How to Install a Drop Ceiling - 5 Simple Steps and 1 Big Mistake

If you had asked me a year ago would I ever write an article called "how to install a drop ceiling" I would have looked at you like you had three heads. Yet, here I am. Or rather, here we are.

I figured out how to install a drop ceiling for my basement

I taught myself how to install a drop ceiling and here's the result. It makes me tear up with joy each time I go down to my basement. I'm writing this article to show you how to do yours.

I'm guessing you are here for the same reason that I was Googling for days on end a year ago. You want to know if you can install a drop ceiling in your basement on your own.  

The short answer is yes!  Yes you can and it's not that hard. You can save a lot of money by doing  it yourself IF you don't make some of these key mistakes. 

If you're here because you're still trying to decide should you go with a drop ceiling over a drywall ceiling for your basement then make sure to read both sides of the debate here on the site. Here's Jason's article that is definitely against drop ceilings. And here's my argument FOR choosing a suspended ceiling (let's show a little respect).

Now let's get to the meat and potatoes of how to install a drop ceiling. 

drop ceiling l-channel

Drop Ceiling Installation Tools and Materials

L-Channel: Metal channel thats shapped like an L. You will install this first around the entire perimeter of the wall, a few inches below your ceiling (hence the "drop" in drop ceiling).

drop ceiling main tT-Channel: Metal channel thats shapped like a... yep you guessed it, T! These run perpendicular to your floor joists.

4 foot cross T's: These are like mini T-Channel that run parallel to your floor joists and snap to the main T-Channel

drop ceiling cross T2 foot cross T's: If you are purchasing 4'x2' tiles, these are not needed. If you are going with 2'x2' tiles, these are needed and run between the 4 foot cross T's.

Drop Ceiling Tiles: These will be the most expensive part of your drop ceiling project. They come in a ton of styles and can be humidity and mold resistant and offer various levels of sound insulation.

Drop ceiling tiles come in flush mounts (the tiles are even with the T's) or with reveals (tiles sit slightly below T's). Personally I think the reveals provide a nice aesthetic touch.

Wire and Wire Hanging Eyelets: The eyelets are screwed to the floor joists and the wire is looped through the eyelet and the wholes in the main T-Channels to provide the needed support from the weight of the tiles. 


Tin Snips: You'll need a good pair of tin snips to make all the cuts on the L and T channels. I recommend this Bostitch model on Amazon. It's rated 4.5 stars and has free shipping with Prime.

eyelet bit

Drill Eyelet Adapter: A special drill bit that the eyelets fit into. Worth its little weight in gold!

Several fresh Utility Knife Blades: Do yourself a favor and stock up on utility blades before getting started. I can't stress how important sharp blades are while cutting tiles. Cutting drop ceiling tiles dulls them quickly and if you attempt to cut tiles with dull blades, your cuts will look sloppy.

How to Install a Drop Ceiling

I found a great video that explains how to install a drop ceiling. I've embedded it at the bottom of this article after these steps, but I recommend reading these steps first. I pretty much learned 90% of what I needed to know from this guys so props to him!  

I want to highlight here the key steps with some pain saving pointers. Save yourself some major aggravation and avoid my mistakes. Read through these, then watch the video, then leave a comment with any questions on how to install a drop ceiling.

Step 1 - Design Your Drop Ceiling Grid

It starts with a game plan. Literally, measure and make a TO SCALE drawing of each room. Then layout your tile spacing and see how it looks. Like tiling a floor, you want to make sure your outer edge ceiling tiles aren't too small. Ideally they will be evenly placed along the perimeter.

There are several websites and videos online on how to lay out a room. I was super annoyed though that every video on the web assumes you have a simple square shaped room. If you do, you've got a huge advantage in figuring out how to install a drop ceiling. Both of my main rooms had cut ins, jut outs, and soffits. If that's the same for you, use the videos as a starting point, lay out your room and make tweaks one direction or the other to avoid small tiles near those obstructions.

Step 2 - Install the L-Channel

how to install a drop ceiling using these L channels

Here's an nicely mitered L channel on an outside corner. While learning how to install a drop ceiling be sure to take the extra time to get these corners correct.

Now, time to get your hands dirty. Determine the drop you are going with and measure around the perimeter of the room down from the floor joists that amount. Mark the location of your wall studs and using self taping drywall screws, adhere the L-Channel to the wall.

Interior corners are simple - Either overlap the two pieces or butt them together. Exterior corners can similarly be butted together but to give them a sharper look, I overlapped them and cut one on a 45 degree angle to give the appearance of a mitered corner.

Step 3 - Install the T-Channel

The main T runs perpendicular to the floor joists. Place your first main piece of T-Channel spaced away from your wall as determined in your grid layout.

These pieces of channel will be supported on either end by the L channel and will be supported in the middle by the eyelets and wire spaced approximately 2-4 feet apart. This amounts to about every other or every third joist.

Once you have the wire loosely run through the channel and the eyelets, next work to ensure the channel is level. One good strategy is to run a string taut from wall to wall in line with the L-Channel. Then pull the individual wires tight to bring the T-Channel in line with the string. Wrap the wire around itself to ensure it doesn't sag or come loose with the weight of the tile. Rinse and repeat this process with the T-Channel spaced 4 feet apart until all the channel is up.

Step 4 - Install the Cross Ts

Cross T installation is a snap. Sorry, bad pun. You need to snap in the 4 foot cross T's.  Again if using 2x2 tiles, the 2 foot cross T's as well. It's easiest to do both at once for a smoother install. Start with full T's and once complete move to the edges. Measure and cut each T to size. Always cut a bevel on the wall end to avoid interference with the wall.

