Drop Ceiling vs Drywall for Finishing Your Basement

drop ceiling for a basementA drop ceiling costs about the same if not more than a drywall ceiling.  I’ll tell you exactly why in just a minute.

When I was finishing my basement  I thought to myself  ”Self… should we save money and drywall the basement ceiling on our own?”  Then I imagined the difficulty of recruiting my lazy friends to help me drywall the ceiling.

Then I thought “drop ceiling!” that’s the answer.  Cheaper, easy to do by yourself.  The only problem…it screams BASEMENT!“.

I did some research and pondered it for about 3 weeks. 

thinking about drop ceilingsThat’s the kind of guy I am. I get an idea,  then I stew on it for a spell.  I’m real old fashion that way.  My wife thinks I should have been born in the 1820s.

After all that pondering I decided not to go with a drop ceiling also known as a suspended ceiling.  Here are the reasons why I think know that you shouldn’t either.

Cost of a Drop Ceiling

If you’re thinking of going with a drop ceiling to save money… think again. The savings are slim to none.  If you’re hiring a drywall crew to do the walls anyway (which I highly recommend)  then it’s not a much more to have them do the ceiling as well.

In newer houses especially, a drywall ceiling is about the same or cheaper compared to a suspended ceiling.  Why?

Because the real cost of drywalling a ceiling in a basement deals is in framing around the pipes and wires that were installed below the joists. In almost any new house in the last 10-15 years all pipes and wiring are installed above the bottom of the joist – there’s almost no additional framing needed to accommodate drywall.

Here are two links discussing drop ceiling costs (this is for the plain white panels type). Around $2,000 for a 1,000 square foot basement. Link 1, Link 2

Basement Head Room with a Drop Ceiling

drop ceiling less headroom for your basementLook here basement friends. I’m a 6 foot 3 inch giant of a man.  I do not like hitting my head on a ceiling or feeling claustrophobic.

With a drop ceiling you’re going to lose 4-5 inches of room height.  In a finished basement that is a ton!

You are probably already dealing with a low ceiling it’s not a good idea to make it even lower.

Yeah, but What About Access

So as I was doing my research for this article I ran across a common reason people give for installing a drop ceiling.  Access.  Easy access to the pipes, wires, etc.

It’s true. A drop ceiling provides easy access.  Honestly though, how often are you going to need access?  And what for? A leaky pipe?  The other floors in your house have the same pipes and wires and you don’t see people installing drop ceilings in their house?

Drywall is not that hard to cut out and replace. It’s done all the time. Easy access is not enough of the reason to deal with the drawbacks.

3 Reasons for Not Installing a Drop-Ceiling

#1 They’re Ugly and Weird – You will deflate the value of your house

Several real estate agents I spoke to said that a drop ceiling will negate some of the home equity you’ll gain by finishing your basement.  People want the basement to feel like the rest of the house. They don’t want some bastard room in their house.  (excuse my language, I’ve been watching a lot of Downton Abbey “bastard child” is their favorite phrase)

#2 A Saggy Ceiling

Sagging ceilings, yup, that’s just awesome.  Especially in the basement where there’s a tendency to have additional moisture in the air. The tile absorbs that moisture and begins to get weighted down.  Armstrong now sells drop ceiling tiles with “Humiguard” to try and prevent that problem… which tells me it really is a problem.

#3 Not That Easy to Install

I know they tell you it’s easy but it’s still a fairly big project to tackle. The biggest issue I read about was leveling. If you don’t get it level the whole look is off and you may not notice it until you’re done and someone points it out. At the very least you need to buy and know how to use a laser level.  (If you decide drop ceiling is for you, here’s a very good and inexpensive laser level)

4 Reasons FOR a Drop Ceiling

cool dropped ceiling

Great drop ceiling look! But very expensive.

#1 You Want A Really Cool Looking Ceiling. 

