Suspended ceilings, also called drop ceilings or dropped ceilings, are relatively easy to install, and have the benefit of allowing ducting, electrical and plumbing to be hidden without installing soffits, at the same time giving quick access for repair and maintenance when needed. That is one reason they are seen so frequently in office buildings, schools and retail stores among other places. They also help improve air circulation and noise dampening, and add a clean modern look to a room. The latter is especially useful if you have a room with a sagging ceiling or uneven joists.
A suspended ceiling is comprised of a lightweight metal horizontal grid framework hung from ceiling joists on wires, plus ceiling panels resting on horizontal flanges of the grid frame members. The panels are available in many styles and materials, including vinyl plastic, recycled fibre, insulated metal, wood and acoustical tiles. Panels come in 2 foot by 2 foot, 2 by 4 foot and less often, 12 x 12 inch sizes.
The actual metal pieces that make up the grid frame are 8 or 12 foot long sections having a cross section shaped like an upside-down T, which run lengthwise along the room, and shorter 2 or 4 foot long cross member T-shaped pieces. They all are connected at the room perimeter to supporting wall angle pieces mounted to all four walls.
You will need to allow at least about four inches space between the framework and the ceiling; this is so that the panels can be tilted and placed into the grid and removed. So check local building codes for minimum ceiling height requirements before deciding to install a suspended ceiling. You may need more like 6 inches clearance if you are installing recessed lighting. Your first step, once you have decided to go ahead, will be to determine the width and length of the room and make a layout of the panels.
Laying Out the Panels
On a sheet of graph paper, draw the room’s exact dimensions, to scale. Then, choose whether you want to use 2 X 2 panels or 2 X 4 foot panels. Now, on the graph paper, draw a line down the middle of the room from wall to wall along both width and length. The main runner piece will be the longer of the two lines.
Draw lines representing the other runners at either 2 or 4 foot pitches, depending on your choice of panel size. On the rows closest to the walls, panels need to be trimmed; try to place trimmed panels on opposite sides of the ceiling, this will produce a more balanced look.
Also, you shouldn’t trim the panels down too much, leave at least 12 inches for 2 foot wide panels, and 24 inches for 4 foot panels; if you can’t achieve this, you may have to try a different layout, with the main runner offset from the middle of the room.
When you have finished drawing the lengthwise runners, layout the cross pieces using the same method. The main runners should go perpendicular to the joists.
Once you have your panel layout the way you want it, you can estimate how many panels, crosspieces, runners and wall angles you will need. If you will have lighting installed above the suspended ceiling, mark off which panels will need to be translucent ones. You can opt to buy a suspended ceiling kit with a set number of grid pieces, or buy all the parts separately.
Other hardware you will need: hook or eye screws, hanging wire, 1 ½ inch drywall or masonry screws (for attaching wall angles), and of course, the panels.
It’s a good idea to wear protective goggles or eyewear when doing this job, to protect against falling debris, as you will be looking up most of the time
1. Mark off on the wall a line at the height where the ceiling will be. Using a level and tape measure, make matching marks at both ends of each wall. Snap chalk lines between all the marks; this is a guide for attaching the wall angles.
2. Fasten the wall angles at all points, keeping the angles flush with the chalk line. Where the angles join at the corners, miter cut them with tin snips. The screws should be fastened to studs on wood walls or mortar joints on masonry walls.
3. Going back to your sketch for the location of the runners, and mark their position on the wall angles at opposite ends of the room. Stretch a tight guide string from the top of the wall angles at opposite ends of the room.
4. Install screw eyes for hanging runner- directly above the guide string, drill a pilot hole in each joist. Now cut lengths of hanging wire to be at about 5 inches longer than the distance between the screw eye and the guide string. Attach it by threading one end through the eye and making it twist around itself about 3 times. Bend the last 2 or 3 inches of the hanging end of the wire 90 degrees with a pair of needlenose pliers.
5. Mark off the location of one of the cross pieces, according to your layout, on the wall and opposite wall, then set up a guide string between them, as in the main runner. Use this to locate the main runner piece so that a tee slot in it lines up with the cross piece guide string. The end of the runner should reach to the nearest wall angle; you probably will need to trim the end using tin snips to achieve this. For rooms wider than 12 feet, you will need to splice together two runners- they will snap together at the ends with the built in connector. Make sure your tee slots are all aligned when the two runners are spliced together.
6. The main runners can now be installed. Set the ends on the wall angles, then thread the hanging wires through the hanger holes, wrapping the wire back on itself 3 times. Check with the level and the guide string to ensure the runners are level. Adjust the wire lengths as required. Remove the guide strings.
7. Install the cross pieces now, slipping their ends into the slots on the main runners. Install one cross piece every 4 feet or 2 feet, depending on panel size, as shown on your layout. Cross pieces at the room perimeter will need to be cut to size to fit; place their ends on the wall angles. Check for level.
8. Install the panels in place, starting with the middle and working your way to the edges, by lifting them above the framework and dropping them gently into place. Panels can be trimmed to size with a straightedge and a utility knife.
You should now have a great looking suspended ceiling. You can add a wood molding around the edges where the panels meet the walls if you want, also. If you have any extra panels left over, hang onto them, you never know when you might have to replace a damaged one.