Installing a drop ceiling in a basement

Finishing a basement is a study in functionality over appearance. Those pipes, vents, and electrical lines running through the floor joists making up the basement ceiling are lifelines to your home. Accessing them is crucial at times if you have a leak, a blockage, or other damage that requires you to work on them.

drop ceiling
A basement ceiling holds the mechanical elements of your home photo by Randy Tucker

A permanent ceiling make of sheetrock or other material will eventually have to be cut into or have large sections torn down if you have one of the home situations mentioned above take place. An alternative and an attractive one is suspended ceiling tiles.

You’ve seen these ceilings in lumber yard retail sections, restaurants, and public buildings. They have a band of metal supports running usually at two and four-foot intervals with fiber panels hanging between those supports. They’re functional and can be ornamental with the right design printed on them and with careful arrangement of the clear plastic panels that allow light through them.

drop ceiling
Ceiling tiles add a finsihed look to any basement – photo by Randy Tucker

For your home use, the first step is to determine the level of the ceiling. If you have a standard eight-foot-high ceiling you can set these tiles from eight to 12 inches down from the bottom of the joists. The magic location is a combination of how low the ceiling can be without making someone claustrophobic but still low enough to be able to angle the tiles into place once the metal structure is tied together.  The easiest application for both is usually about a 10-inch drop.

Start on the walls, marking a spot at the height of the new ceiling. You can extend the line with several measurements and a chalk line connecting them or you can get a laser level that will spin a bright line all around a room at a specific height. Nail or screw the L-shaped wall supports into place. When they’re complete you can begin setting the middle T-shaped supports into place. These will hang on the wall brackets with wire connecting them to the joists. You can tie directly through holes in the joists or drive a nail with a quarter-inch of the head out and tie to that.  You’ll need to level each metal support as it is stretched out.

drop ceiling
Correctly cut ceiling tiles drop easily into place – photo by Randy Tucker

The tiles will be 2 x 4 feet, so the supports should run at two-foot widths for maximum strength. The cross supports that will tie into the long running supports will be set at four feet to accommodate the ceiling tiles.

drop ceiling
Ductwork requires venting in a drop ceiling – photo by Randy Tucker

Once the framework is in place, start in one corner with the tiles and lift them into place. The weight of the tiles will stabilize the entire metal structure. These tiles are easy to cut with a utility knife and a standard carpenter square. You’ll have to cut odd corners, and some panels will be shorter and narrower than others to match the length and width of the ceiling.

drop ceiling
Vents mounted in a drop ceiling enhance air flow -photo by Randy Tucker

The final step is to locate lights and vents in the ceiling. Clear Lucite panels should be placed under the lights, and the vents will have simple floor vents placed through a cut in the ceiling tiles and attached. The vents will be upside down from a traditional floor placement since the vents in a basement blow air down, not up.

drop ceiliny
Lucite panels allow light through a drop ceiling – photo by Randy Tucker

When you’re finished you’ll have an entirely new look in that old basement, a finished look that brings the room a new function as well.