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Set the lead end of the runner on the perimeter molding and lower it until it touches the first string. Sight across the runner to determine where to bend the first wire support. Bend the wire, feed it through the nearest hole in the runner, bend it up and twist it at least three times.
A similar calculation should be made in the opposite direction. Here, intersecting members, called cross tees, are positioned in slots on each main runner. If you need to trim a few inches from the lead ends of the main runners to accommodate a row of partial panels, be sure to trim the same amount from each runner so that the cross tees will be parallel to the wall and the panel openings are square.
To create a new tegular flange, lay the flange of a complete panel over the cut piece and scribe the new flange line.
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Typical systems have an L-shaped perimeter bracket, or molding, to support the suspended ceiling at the walls. From this molding, long stringers, called main runners, are installed every 4 ft. and run the length of the room. The ends of the main runners rest on the perimeter moldings and everything in between is suspended with wires secured to the joists above. Cross tees are installed across these runners at intervals of 24 in. This grid is all that’s needed to support 2 x 4-ft. ceiling panels. With 2 x 2-ft. panels, an additional set of connectors divides each 2 x 4-ft. area.
Measure across the room parallel to the joists and divide by the panel length to get the number of full panels that will fit in the space. To determine the perimeter gap at each wall, subtract the sum of the panel lengths from the room dimension. If the gap is only 1 or 2 in. short of a full panel, you may be able to start against one side wall and continue across to the opposite wall with full-size panels. If the gap is anything less, it’s best to divide it in two, placing half on each side. If the gap is 18 in. wide, for example, it will look better if both sides of the room have a 9-in.-wide row of partial panels. In this case, start your first main runner 9 in. from the wall, continue across the room with full panels, and end with a main runner 9 in. from the opposing wall.
While suspended ceilings are not for everyone, or for every situation, they make a lot of sense in basements and in first-floor rooms with bathrooms overhead. If a leak appears in the overhead plumbing, a suspended ceiling can mean the difference between a costly, time-consuming repair job and a minor inconvenience.
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Finally, install the panel, push the diffuser into the duct and screw it to the duct by working through an adjacent opening in the grid.
To support the main runners, screw small eyebolts into every third joist along the chalklines. Then, fasten lengths of 16-gauge wire to each eyebolt. Twist the wire at least three times around itself at the top. Then, stretch string tightly across the room between perimeter moldings, about every 8 ft., so that the string is aligned with the bottoms of the molding. Use this string to level each main runner as you hang it from its wires.
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Then, lay the knife on its side and slice into the panel from its edge, at the same height as the factory flange. This will remove just enough material to produce a custom flange. Install the cut panel so the new, unpainted flange faces the wall.
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When it comes to cutting panels to fill the smaller perimeter openings, always cut with the finished side of the panel facing up and always use a sharp utility knife. Avoid using power equipment–you’ll create far too much cellulose dust and the job won’t get done any faster.
With the grid more or less square, cut and install pieces to connect the grid with the perimeter molding. Again, the factory ends hook into the runner and cross-tee slots while the cut ends rest on top of the perimeter molding.
If your ductwork ends in a downward facing elbow, or if you’ve had to bring your own duct to the room, you might opt for a round diffuser with adjustable output. These plastic or metal diffusers are sold at most home centers. Again, the trick is in bringing the duct to the panel.
All you need for a suspended ceiling is sufficient head clearance. Requirements vary, but most codes stipulate a minimum 7 1/2-ft. ceiling height in new construction. Some codes, however, will accommodate a lower ceiling height if it’s part of a renovation project, so it pays to ask. You’ll need roughly 4 in. of space between the old and new ceilings to tilt the panels in place, and an additional 2 in. if you intend to install drop-in, full-panel fluorescent ceiling lights.
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To install the main runners, measure out from the starting wall the determined gap distance and snap a chalkline across joists. Then, measure 4 ft. from this line and snap a second line. Repeat this procedure in 4-ft. increments until you reach the far wall.
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With the runners in place, tie them together with the cross tees spaced 2 ft. apart. The cross tees have a hook on each end that fits into a slot in the runners.
Heating ducts will also require special attention. In most cases, the job requires bringing the ductwork down to a level just above the top of the panel, cutting an opening in the panel and inserting a diffuser.
We installed our suspended ceiling in a wood-frame drywalled room, though concrete or concrete-block basement walls wouldn’t have changed the installation much. In this case, simply use masonry screws instead of nails to secure the perimeter molding that supports the ceiling at its edges.
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If your latest renovation project includes a new ceiling, don’t panic at the thought of overhead drywall work. In the right situation, a suspended ceiling offers some real advantages over the permanent variety.
First, ducts, pipes and cables hidden above a dropped ceiling remain accessible for repair or modification. And second, suspended ceilings are better sound barriers than drywall ceilings.
