The second installment in our ‘How to’ series of guides, will take you through each stage of the installation of a suspended ceiling. We have multiple How-To Guides to our YouTube channel so be sure to subscribe as there are more videos coming soon.
How To Install a Suspended Ceiling
Would you like to learn how to install an acoustical feeling for that next commercial project or even your home’s basement? Creative’s authentic 20-minute ceiling apprentice video was filmed on a real job site, with real blueprints. We will review the tools that you need, plus how to determine critical installation layouts.
Next, you will learn proper wall angle, hanger wire and grid installation techniques, that will have you hanging like a pro. Your installation will look so good and no one will ever know you’re a 20-minute apprentice.
After that we will discuss lighting layout considerations, ceiling panel installation techniques and helpful grid accessories from Creative, that will make your installation look even better.
Ready to get started? First, you will need some tools! Here are the most common tools that you will need:
- Cut Resistant Gloves, Safety Glasses & a Hard Hat.
- Cordless Drill – With screw tips and drill bits.
- Ladder(s)/Rolling Scaffold.
- Snips – Metal cutting snips.
- Laser – Horizontal line leveling.
- Hole Punch/Pop Riveter.
- Lineman Pliers – With wire cutter.
- Chalk Line.
- Screwdrivers – Slotted/Phillips.
- Tape Measure.
- Spring Clamps – 5-7 (Small).
- Carpenters Pencil.
- Tool Belt/Nail Apron.
- Aluminium Pop Rivets (White).
- Compass/Handed Hole Saw.
- Screws – Fence staples or anchors for wall angle attachment.
Having the right tools and safety equipment will help to ensure a perfect, safe ceiling installation.
Here are the project plans (see image above), this was an old open air camp dining hall. This is being enclosed and air conditioned for more versatile use in the warm climate. Our new ceiling will dampen sounds in the space while providing consistent even lighting throughout.
The interior width of this room is 28ft 9 inches, while the interior length of the room is 68ft 8 inches. This tutorial will show how to centre up your ceiling installation within a room for a pleasing balance visual. The architect may have grid layout recommendations in their plans, like main runners lined up at the centre of column, mullions etc. This is important to check before your installation.
A laser is crucial to use when installing today’s level ceilings, luckily they can be purchased inexpensively from your local hardware shop or distributor. Many locations rent lasers as well. Make sure your level line laser is to the finished height of your ceiling. This is the line that we will hang our wall angle at first, as you can see on this project we must hammer drill holes for tap-in anchors, as we hang our wall angle to the laser line. Hard nails often work as well when attaching to a concrete block. Most often you will only be attaching to drywall, in that case, a screw gun and drywall screws or fence staples and a hammer is all that you will need to attach your wall angle to a drywall.
Code doesn’t consider an acoustical wall angle structural, however, it must be securely attached to the wall for a finished installation. When you get to your inside corners, a finished 45-degree mitre is a much more pleasing visual than simply overlaying butt cuts. All you have to do is mark and cut at 45-degrees on the lower angle, then overlay the butt cut upper angle, for a perfect mitred visual from below.
Your outside corners require a little more attention but are still easy to achieve a clean mitred visual. Simply let the angle override past the corner, then square butt cuts to length. Next, you want to cut away the vertical flange, leaving an exposed horizontal tab. You will do this to both angles that approach the outside corner. After overlaying them at the corner, mark where your 45-degree mite cut will occur on the lower angle, and make the 45-degree cut on the LOWER ANGLE ONLY! Square cut your upper angle to length, and you’re finished with a corner that looks perfectly mitred, but it’s structurally sound. A spring clamp will hold the angle in place while you do the final attachment to the wall.
Now let’s figure out what width out perimeter border ceiling panels should be. This will help us determine our ultimate grid layout. Since buildings are not usually perfectly square, you know that you’re going to have to cut some border panels. The most pleasing visual is achieved when your border panels are no less than 10 inches wide, and the opposite wall has the exact same size border panel, achieving proper room balance.
If our room is 28ft 9 inches wide, let’s figure on installing 26 feet of full-sized 2ft x 2ft ceiling panels. That leaves 2ft 9 inches of panels for our borders, which when divided by 2, leaves us 1 foot 4½ inches or 16½ inch border panels down each side. Small silver 4½ inch border panels would not look good, but these 16½ inch border panels will look great, and achieve proper room balance.
Now let’s figure our borders for the remaining 2 sides. If the length of our room is 68ft 8 inches, let’s use 66 feet of the total for our full-size panels, and split the difference between our remaining 2ft 8 inches. Divided by 2 that leaves us 1ft 4 inches for 16-inch border panels does these other 2 opposing sides. To ensure that our grid installation is nice and square, it’s important to install 2 perpendicular dry line or control line strings, to serve as a perfectly square benchmark to install our grid off of.
We will run our first dry line down the length of the building, we already know that the border panels here will be 16½ inches. Let’s add 24 for the width of a full sized panel, this will be 40½ inches, and place our dry line dead centre, running parallel with our first main runner. We really need that dry line to be just touching the outside edge of this main runner, so after adding a ½ inch for a 15 sixteenth inch main runner, this places our dry line at 41 inches off the main wall.
