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How To Install A Suspended Ceiling

See also: Planning a suspended ceiling grid layout (with diagram)

The benefits of installing a suspended ceiling system yourself instead of hiring someone to drywall and finish that same ceiling are: suspended ceiling installation is a much less messy process; if you install it yourself it can be cheaper than hiring a professional to drywall; if there is a lot of plumbing up in the ceiling it will be much easier in the future to access it if need be. Yes the material costs are higher but the labor is your own time and there are a lot of nice new tile designs out there today to chose from.

I prefer a 2′x2′ tile like Armstrong Sahara #271 tiles. They are very durable, rigid and easy to work with. For a typical basement family room 20′x14′, I would expect it would take a first time installer 1.5 days to finish the project, although the amount of heat registers and pot lights you need to install will slow you up a bit.

Difficulty Level: 7/12

Tools Required

Materials Required

To get started you need to decide the finished height of the ceiling. I would try not to go any tighter than 4 inches from the lowest pipe or obstacle the you would like hidden above the ceiling. I have found that 6″ is a nice space to leave in most cases. Also keep in mind the height required above the ceiling for installing pot lights or the amount a surface mounted light may hang down

Once you have your height add to that the height of the metal wall angle (usually 3/4″-7/8″) and make the measurement on a wall. Now using the carpenters level start at that mark and work your way around the whole room marking a level line. Next screw the wall angle to the wall lining up the top edge of it to the line you just made. Try to screw into studs wherever possible.

TIP: Renting a rotating wall mounted laser level would be a good investment for getting all the metal ceiling grid hung level.

Once you have figured out the layout for your grid system (see planning out ceiling grid layout) mark the position of the main T’s at both ends of the room on the first and last ceiling joist. You can then join each of those pairs of points by snapping a chalk line from end to end. Next you can measure out and install the hanger eye hooks for the main T’s into the ceiling joists along these lines. Do not space them more than 4′ apart along any main t.chalk line. Now cut enough lengths of wire for each eye hook and install them by inserting one end into the eye hook and wrapping it around itself 3 times. Now you can stretch out a string line along a row of wires at a height 7/8″ above the bottom of the wall angle and pre bend all of the wires to a right angle where they meet the string. Do this at every row of wires.

You are now ready to start assembling all of the ceiling grid system. Start by cutting the end of the first main T so that the cross T slot on the main T is the border panel distance from the wall. Set the cut end onto the wall angle and lift other end up until you can slip a wire through a hole near the end. Wrap the end of the wire around its self three times. Do this to the other wires along this piece as well. Finish this Main T row by adding more full length T’s until you need to cut one to finish the total length. Follow the same procedure for the next main t row beside the first one. As well fit in any 4′ or 2′ t’s that your layout calls for between the two main t rows that you have hung. You should now have a series of squares or rectangles between the first two main t’s.

Main grid in place

We need to check if the grid is going up square, so to do this first pick a square or rectangle area the is in from the border panel area and measure its diagonals. The two measurements will be the same if the grid is square. If they are different, re-cut one of the mains until those diagonals measure equal. Keep installing main T’s and cross T’s until you have the mains all up.

TIP: Keep checking the diagonals every time you complete a new section and adjust main T lengths as needed.

Now you can put in all of the cross t’s that will make up the border panel areas, but first you need to pull and attach a string line at each end of the first main T that you hung as a guide to straighten it up. As you cut the boarder cross T’s make your cuts so that they will keep the main T following that string.

With the ceiling grid all in place and the wires all attached to the main T’s you can start installing tiles. I like to start with any tiles that will have heat registers or pot lights so that I will have ample room to work at installing those items. When cutting ceiling tiles it is recommended that you cut from the finished side through to the unfinished side. Straight cuts can be made with a straight edge and olfa (utility) knife and circles can be cut easier with a drill and hole saw.

Begin putting tiles in place

TIP: Change your knife blades regularly to make nice clean cuts

After all of the light and heat register tiles are installed cut and install the boarder panel tiles and fill in the rest. If the ceiling grid is not well leveled and the panel corners are not sitting down flat onto the ceiling grid it may be necessary to adjust some hanger wires slightly.

Here I am putting up the last tile

Here are some photos of the finished project:

Finished Drop Ceiling 1

Finished Suspended Ceiling 2

Finished Ceiling 3