Is a Suspended Ceiling right for your Basement?

Yes, admittedly everything Jason says about drop ceilings is true.

1. You will lose head room.

2. It can look cheap. OR It doesn't look like the rest of the home.

3. You lose out on some value

4. You don't save any money with a drop ceiling

However.... I think a drywall ceiling can be quite sharp looking and adds
continuity to the rest of the house IF it's done right.

ricky bobby

With all due respect to the hardcore pro drywall ceilingers out there (don't you just love that lead in?  "With all due respect" You can just get away with saying anything after that... just ask Ricky Bobby "Mr. Dennit, with all due respect, and remember I'm sayin' with all due respect, that idea ain't worth a velvet painting of a whale and a dolphin gettin' it on.")

With all due respect, each basement is unique and requires careful consideration as to the best choice for you, so here is my attempt to convince you a suspended ceiling is the right choice.

With a Suspended Ceiling - You'll Lose Head Room:

Yep, you sure will. No refuting it. To be fair, you will loose headroom with a drywall ceiling as well. If you have electrical, gas, or water lines running along the bottom of your floor boards (all of which were the case for me), you won't be able to screw drywall directly to them.

suspended ceiling head room loss

This shows the distance from my floor board to the bottom of the main T-Channel (about 4 inches)

You need to nail spacer boards along the length of the joists to allow the drywall to screw flush to them. If you use 2x4s combined with 3/8'' drywall, you are going to loose close to 2 full inches of head room.

So how much headroom will I lose?   

Good question, and the answer, I've found, is it depends...

At a minimum you need to drop it enough to clear all of your obstructions plus the length of the main T-Bars. Don't know what a T-Bar is? No worries - check out my drop ceiling install article ( coming soon ). All you need to know for now though, is that it's about 1.5''.

For me, the thickest "obstacles" were the metal conduit junction boxes which added another 1.5'' of clearance requirement. Therefore, at minimum, you need 3-4'' of clearance.

da bullsThat is as little as a ONE INCH difference in headroom loss compared to drywall (in my example).

Is a one inch loss in headroom going to kill you?

Unless you are hosting the 1995-96, 72 win, Chicago Bulls roster, including their four 7-footers (I'll include John Salley at 6'11'' - that's close enough in my book), 1 inch is not going to make a difference.

Having said that, setting your drop at 3'' is going to make installing the tiles more difficult. Not impossible, but difficult. So does that extra 1''-2'' loose you? If so, I'm sad to see you go. If not, read on.

It doesn't look good. It doesn't look like the rest of the home.

To me, this portion, is like grading your 8th grade English paper (sorry Mrs. Barnes) - its subjective. Sure there are basic elements to any install (or essay) that must be there.

If you slap your ceiling up out of level, or spaced improperly, it's going to look bad. If you choose the cheapest, flush, industrial 4'x2' tile (like what's in my office at work) its going to look like junk. There are many styles of tile to choose from. Obviously cost will be a factor as the tile cost vary widely.

Which ceiling tile should you buy?

I recommend a mid-range 2'x2' tile with a reveal, in whatever texture you prefer. I went with the Alpine tile from the ole HD (Home Depot). The tile itself ran me about $500 for my 1,000 sq ft basement. I could have paid as little as $250 for an entry level tile, or as much as $1,000 for a top end tile.  Here's a link to the Home Depot ceiling tile options

As far as it not looking like the rest of the house, true - in general you don't see drop ceilings on 2nd floors of residential homes. To me, a basement is a separate part of the home, not an extension of it. It is where my wife and I go put our headphones on after the kids are in bed, and get a good workout in. It's where I pop in a blue-ray, crank up the surround sound, and watch me some (insert mindless action movie title here).

Some would argue against me here, and say they want it to be just like the rest of the home, I guess then if a suspended ceiling makes it feel so much different from the rest of the home, its not for you.

basement suspended ceiling

Here's my suspended ceiling in my basement. It looks an sounds awesome! Plus I have access to all my wiring and pipes. If you can frame a wall you can install a suspended ceiling.

You lose out on some value.

Maybe? I'm not a real estate agent, and haven't had my house appraised since my original purchase. According to Jason, he's been directly told by an agent, drywall over suspended ceiling is the way to go. Of course that's one agent's opinion, but it certainly carries more weight than mine.

Having said that, give me 2 equivalently designed basements, one with a drywall ceiling, one with a suspended ceiling. I wouldn't be willing to pay more for the house with the drywall, nor would I expect to pay less for the drop ceiling. I guess it comes back to personal taste.

Do I save money installing a suspended ceiling?

In a word... NO.

In 9 words... It is highly dependent on the tile you choose. (Raise your hand if you actually counted the number of words in that last sentence)

My drywall mudder informally quoted my basement (and I assume he was going to use low end 2'x2' tiles) for $2,000 materials and labor. I completed it myself for about $700 in material... $1,300 savings in labor... Satisfaction of doing the job yourself.... priceless.

It probably would have cost about $200-$300 in drywall and I'm guesstimating another $100-$200 in mudding labor + $50 for a couple gallons of ceiling paint I no longer needed.