Let’s say you wanted a really cool tin or paneled ceiling look. Newer drop ceiling panel styles offer a lot more variety than the old white square blocks we grew up with.

But… could you just as easily buy that same finished panel without a drop-ceiling? You don’t need the drop ceiling and it’s drawbacks to get the same look.

Here’s a great Pinterest page dedicated to ceilings - great ideas!

#2 Noise Suppression.

You need a lot of noise suppression for a movie room or recording studio. OK, now we’re talking a real reason.  Drop ceilings do help a lot with dampening noise.  It’s something to consider.

#3 Ceiling Mohawk

You’re not installing drywall on the walls but you still want a ceiling. If this is you, email me, I want to know under what circumstance this style decision is occurring.

#4 Grandpa’s General Comfort.

Your Grandpa had a drop ceiling and he’d feel more at home if you had one.  ‘Nuff said. Grandpa’s are awesome!

Final Thought On Drop Ceilings

My recommendation is to drywall your ceiling.  I don’t recommend installing a drop-ceiling. Primarily because of the look. It just doesn’t look as good because it doesn’t match the rest of your house.

If you insist AND you promise to go with a newer design… then I guess we can still be friends.  If you go with the old outdated white panels… I can no longer associate with you. You’re dead to me.

basement finishing jasonHey, I’m a fair minded 21st century man – if there IS a good reason to go with a drop-ceiling and I haven’t covered it here – shout at me in ALL CAPS in the comment box below.

If you want a bunch more information just like this article plus my entire basement story, basement design files and more – check out the ebook (over 1,237 people already have)

Cheers  -  Jason

 

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  1. our home is 15 years old and we have been here 7 months. in that time our kitchen sink has been clogged twice. the 1st time we had a plumbing company snake it for us. they snaked 45′ from the kitchen sink and about 30′ into that main drain tube. the 2nd time they wanted to see the angle of the pipes in the basement to see what could be causing the problem.

    apparently it’s not uncommon to find that the pipes that drain out of your house aren’t at a good angle and this could be causing all the backups. because we have a garbage disposal you need a perfect balance so the liquids don’t drain faster than the solids otherwise the old garbage can clog up the works.

    this time the plumber went into our basement, looked for a specific pipe and took out a level and told us the angle that it needed to be and fixed it by 3/8″. he fixed it at no charge and snaked the sink again. this time he snaked it we saw all this old muck came up that was stuck in this pipe in our basement for who knows how many years.

    he was here less than 20 minutes and he was saying it was a good thing we had a drop ceiling so he could get to it easily (he still had to lift a few panels to find it). he didn’t even charge for the visit. he said a lot of homes have it all finished off and he can’t help them. it sounds like the builder doesn’t always check this angle. our was only off by a bit, but enough to back things up over time apparently. i’m thinking our home isn’t the only one like this. i know how quickly they build homes these days and i’m sure that’s just one of the many tiny things that get overlooked and can cause problems over time.

    • Totally agree with this sentiment in this article.

      Drop ceilings are absolutely horrible, as they quickly wear and become dingy looking. Worst of all, you lose a precious 4″-6″ of ceiling height. One home I saw they were lazy and instead of boxing vents, they just chose the lowest point for the entire ceiling!

      The more you can do to make the basement feel as part of the living space the better it is. At some point you can completely blur the line between basement and main living space.

  2. PS. our basement ceiling definitely doesn’t look very cool at all. but i guess in this one case i would rather have an ugly ceiling and a functional kitchen sink that was super easy to fix.

  3. Laura Reavis says:

    Hey, we have a 35-year-old house, and the rumor is that the original owners finished it out, which is why there are so many weird, poorly done things.

    In regards to our basement, it has a drop ceiling that looks to me to have been poorly installed, and most of the tiles are in bad shape. The few fluorescent lights it has, well, it turns out that they are not hard wired. We have long extension cords running above the ceiling tiles.

    So we know we have some work to do. My initial reaction was to say, “Take down the drop ceiling and lights, and drywall with recessed lights.”

