracks.


3Insert the tabs of the 4-foot cross tees into the slots of the main tees and then snap them into place.


Drop the ceiling panels into the finished ceiling grid.

Drop the ceiling panels into the finished ceiling grid.





4Gently lower into place the solid panels and any fluorescent lighting panels you are installing. Use a utility knife to cut border panels to fit. Before handling the panels, wash your hands well because smudges cannot be easily removed.


About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort developed his expertise more than 30 years ago as Building Editor for both Sunset Books and Home Magazine. He has written more than 30 home improvement books and countless magazine articles. He appeared regularly on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.

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