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Suspended Acoustical Ceilings: Installation Tutorial for Sound Control or to Hide a Popcorn Ceiling

© 2008 by all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission. Author’s Google profile

Suspended Acoustical Ceiling


This article is a step by step guide to laying out and installing a suspended acoustical grid ceiling. It explains nailing up the wall angle (molding), installing hanger wires and the grid, leveling the grid, and installing the ceiling tiles.

Why Install an Acoustical Ceiling?

Why indeed? A suspended grid ceiling, otherwise known as an acoustical ceiling, can be a great improvement in some areas of your home. For example, if you’re remodeling your basement or turning it into a game room or a man cave with a tiki bar, a grid ceiling is easy to install and allows you to take advantage of can lights or florescent light fixtures that sit right in the grid.

If you’d rather not DIY but would rather hire a pro, I recommend Angie’s List. They’ give you local recommendations.

Let’s take a look at the tools and material needed to complete this project.

  • 16 oz. straight-claw hammer
  • Tin snips (straight-cut aviation snips)
  • String line
  • Pop rivet tool and pop rivets
  • Utility knife
  • Small clamps or vise grips
  • Chalk line
  • Laser level or water level (a link to instructions on how to make one is at the bottom of this article)
  • Acoustical ceiling grid (12’ main runners, 4’ T’s, 2’ T’s optional). Brand names include Donn and Armstrong.
  • Wall angle (molding)
  • Ceiling tile
  • 12 ga. hanger wire
  • Nails
  • Fence staples

Nail up the Wall Angle

Determine the desired finish height of your new ceiling and strike chalk lines one inch (the height of the wall angle) above that on the walls. Allow at least 4 inches below the ceiling joists or any obstructions to allow working space to later fit in the tiles.

You’ll need more clearance for light fixtures, ect. In fact, if you are going to use drop-in fixtures rather than surface-mount, go to the store and size them before starting your project.

You will have to allow more clearance than just the thickness of the fixture because to install them you will have to angle them up to get them into the grid.

You’ll want the ceiling to be level. You can use a laser in a room with straight walls, but when the space has a lot of corners or halls, I like to use a water level to transfer benchmarks.

I find it easier to mark the benchmarks at eye level at inside and outside wall corners and then and then measure up to strike the chalk lines. Nail up the wall angle; the chalk line is the top of it.

Making the Layout for the Ceiling Grid

The first step is to make the layout. It’s easy to determine which way the main runners (or, just mains) will go — they will run perpendicular to the ceiling joists. They are spaced at 4’ intervals, connected every 4’ with the 4’ T’s. To determine their location, find the center point of the room.

This can be either the center between two mains or the point where a main falls. Either way, it makes for equal borders.

Mark off every 4’ so you know where the mains are. Nail fence staples up into the ceiling joists and hang your hanger wire. Allow about 4” below finish ceiling level.

Determine Where the T’s Will Fall

Find the center point on the other wall; this will give you a mark where a border T goes. Measure back down the wall and make a mark each 2’ and at the last 2’ increment before reaching the opposing wall.

This is the first T. Now make a mark 6” past that. Measure the distance between the mark and the wall and make that mark on the opposite wall and run a string line from mark to mark (connected to the wall angle and pulled tight).

Hang the Ceiling Grid

Cut and hang two main runners so that one of the slots lines up with the string line. Fill in the 4’ T’s. Pop rivet the mains to the wall angle. Now check the second 2' X 4' grid opening for square by measuring diagonal corners for equality.

Pulling the assembly in the direction of the wall or pushing it away will allow you to find perfect square. Cutting a T to the proper length and securing it to the wall angle will keep it there.

You may have to cut that border T shorter or longer to achieve this. When you've got it, make sure it's straight by eyeballing down the 4' T and rivet it.

Now run a string line from the outside edge of that main along the main by the edge where you just established squareness and clamp it to the opposite wall.

Using the two strings you can hang the rest of the field and maintain square. Squareness is extremely important when it comes time to install ceiling tiles and drop-in fluorescent light fixtures. Rivet the border T’s on that wall and the mains on the string wall.

Hang the grid in a slight arc to make it easy to level down in the next step.

Level the Ceiling Grid

Simply run a taut string under each main in turn and level down to 1/16” from the string. If you’re making a 2’ X 2’ system, pop the 2’ T’s in. You're done!

Install Your Ceiling Tiles

This is the easy part. First, use your tape measure and utility knife to cut the border tiles. If you measure from the inside of the wall angle to just 1/8” inside the lip of the main or the T will give you good coverage. Don’t cut them too tight.

Next, install light fluorescent fixtures and air conditioning and heating registers. Finally, fill in the full ceiling tiles. This is a great time to add insulation on top of the tiles.

Have you installed a suspended acoustical ceiling in your home? This type of project falls in the category of “lessons learned”. So, if you have any tips for our readers, please leave a comment below. Thanks!

Follow Kelly Smith

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