    However, this is not my house, but my grandmother’s. And since she is footing the bill, my dad says it would be cheaper to just hard-wire the existing fluorescents, add more fluorescents or some cans, and replace all the tiles. He also makes the claim about needing access to pipes, and considering that we just developed a leak that has ruined one of the tiles, he does seem to have evidence to support that point.

    So who do you think is right?

    Can you give me some arguments to use when talking to the powers that be on this subject?

    Thank you!

    • Hello Laura – Thanks for your comment, interesting issues indeed. Sooo…. your Dad is right, in a way. It will be cheaper to fix the existing tiles and lighting in your grandmothers basement.

      BUT… if you ever intend to sell the house – you would be much better off going with drywall and can lights. You’ll get your money back and then some, even if it’s ten years from now. It’s really an investment.

      As for accessing the pipes and leaks – Fix the leaks you have and fix them correctly. If you do that you shouldn’t need to access to them down the road.

      “Don’t plan to deal with problems. Plan to not have them to begin with.”

      Good luck! Cheers – Jason

  4. I’m a techo-nerd that does both computers and ham radio frequently; I actually do quite often run new cables and wires from room to room, and even occasionally have been known to change the way some of my filtered water is run. For this reason I will be putting in a drop ceiling in many parts of my basement.

    I definitely don’t think it’ll be cheaper or easier, but the fact that it’ll let me run new power, ethernet, etc later on is an almost instant sell for me.

    I also don’t know why I’d ever need to move out of this house, so I’m here for a long haul. =] I agree that most cases it’s not practical, but for me? It’s a really good option… if I can just figure out how to install it… :-P

  5. Got a quick question for you. My husband and I have an unfinished basement that we are planning to finish soon. We want to buy pre-made cabinets for storing lots of outdoor gear for one of the basement rooms. The pre-made cabinets are currently on sale for 50% off. They are 92 7/8” tall, and the basement ceiling with no finishes (cement floor to wood beams in the ceiling) is exactly 96”. Do you think we will be able to carpet the floor and drywall the ceiling and still fit the cabinets in?

    • Hey Liz – Yes. That should be plenty of space. Drywall for the basement ceiling, .5 inch. Carpet and padding maybe .75 of an inch. Otherwise there are no framing elements on the ceiling or the floor. Unless you want install a framed sub-floor, but that’s not the normal case for most finished basements.

      Go for it! Where are you buying them from? I need those too! – Jason

      • Thanks so much, Jason! Crazy as it may sound, we’re getting them from Ikea. They’re called PAX Tonnes system.

      • Jason, You always strap the joists with 3/4″ strapping prior to installing the 1/2″ sheet rock to the ceiling. This is how you adjust the to make the ceiling level.

  6. #3 Ceiling Mohawk
    You’re not installing drywall on the walls but you still want a ceiling. If this is you, email me, I want to know under what circumstance this style decision is occurring.

    To address your wondering about that. We have original stone walls in our basement that are nice and don’t want to cover them, if we did it would be with more stone (after some good insulation) and not dry-wall, so a dry-wall ceiling would: 1. look out of place, and 2. possibly not have anything to anchor to properly or tidily around the edges, that doesn’t mean we want the rafters -full of wires and pipes- exposed.

    Noise dampening and access to the main wires and pipes are a part of the argument too (yeah other floors have them, but the ones in the basement are where they actually join together to the service panels and other useful stuff), but mostly it’s that drywall has been worse for moisture problems -in my experience- and doesn’t actually go with the basement. I’m sure you’ll find that some people like their basements to have stone walls, it doesn’t have to look bad or uncomfortable, or even “basement-y”. Some home designs with stone walls look quite inviting, and there are plenty of reasons to be okay with stone walls in a basement (besides that, not all people are obsessed with dressing up their basement as something that it’s not, but rather making it look inviting and functional in it’s own right). Drop ceilings can also be replaced one panel at a time, if one gets damaged, without having to cut out and replace whole segments of ceiling. The air-space created by a drop ceiling is also helpful for insulating against the lower temperature of the basement and not just noise cancellation. We also have a decently high ceiling down there, and 4 or so inches doesn’t matter so much. If it interests you the plan is to only finish half of the basement, leaving most of the main utilities completely accessible, so as to not have to worry about the drainage and laundry-room & etc… and so some “garage-like” work-space is still available down there. So certainly there are instances where people wouldn’t be putting dry-wall on the walls, and certainly there are some instances where a drop-ceiling is more practical.