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Measure down from the joists at several locations around the room to ensure that you’ll have enough space above the panel grid at all points across the existing ceiling. If your ceiling joists don’t lie on a level plane, make sure to measure down 4 in. from the lowest point on the lowest joist. When the three perimeter lines are level and at the correct height, connect them with a chalkline on the remaining wall.
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If your duct ends in a rectangular boot, make sure the boot has side tabs that will allow you to screw through the diffuser and panel and into tabs in the duct boot. This may require a bit of custom sheetmetal work on your part, but it won’t need to be fancy.
For outside corners, a mitered joint is more attractive. Using your tin snips, cut both moldings at a 45 degree angle and secure them in place with 6d nails.
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Continue hanging the runners in this fashion until each is supported every 4 ft. If your room is longer than the runners, join them end to end, using the slots and tabs built into the ends of each.
To determine the best position, lay a level or a straightedge across the grid. Then, extend the duct down to a point just above the panel. You’ll also need to frame a structural support across the joist space containing the duct so that it doesn’t settle under its own weight.
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Access the electrical box by removing the lock ring holding the canopy in place and sliding the assembly down the chain. Disconnect the wires and, while holding the fixture with one hand, use your free hand to loosen the chain retainer from the nipple. Pull the wires through and rest the fixture on the floor.
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With the perimeter molding in place, install the main runners perpendicular to the joists and 4 ft. apart. The trick here is to lay out the panel grid so that the ceiling appears balanced from side to side. Most rooms will accommodate a number of full-size panels plus an edge gap that will require partial panels.
The installation steps vary from one manufacturer to the next, but not significantly. We chose an Armstrong Tegular Ceiling (Armstrong World Industries Inc., P.O. Box 173058, Denver, CO 90217). Tegular ceiling panels have a recessed flange that allows them to protrude below the grid roughly 1/4 in. While these panels are more attractive, they do require careful trimming when a smaller panel is needed.
If you plan to install a full-panel, drop-in fluorescent light fixture, you’ll need to provide some protection for the wiring that extends between the the electrical box connected to a ceiling joist and the fixture. Codes will require that these wires be encased in flexible metal conduit.
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Once you’ve chosen a ceiling package, give some thought to the grid layout. While home centers and retailers will be happy to work up a parts list, based on a scaled drawing of your space, you should have a general sense of how the components go together before getting started.
If the chain is light-gauge, you might be able to pry open a link. If it’s heavy-gauge, you’ll have to cut it with a pair of bolt cutters. Next, shorten the light’s wires and reconnect them to the house’s wiring. If the conductors are not color-coded, remember that the wire with the raised rib on its insulation is connected to the neutral wire; the other connects to the hot wire. You’ll find it easier to work with another person who can hold up the fixture while you tighten the chain retainer on the nipple.
Set the fixture in the grid in place of one of the panels, and connect the remaining end of the conduit to a blank, junction-box cover plate. Break the knockout from the plate and join it to the conduit with a standard box connector. Finish by making the wiring connections and fastening the plate to the box.
With the duct ready, measure carefully from two sides of the grid and position the diffuser on the panel accordingly. Trace around the diffuser with a pencil and cut along this line to make the opening.
With the perimeter established, locate the wall studs and nail the perimeter molding in place so that the top of the molding aligns with the perimeter lines. Use 6d nails and avoid scuffing the painted surface of the molding. Cut the molding to fit with tin snips. For long walls, butt the ends of two pieces of molding.
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When you come to an inside corner, install the first length of molding tight against the corner and butt the second length against the first.
For the do-it-yourselfer, though, the real bonus is easy installation that requires only simple household tools. Comprised of a metal grid that supports lightweight panels, a suspended ceiling is well within the capabilities of most homeowners. If you’re worried about the institutional look, drop-in ceiling panels have become more attractive in recent years, with a wide range of designs to choose from.
Starting with the fixture, mount a 90degree conduit/box connector in one of the channel knockouts in the fixture. Then, feed three 14-gauge insulated wires (black, white and green) through a length of flexible conduit and into the channel box. Fasten the conduit in place by tightening the connector’s set screw. Join these lead wires to the fixture’s leads as you would normally, connecting like-colored wires.
The first step is to determine the maximum height of the new suspended ceiling. If you don’t plan to install a drop-in fluorescent fixture, measure down about 4 in. from the existing ceiling joists and mark the wall. The 4-in. space is just enough to angle the tiles into place. (If you do plan to install a drop-in fixture, place the mark 6 in. from the joists.) At this mark, draw a line around three sides of the room using a 4-ft. level.
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Place an additional wire support near each of these joints. Trim the excess from the last length of runner with tin snips.
If the system you’ve chosen has 2 x 4-ft. panels, install the panels in the center of the grid now to help square the assembly. If your system has 2 x 2-ft. panels, install the 2-ft. connectors before moving on. These connectors parallel the runners and fit slots in the cross tees. With the 2-ft. connectors in place, install enough of the center panels to square the grid.
Begin by measuring the grid opening and adding about 3/8 in. for the new flange. Slice through the panel completely, using several passes if needed.
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