As you are going, drop in a couple full tiles to square up the grid. Definitely do this before cutting the edge tiles to ensure the grid is totally square.

drop ceiling light cut out

Here is one of my drop ceiling tiles with a recessed light cut-out. This is before I installed the light trim.

After all the T's are installed, drop in all of the full tiles and move on to the edge pieces. Measure and cut these as well.

If you bought tiles with a reveal, the best way to get an accurate cut is to first cut the tile to size and set it into place. Then score the tile along the edge, remove the tile and cut the reveal. This can fairly accurately be done by hand and by eyeballing the depth of the cut. After 1 or 2 cuts, you'll get used to it.

Make special cuts for other interferences (drop lighting, smoke detectors, etc).

Here's the best video I found online showing how to install a drop-ceiling:

 

Adam_Profile

There you go, Done! A successful drop ceiling install. Congrats!

Do you have questions about how to install a drop ceiling? I'd love to hear them below! 

-Adam

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Questions and Comments

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  1. Joshua says

    Thanks for the article Adam. My wife and I are looking for our first home and the biggest thing I want to do is finish the basement myself. I would rather have a dry wall ceiling with small access panels for plumbing shut offs and what not. However, after reading your arguments and your "how to" I'm starting to consider a drop ceiling. Especially for the sound proofing because I'm going big with the 7.1 surround sound. Thanks for giving me something to think about.

    As a side note: I will definitely do a drop ceiling if the home we buy has plumbing and electrical running beneath the floor joists. I don't consider the extra work and money would be worth it to do drywall. What do you think?

  2. sing says

    can I install a drop ceiling in the basement where the walls are not finished? There is no dry wall, just the painted foundation wall. Thanks.

      • Pradhan Balter says

        Of course you can as long as you have studs to which you can tie the angle iron (L channel). The thing is, should you later decide to install drywall, you would probably want to install it inside that same corner. Here is a nice option though...suspend the grid without going all the way to the walls. It would appear to float. Once hung, and tiles inserted, it will be pretty stiff and it makes for a nice effect, creating some dimension. Also, there are sites that manufacture designer tile so that drop ceiling does not look so "standard".

  3. sam esposito says

    I am installing a drop ceiling in my bsmt. to install my next run on the grids it falls directly under my heating trunk line so I cannot install the wire to support the grid, I cannot go the 2' or the 4', how do I support the grid

    • says

      Assuming you have all of the materials but no experience installing drop-ceilings. I would guess about a week. If you've done it before, or can find just 1 person who has, I'd say you could knock it out in 2-3 days. - Jason

  4. Pete says

    Can't find this answer anywhere. On a long wall (35 ft.), do you overlap L bracket or butt the pieces together? If overlap, how much?

  5. Rick says

    I have a room which changes direction by 45-60 degrees. The floor joists also change directions. Do I run a main tee across the room where the angle changes and bend the ends of the connecting main tees to fit the 45 degree main tee?

  6. Ed says

    Great article
    I have 44 inches left from the last main to the wall on both sides of the room. So I the side rule will match around the room. Would it be more sturdy to put another main 2 foot away from the last main leaving 20 inches. Or just use 4 foot tees cutting off the end to make the 44 inches. Which is more sturdy and which is faster.
    Thanks

  7. says

    Have drop ceiling in basement but am having a hard time cutting a hole for box and getting back in place. It broke the first try. It's very tight in the area. What's the secret ???

  8. A. Merges says

    I reconfigured my basement and need to add to existing drop ceiling grid. Looks like the previous contractor used a staggered method for installing the T bars, meaning I would have to dismantle a good portion of the ceiling. Are there adapter clamps to make this easier? Should I look for a ceiling contractor, do you know anyone in the Chicago suburbs?

  9. Susan A Taylor says

    House built in 1885. Room appears square but now seeing grid is off by about 1/2" from square -- tips... advice???

    • says

      Hi Susan - Wow, old house. Those are my favorite! If you won't lose to much space you can square of your room with the framing, this way your drywall and flooring will all work correctly. There's not much you can do to fix the "un-squareness" of the external walls. Good luck! - Jason

  10. Brandon says

    Jason,
    I appreciate your article. I bought a house a few years ago that was built in 1959. I ripped out the carpet upstairs and put in wood flooring. I do notice that the basement is a bit louder as a result. The ceiling in the basement is that old 'cardboard style tiling.' And the house has boiler heat, so there is a drop around the outside of the foundatation about 2" below the floor joists to accommodate for the copper piping.
    I'm going to put in some drywall on the outside walls overtime. This article has convinced me a drop ceiling is the way to go though. This means I can fix some things over time - like grounded electrical to the refrigerator - speaker wires to the surround sound - cat6e plenum to reduce my tenancy for wireless - and copper piping for an icemaker in the fridge.

    It might cost a bit more to do the drop ceiling. I'll gain it back in access as I work on these other minor issues over time. I have a ton of electrical capacity - so I may end up reworking some of the circuits over time.

    Thanks for the article. I'm going to start planning this in a few days!

    Brandon

  11. Dianna says

    I have a home built in 1906, the area I live in has constantly shifting foundation. The ceiling is high and has no insulation. I want to drop my ceiling and add insulation at the same time. Currently it has a cardboard type ceil that was hung in panels. I have paneling on the walls as well as furring strips about 14 inches below the ceiling. Do you still recommend the dropped ceiling you discuss in the video? This house is not mine, it is an apartment off my Mom's house so I can't fix the foundation first. My apartment is 600sf of a 3000+ sqft home. The ceiling appears buckled now so what do you suggest?

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