  7. I’m really struggling with this for our basement. We’re leaning toward a drop ceiling because we worry that we need better access to pipes, etc. (the reason we’re renovating our basement is because we had an old appliance leak in the kitchen that flooded the basement). And the contractors who have quoted the project have told us a drop ceiling would be significantly–thousands–cheaper because of all the wiring work they wouldn’t have to do. It’s a 45 year old house, and the wiring in the ceiling is an archaic mess. They would have to basically rewire the entire space to put in a drop ceiling. So I feel like we’re a bit stuck. I unquestionably would prefer a drywall ceiling. It would look great. But I don’t feel like we have thousands extra to spend. I struggle with it, though.

    • Sorry, they’d have to rewire to put in drywall, not the drop ceiling. Mistyped.

    • Eric – I hear ya. If the wiring is all done under the joists (which is common in some older homes) instead of through the middle then yes, you’ll have to rewire everything and drop ceiling would be better. I see two possible options. 1. Extend the joists by adding some “Extensions” for lack of a better term. Then you could drywall to those new, lower joists which would presumable now be below your wiring. (hard to tell without a pic). 2. Buy a nicer drop-ceiling. There are some really good looking tiles and frames out there versus 10-15 years ago.

      Hope that helps a bit. – Jason

  8. hello,
    I have a 30 year old house and the basement ceiling tiles are sagging and discolored. I have had several varieties of workers have to access the plumbing, or wiring through this dropped ceiling. Then the tiles are broken and left looking awful. Oh and none of the ceiling lights work. Plus, we have had leaks and there are multiple stains. What about just taking it all down and leaving it exposed? That would make it so much easier. Is that really a problem. It is a basement, right? I am trying to convince myself.
    thanks

  9. In the process of remodeling my 25 year old home, and have been wrestling with this issue for some time. Contractor want $6,500 to replace current drop ceiling (8oo s. ft.) with drywall.

    Because I have wiring, rigid copper pipes, and iron gas pipes running below (and perpendicular to) the floor joists 2″X2″ board will need to be used as spacers before putting up the drywall, bringing it to about 1.5″ above my current drop down ceiling.

    My realtor says I’ll never get $6,500 in appreciation. It looks like I’ll be replacing existing drop down panels myself for about $650.

    • 6500 to replace 800sq ft….that is ridiculously high. I averaged quotes of 3500 for 800 sq ft drop ceiling. I would shop around to a lot of other contractors. Yeah your realtor is right Good luck

  10. As I sat here trying to convince my husband we should drywall our basement ceiling, I found this article! Thank you!! I will admit, as we have been slowly renovating our basement over the last year or so, we’ve had several experts ( electrician and plumbers) advise us to use a drop ceiling instead of drywall. I DETEST a drop ceiling. We heard the cautionary tales about leaks and access needed for whatever utilitarian need by well-meaning friends and family, but… Still, the thought of one of those fake ceilings bugged me to no end. Yet, I had decided to go ahead with it at my husband’s urging. I was on here just now looking at more decorative, more stylish options in the drop ceiling world when I came across your article. Understanding the risk of leaks and any other possible future needs that may require us to yank out loads of drywall only to replace it again once the issue is repaired, we have decided to go ahead with the drywall anyway. I feel it just looks better. We’ll hire a drywall contractor and have them do it. Thanks for the other voice of reason!!