Therefore on the low side my drop ceiling cost only $150 more. On the high side maybe as much as $350 more. Again, if I chose a cheaper tile, I could have cut my $700 in half in which case I would indeed have saved money over drywall. It would have looked very "office like" but hey if that's what you're going for or on a very tight budget, knock your socks off.

BONUS: Suspended ceiling advantages over drywall

Access: Jason buys into the old adage: Plan for success. You shouldn't put in a suspended ceiling just because you are planning on having a water or gas leak. Agreed - these things happen quite infrequently but they do happen. Also there are things like water shut offs, sewage line clean outs, cable/internet lines, speaker wire, etc  you may more regularly need to access.

A suspended ceiling provides you with the freedom to access them. In addition, when you actually do have a leak, bingo, pop out a tile and have at it. Drywall is "easily" repaired but what's easier: cut out drywall, make repair, insert new drywall, mud, sand, mud, sand, prime, and paint, or pop out tile, make repair, pop in tile?

Sound proofing: I'm not running a recording studio out of my basement, nor can I read or play a lick of music. My wife does tell me, however, that I like to listen to movies and video games at an above acceptable sound level.

My brother in law did warn me that my hearing would start going at home once I got married... The suspended ceiling tiles do provide a nice added benefit of dampening sound from getting back upstairs where my wife is busy chasing our toddlers and keeping up with the Kardashians.

Easy to install: I'm baffled that Jason, Mr. "I can do my own electrical and so can you" would tell you that they are hard to install. Don't let him fool you. If you are doing your own framing, electrical, and drywall, you can definitely install a drop ceiling! Check this article for a full rundown of how to install a suspended ceiling!


Ok, so now you've heard both sides of the argument. What's it going to be for you?

Are you team suspended ceiling ceiling, like me.  
Or team drywall ceiling, like Jason.  

Chime in either way in the comments below. 

- Adam

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Questions and Comments

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  1. says

    Adam, you are a genius. Plus, there is a product called Ceiling Link that gives you the benefits of a drop ceiling (access, ease of completing yourself, etc.) but with limited loss in headroom. BOOM. Decision made. 'Drop' ceiling it is for this guy! Thanks for your viewpoint!

  2. Dave D says

    Adam, great discussion. I'd like to add another plus for the suspended team...when you are poor you can buy the cheapest tiles you can afford...then, when your ship comes in, you can buy the fancy ones and change the whole look with a simple changeout...speaking of changing the whole look can even paint the tiles and t bars if you want to get real artsy...

    On the subject of value...the real estate folks i've talked to say that a sheetrock ceiling in the basement turns buyers off...strictly because of the problems it creates for access...

    Also, the suspended ceiling makes a great place for your kids to hide their special least till dad decides to install the inet wire and gets rained on by playboy bunnies....

    • Joshua says

      I think its really subjective on the buyer on whether or not it turns them off. Many people go into a basement and "oooo" and "aaaah" when there's drywall. I think there's more people who do this than get turned off by it. You could just install access panels in the drywall in order to reach shut offs, drainages, etc. Access panels lay almost flush with drywall and can be painted the same color as the wall (or ceiling in this case) that they're on.

  3. K Naughton says

    I recently had water damage to a basement ceiling in the bedroom down there and had to rip out a large portion of the dry walled ceiling. The guest who uses the room most often suggested a drop ceiling for noise cancellation (she's a light sleeper and my early-risers have little but noisy feet). Thanks for all the great info to help me make a decision, but I have one main question...what about insulation? Is it not needed because the drop ceiling somehow performs that job??? If so, there's a cost benefit for your argument. Do others not insulate their basement ceiling and I'm weird?? Thanks for any feedback.

    • says

      What up K. Yup, you're weird. Just kidding, we're all weird! Yes, drop ceilings do have some noise insulation benefits. Most people only add insulation to their basement ceilings in order to mitigate noise - otherwise you don't need it. - Jason

  4. Guido's mom says

    My biggest reason for going with a drop ceiling is that drywall requires sanding and that dust gets all over the house!!! Gets in the hvac system even if you close off intakes in the room. Maybe it is better in a brand new house before anyone lives there. And the number of hours of labor to install might be similar but with drywall, after it is hung and 1st coat of mud goes on, then it needs 2 more coats with time to dry in between....down time!!

    • says

      That's true, you do have to account for dust. You need to turn off your HVAC and seal doors and vents, then let the dust settle before turning it back on. It's probably a couple hours of extra work and waiting. Still worth it, in my opinion of course. - jason

  5. Caren Holliday says

    Does anyone have any pros and cons for painting an exposed ceiling in the basement? Are there painted products that will add any sound dampening? Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Caren - Paint doesn't add sound proofing, at least none that I've ever heard of, and I did work at a paint store for a couple years. They do sell "Sound dampening paint" but I wouldn't recommend it... because IT DOESN'T WORK! Helpful article here. - Jason

  6. Duane Lones says

    I have installed several suspended ceilings over the years, and I am planning on doing one in our present home's basement. I read your article as a refresher. Your writing style is humorous, the articles quoted were objective, and it was all very helpful. Thanks!

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