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'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 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).
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 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.
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
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.
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:
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!
More Links on Basement Ceilings:
- Should you go with a drop ceiling? Jason says NO!
- Should you go with a drop ceiling? Adam says YES
- Why You Should NOT install your own drywall