    • It certainly can be a difficult decision and it’s specific to each families circumstances and needs. Glad the article could you help you make your decision. I think you’ll be very happy Maggie. Your husband seems like very wise, compromising and good looking man. – Jason

  11. I have been told that in my town if you frame out a wall and drywall the ceiling, the room will increase the property tax of the home. If you use drop ceiling, your taxes will not go up.

    • Sethro – Cool name btw; that is straight up crazy. I’ve never heard of ceiling type determining tax status. I’m not saying the that “person” who told you this is a straight up liar… cause I’m not that kind of guy… but I’d really like to know the name of this town so I can make a few calls.

      In the meantime, I’m continuing my extreme dislike of drop ceilings. – Jason

  12. Great discussion! I’m on the fence. Our basement needs to re-finished. It was nicely done, probably 40 years ago with knotty pine everywhere and 1×1 ceiling tiles that all sagging in various places. I am leaning towards a “modern” drop ceiling for several reasons.

    The house was built in 1949, steam heat. The basement is not heated, but the exposed steam pipes and boiler room in the middle do a great job of keeping it warm and dry. They are about 6 1/2 feet above the floor, so I’m good at 6’3″ tall except for a couple of places. The existing drop ceiling is at 7 feet 5 inches. So I think we have plenty of room overhead and there are a lot of pipes and things that we would need to drywall around anyway.

    The purpose of the basement is to reclaim our living room and put the TV and kids down there. I like the idea of some noise insulation to keep noise in the basement from coming up. No issue with first floor noise going down. I found interesting articles on soundproofing…but that’s usually to stop the footsteps from above…I want the noise below to stay below. And I want to be able to watch Sons of Anarchy without my kids hearing it all from upstairs.

    We have some mold issues to resolve first…probably from lack of dehumidification in the past. I am a little concerned that a drywall ceiling would not allow the basement to “breathe” as well. It’s a walk out basement but still, in the Boston summer, 3 walls are against earth, so you can get humidity down there and no boiler running to dry it out. I think the drop ceiling, coupled with running a dehumidifier might be a better plan to avoid condensation. There’s also a radon remediation system sucking air from under the concrete. We are going to be adding insulation and air sealing to other parts of the house, but inside, I am thinking the suspended approach might be better.

    • I’m in the process of doing the basement now and after thinking about it longer and listening to the contractor, we are going to scrap the drop ceiling idea. The thing that had me on the fence was the acoustic advantage and “breathability,” but I ‘ve concluded those are not really good reasons. The sound is going to come up from the basement because the stairway is open (no door at top) and we plan to run a dehumidifier all summer anyway. I think with drywall all around, it will look much neater and have a healthy 7 1/2 foot ceiling.

  13. Jason,
    Take a look a Ceiling Link, it’s a PVC based “drop ceiling” system that only costs you about 1″ of space, only twice the space of drywall. A 1000 SQ Ft basement (assuming 20X50) would run you $707 in ceiling link parts, $40 in screws and $700 to 900 in panels (2′ X 4′). 1 person can install and it doesn’t require much skill… but a somewhat level basment ceiling studs.

    http://www.ceilinglink.com/

    • Andrew – That’s pretty cool. IF I liked drop-ceilings I would probably go for that, looks easy that the traditional install method. If anyone tries that out, come back and leave a comment with how well it worked. – Jason