The second dry line will run the width or shorter dimension and will line up with the centre of the first full-size tile. With 16-inch borders along the short wall, plus half of a full-size 24-inch tile which is 12 inches, we are left with a dry line located 28 inches off the short wall.
Now with our dry lines up representing our first main runner placement, we are ready to install our 4ft on centre 12-gauge hanger wires. Without the dry lines, it’s difficult to know where to install our first run of hanger wires. Here we are tying wires to the I-lag screws, but you may be shooting wires with a Hilti gun into concrete deck.
After your first run of wires, simply move over 4ft, and install your second run and so on. Tying wires is easy, provided you leave a long tail that you can bend up into a handle, for easy wrapping., 3 wraps and 3 inches. Use of wire cutters can also aid, and tying as well as shown here again (see video 7:52), again you want to get at least 3 full wire wraps, within 3 inches to meet code.
It’s important that your wires drop vertical, they should always be within one and six plumb, this means that for every inch a wire is moved to the right or left of plumb, there should be at least six inches of vertical wire drop.
For example; If you move a wire 2 inches out of plumb, you must have at least 12 inches of vertical drop. If it is not possible, then you must counter splay and additional equally sloped wire in the opposing direction to maintain symmetry.
Our first main runner will install parallel to the first long dry line, keeping the dry line on the outside edge of the main. It’s always important to have a wire in close proximity to the end of a main runner. Counting back from where we want our first main runner to end, it will be 8ft plus 1ft, for a total of nine feet back to the dry line intersection.
As we install our main runners level with the wall angle, we will ultimately block our lasers horizontal line with a main runner’s placement. That’s easy to fix, just lower 3 inches and level by attaching your magnetic reflector card to the bottom of your grid as you install and level it.
Here we are putting a tape at our last wire location for the main runner splice, which will be your strongest install (see video 9:26). We are measuring back 9ft and marking the route hole that our perpendicular dry line intersection will pass under. From this dry line intersecting location that we marked, we will measure back 28 inches, which represents from the wall to the dry line intersection. Here we will cut the main runner, this is important that we repeat measuring from the dry line to the wall for each 4ft on centre, starting main runner that we install. After that, main runners will continue on as full-size main runners that always end within 3 inches of a hanger wire location.
Notice here how our perfectly measured main runner has a hanger wire hole within 3 inches of the main beam splice (see video 10:00). If you are hanging mains what have a fire expansion notch like 8300 or 7400 main runners, you must add an additional wire within 3 inches of either side of the expansion notch.
You notice how the grid is being levelled to the laser card every time a wire is attached? Again remember to measure back from the dry line and cut your other starting main runners like you did the first one. Each starting main runner should have the same cross tee out hole passing directly over the short dimension dry line. Without this preparation, your cross tees would never visually line up straight. Let’s install the 4ft cross tees with the first tee space 16-inches off of our parallel starting wall. All other 4ft cross tees are then 24-inches on centre. Once you hear the positive click, you know that the tee has engaged the round hole (see video 11:35).
When it’s time to cut a 4ft cross tee that runs perpendicular into the long wall, butt the white flange of the tee to the outside edge of the wall angle, then mark and cut the cross tee to the outside edge of the parallel main runner, where the dry line is also located. Next simply spin the tee 180-degrees and install it. It will be perfectly cut to size, 5 to 7 spring clamps are a must for every installer, these clamps are your extra set of hands to hold the tees in place until you are ready to permanently secured with a pop rivet.
We are at the point now where we need to square our 2 starting main runners and their cross tees to our dry lines. This is the short line, notice how light taps adjust the route hole directly over the dry line. Same thing goes for the main runner, just a few light taps to bring it alongside the dry line, just a few light taps to bring it alongside the dry line. Our spring clamps give just the right amount of tension, to let our border tees move when tapped for adjustment to the dry line.
After we are certain that our grid is square to both dry lines, diagonally measure a 4 x 4 grid module. Even if all 4ft cross tees are installed, measure a 4 x 4 module. If our starting grid module is square, both diagonal measurements should be exactly the same. If they are not, push your modules 4ft tees to the right, and clamp to remove slack and re-measure. If you are still out, adjust your short dry line and re-measure until you are square. It is so crucially important to achieve perfect squareness at this starting corner of the room.
Once the starting grid is square, the rest of your installation will continue on this way. Now that you’re square let’s permanently keep it that way by pop riveting our grid to the wall angle on these two perpendicular starting walls. You may still have some cross tees to install, so do this now.
When stabbing a cross tee into the route hole, always stab to the right of an opposing cross tee. While finishing your tees and your pop rivets, constantly readjust to the dry line if needed, because when you’re finished with this starting corner, and it’s square, the rest of your job is virtually guaranteed to be square. Do the harder detail work in the beginning corner, to guarantee the rest of the installation continues on smoothly.
