Install a Suspended Ceiling to Hide Cracks

Dear James: We live in an older house and one of the rooms has cracks in the plaster ceiling that keep coming back. We are going to use the room for a home theater. Would a drop tile ceiling be a good choice? — Larry C.

Dear Larry: Cracks in plaster ceilings can be difficult to repair in a way that lasts. The cracks do not present any structural problems to your house, but they sure do look bad. Also, a plaster ceiling is certainly not the best surface for acoustics in a home theater.

A suspended (dropped) tile ceiling is an ideal choice for your home theater. First of all, it is a very simple, do-it-yourself weekend job to install. Second, the cavity above the tiles provides space to hide the wires to the speakers. Third, you can choose tile materials specifically designed for their acoustic properties.

Although you will probably want to choose black or another very dark color for your home theater ceiling, there are many very attractive colors and styles of tiles available. Once you finish doing your home theater ceiling, you will probably want to add suspended ceilings in other rooms too.

The standard tile sizes for suspended ceilings are 2-by-2-feet and 2-by-4-feet. The 2-by-4-foot size is more commonly used because a standard 4-foot long, fluorescent light fixture will fit perfectly in place of a tile. Installing 2-by-2-foot tiles will take a little longer to install and cost a bit more for materials.

Careful planning of the job is particularly critical when installing a suspended ceiling. In order to purchase the proper amount of material, make a scale drawing of the ceiling with a layout of the support grids.

Pay attention to where you need lights. Round, recessed fixtures, with dimmer switches are simple to install in the tiles and they give excellent directional control. A single four-tube fluorescent fixture will provide bright light where needed.

When determining the grid positioning, it is important not to end up with a very narrow tile at one wall. This is a dead giveaway of a nonprofessional installation. First, locate the center of the ceiling. This can be done by measuring the midpoints on walls and then snapping two chalk lines from opposite walls.

It looks best with the tiles are centered in the room. If this results in the final tiles at the walls being only six inches wide or less, start the first tile at a wall surface. This will result in the last tile being about one foot wide at the opposite wall for a nicer appearance.

Now you are ready to start attaching the support grid members. You can make the ceiling any height, allowing enough depth for any light fixtures, but 7.5 feet is considered the standard finished height. Drive small nails in the corners at this height. Stretch a string across the nails and check it with a line level.     Once you have made any minor adjustments to bring it to level, snap a chalk line on the walls. Screw the wall angle along the chalk line. Locate the ceiling joists with a stud finder. Mark the locations of the runner (run perpendicular to the joists). Screw the eye screws into the joists above the runners. Hang a 6-inch long wire from the eye screws. This will support the runners.

The runners have slots spaced evenly along them to accept the tab end on the cross T’s. Insert the cross T’s into the runners to complete the grid. Slide the tiles diagonally through the grid opening and let them drop down into place.

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