  14. TO INSTALL DRYWALL IS 4 TIMES CHEAPER THAN SUSPENDED CEILINGS. THEY ALSO ADD TO THE STABILITY OF THE UPPER FLOORS AND CAN PROVIDE A BETTER FIRE BARRIER THAN TRADITIONAL NON FIRED RATED DROP CEILING TILES. WHERE ACCESS IS NEEDED YOU CAN BUY ACCESS DOORS FOR THOSE AREA. ALSO IF YOU ARE TIRED OF THE COLOR YOU CAN JUST PAINT IT, POPCORN SPRAY IT ETC. SUSPENDED CEILING BY THE TIME YOU BUY THE GRID WORK, ACCESSORIES FOR SUPPORTS, SPECIAL LIGHTS ETC THE COSTS ARE 4 TO 5 TIMES MORE THAN DRYWALL, END OF STORY. THE ONLY ISSUE IS FULL ACCESSIBILITY. I PREFER DRYWALL OVER MY EXISTING 12X12 DAMAGED TILES. i WILL APPLY 3/8 A LIGHTER SECTION 42 FOOT LONG AND ONLY 11 SEEMS WHICH I WILL PLACE WOOD AND STAIN TO ACCENT MY WOOD PINE WALLS. IT ALSO PROVIDED A GREAT SOUND AND HEAT BARRIER TO THE UPPER FLOOR. BY PURCHASING THE 3/8 DRYWALL(WHICH IS LIGHTER) AND USING A DRYWALL LIFTING DEVICE AND TEES, THE PROJECT IS EASIER THAN YOU THINK

    • Rick,
      in response to 3/8″ on ceiling, watch out for sagging. Many are recommending 5/8″ over 1/2″ for this reason.

      • My fractions are a bit rusty but 5/8s is thicker than 1/2. For ceilings – you want 3/8″ drywall. 1/2 is to thick and will sag unless reinforced and more importantly, throws off the dimensions of the drywall sheets for the walls below it. 1/4″ is an option, but in my opinion is too thin. – Jason

  15. Just like Andrew, I have looked at the “ceiling link” system, and like the look of it, and the ease of installation. Looks to me to be easier than drywall. It will account for varaiances in your joists, and with it being plastic, it should last forever. I have debated this as well (and see your argument that we don’t have drop ceilings everywhere), but have two outdoor taps between joists in the basement to turn on each spring, and shut off each fall, and need access to those areas. Not sure what “access doors” look like to those who have spoken of these? Could you post a picture? I have a pipe ‘clean out’ that I’m going to be closing in (covering with drywall I’m thinking, as it is against one of the walls), and would still like to have access to it. Although I agree the ‘look’ of a drop ceiling is ‘different’, if I go with this option, I will be sure to by great looking tiles (my wife also does not like the traditional white tiles we all see in dentists offices and office buildings) and send you some pics… If you impress me with the “access door” option, maybe I’ll be ‘converted’ to a drywall ceiling guy…

  16. Soooo – these laminate wood planks will be our answer to the “to drop or not to drop” ceiling question.

    http://www.armstrong.com/residential-ceilings/easyup.html?intcid=promo_Browse_Planks_EasyUp

    I’m happy with it, at lease in theory. we are in the planning phase still. thought others might be interested, too… also, if you investigated it and found reason not to use it, i’d be interested in hearing that, too.

  17. Wanting to hang drywall in my basement on the ceiling. What would be the best way to deal with floor joists that are uneven? Some come down almost 9.5″ and some are only 9″. They are pretty random and no set spacing anywhere.

    • Yo Travis – I would install some furring strips to drop the ceiling to the lowest point. In your case it sounds like you’d only lose about a 1/2 inch. It’s a pain in the ass but you’ll want to get this right, ceiling needs to be level or it’s going to look bad. – Jason

  18. Great article. Thanks for the help. As requested, I’m commenting because I’m considering installing a Ceiling Mohawk, at least temporarily. I recently purchased a 3 year old home with poured concrete walls in the basement. The basement is unfinished, and I don’t have the funds to do a full professional finishing, but I want to clean up the space a bit to make half of it an exercise space and the other half a play area for the kids. So, I’m looking at painting the walls white with a water-blocker primer/finisher to brighten it up, throwing down some cheap remnant carpet, and installing a dry wall ceiling with brighter lighting. If I have more funds down the road, maybe I would consider dry walling the walls as well. Is there any good reason not to proceed with this plan?

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