If you are not allowed to show exposed pop rivets or you have 9/16-inch narrow profile grid on your project, consider the grip clip wall attachment when tapped into place behind the wall angle, the GCWA has teeth that bit in the grid, after squeezed with pliers or screw holes; for screw attachment. Either way, you’re locked in secure.
Now that our starting point is complete, let’s finish tying any remaining wires and move on. It’s always best to wait and finish our final wire ties until the end, just in case there’s any final levelling needed. Since we’re talking wires here, this little accessory is a great one to have as well, if you need to splice a few wires into older existing wires, like on a renovation project or you simply need to fabricate a 20ft wire, the WS12 is the way to go (see video 15:30).
Our next main runners are now going up along with 4ft and 2ft cross tees. All that’s needed is some levelling to each main runner. With our laser level, we can be sure that our installation is square, though because we took the time, in the beginning, to start the project off with a square installation. You’ll want to keep your dry lines up and refer to them from time to time, however, the squareness should carry on.
When it comes time to splice two 12ft main runners end-to-end, simply stab to the right of the opposing main runner. When you hear a click, your connection is tight and locked with over 300lbs of pull-out resistance.
How do you take main runners apart? It’s really easy. Just grab your slotted screwdriver and bend you pocket tabs on either side of the main runner, out 90 degrees.
Our grid installation is really starting to take shape, with main runners and tees expanding exponentially in two directions. We talked about the strength of the main splice in its remove ability, but what about the cross tees? Well once engaged tee-to-tee, it will take 300lbs to pull them apart. How do you disengage cross tees? With a flathead screwdriver, depress the outward locking tabs, on both sides of an intersection. With two hands, rotate the main beam away from you, then disengage the cross tee you are trying to remove upward.
Here’s a real-life example (see video 17:30).
When you are ready to splice them back together, simply bend the tabs back and stab them together again, for the same tight connection as before.
Our main runners have come to the end of our 68ft building run. How do we accurately cut a main runner to size? At the opposing wall, just butt the end of the main runner to the wall upside down, then cut back as far as the pocket tab on the main runner above you. Next, rotate your cut main runner 180 degrees and reinstall.
Ok, we’ve reviewed dry line and hanger wire installation, then main runner installation followed by cross tee installation. Let’s talk about light fixture layouts. The architectural plans had our 2 x 4 lights running north and south on the plans. Which means we were supporting the 2ft ends of the fixtures on the main runners, which is as it should be.
What if light fixture direction changes within a room after the grid has been installed? This would only place one side of the light fixture on a main runner instead of the required 2 sides. In this case, a 4ft cross tee must bridge perpendicularly the other two 4ft cross tees. These bridging cross tees must now act as main runners and have the same carrying capability as the main runner. Refer to your grids data page to determine which 4ft cross tee matches your main runners’ load carrying capacity, for bridge tee installations.
Here we are installing a 4ft cross tee to create our 4ft module. This 4ft bridging tee must match the other 2 perpendicular 4ft cross tees, in main beam carrying capacity. These are followed by a single 2ft cross tee, to create our 2 x 2 ceiling panel openings. Here you see the wire supported main runner on the left and the bridging tee on the right (see video 19:35).
Let’s talk about staggered or off module grid installations. When installing a light fixture with unopposed cross tees or the newly popular staggered module installations, you need to lock unopposed tees into place. For this use the STAC-clip, which takes the place of an opposing cross tee, while securing the single tee tight in the module. A pop rivet holds the module and tee tight, in even seismic areas.
If you’re having to install custom sized tees or modules, where cross tee route hole does not exist, cut the tabs off your tee or use a scrap piece of main runner, and rest it up in the module where you need it to be. After clamping in place, use a GC3W (see video 20:30). This handy clip allows placement of a fabricated tee, where a cross tee route hole does not exist. It can either be secured by activating the locking barbs with pliers or screws in a screw gun. Either way, your job fabricated tee is secure and ready to receive a light fixture or air diffuser.
Well, our grid is up square and finished. Let’s spend a few minutes on ceilings, specifically cutting border panels. For a square edge border panel, butt your tape to the wall, and measure to the inside edge of the grid. For your measurement dragging the end of your tape measure along the face of the panel is a great way to transfer your measurement before cutting. It should take 2-3 cuts with a utility knife to make it through your panel.
For a tegular panel replicating that tegular reveal at the perimeter is easy once your panel has been cut to the proper length. Just drag your knife along the panel, using the wall angle as a guide. Remove the panel, and cut down through the face, just the depth of the reveal, about 5/16 of an inch. Next back cut along the edge, the same depth to remove that corner piece, then reinstall and see your perfect custom cut reveal.
If you have to cut circular cut-outs for can lights or sprinkler heads, with a tape mark the centre of your cut location. Next, use a compass to scribe and outline your circular cut on the face of your panel. Using a keyhole saw, cut out your circle and you’re ready for your fixture (see video 22:16).
Finally, upon completion, if you notice any paw prints left over from installing, a dry chemical eraser does a great job erasing those little smudges from the face of your panels. If you have a blemish that’s a little bit more severe. Ceiling touch-up paint is available from your local hardware/builders merchant and also online, for touching up those deeper gauges etc.