How to Install a Suspended Ceiling

A suspended ceiling
  • 48-96 hours
  • Advanced
  • 400-700
What You'll Need
Ceiling tiles
Wall angles
Miter box
Tin snips
Masonry fasteners
Main tees
Eye screws
Steel tape measure
Straight edge
Cross tees
Chalk line

A suspended ceiling is a good solution for when there are a lot of utilities running through the actual ceiling, as in a basement, or where you have a damaged or ugly ceiling that would be easier to hide than repair. In the guide below, you’ll find some tips and tricks for how to install a suspended ceiling, including the following information: planning; installing wall angles; locating and hanging suspension wires and installing main teas, cross teas, and border cross tees; and installing ceiling panels.

Disclaimer: Check your state and local codes before starting any project. Follow all safety precautions. Information in this document has been furnished by the National Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy and safety. Neither NRHA, any contributor, nor the retailer can be held responsible for damages or injuries resulting from the use of the information in this document.


Step 1 – Measure

First, get the exact measurements of the room where the suspended ceiling will be installed. Use special care in measuring any odd-shaped alcoves and bays.

Then, draw the exact dimensions to scale on graph paper, or bring the room dimensions to your local retailer and ask a salesman to assist you in estimating the materials you'll need.

Step 2 – Decide on a Pattern

You can choose from either a 2x2 or a 2x4 pattern. The pattern you pick will determine the material requirements for your ceiling. For the 2x4 pattern, decide whether you want to install the patterns in a standard or reverse pattern. Each pattern offers a different appearance.

Step 3 – Sketch Your Plan

Now that you've made these decisions, sketch the layout for the planned ceiling on graph paper. You can use the layout in Fig. 1 or purchase graph paper in a stationary store. Regardless of which pattern you select, draw the main tees 4-feet apart. Position the tees so that the border patterns at the room edges are equal on both sides and as large as possible. Try sketching several layouts before beginning the actual installation to determine which one looks best.

It is important to space the cross tees so the border panels at the ends of the room are equal and as large as possible. If you are using a 2x4-foot pattern, space the 4-foot cross tees 2-feet apart. For a 2x2 pattern, add 2-foot cross tees between the midpoints of the 4-foot cross tees.

If the ceiling will be recessed and built-in lighting will be installed, decide where to locate the panels of light and clearly identify them on the drawing. The drawing will help you accurately estimate the total cost of the materials you'll need. The chart below in Fig. 3 illustrates a basic plan for estimating costs. Add or delete materials for the job you're planning.

Fig. 3

Number Cost per piece Total cost
______12' main beam pieces @ _______ $ _______
______main beam splicers @ _______ $ _______
______4' cross tees @ _______ $ _______
______2' cross tees @ _______ $ _______
______12" wall mold @ _______ $ _______
______2x2 ceiling tiles


______2x4 ceiling tiles

@ _______

@ _______
$ _______

$ _______
Total cost of ceiling $ _______

Fig. 1

Sketch your room dimensions to scale here.

Fig. 2

Select the grid pattern you want to use.

If you're using 2x4 panels, choose from either a standard or reversed pattern.

Installing Wall Angles

The wall angles form the perimeter of the suspended ceiling, supporting its edges. It's important to set this at the proper height and make it perfectly level. Any deviation in the wall angles will alter the entire ceiling.

Step 1 – Set the Height

Determine the exact height at which the suspended ceiling will be installed. Allow a minimum of 3-4 inches of clearance between the old ceiling and the new ceiling for installation of the ceiling panels. If clearance is a problem, you may want to use fiberglass-ceiling panels, which are more flexible. Additional clearance will be required if you are using recessed lighting.

Step 2 – Level the Wall Angle

After locating the exact position for the suspended ceiling, use a level to draw a line completely around the room indicating where the wall angle will be applied. Don't assume the original ceiling is level; use a level for accuracy. Set the wall angle low enough to conceal as many pipes, ducts, and more as possible.

Step 3 – Install Wall Angles

Fasten the wall angles securely to the wall at all points. Nail them firmly to studs, or use screw anchors or other masonry fasteners on brick or masonry walls. Position the wall angle so that the bottom flange rests on the level line you have drawn on the wall.

Overlap the wall angle on inside corners, and miter the wall angle on outside corners. Make a temporary wooden miter box if you don't have one. Cut any needed angles with metal cutting snips or a hacksaw.

Allow a minimum of 6 inches space between the ceilings if you're using recessed lights.

Use a level to apply the wall angle at a proper height around the room.

Fasten the wall angles securely to the wall at all points.

Locating and Hanging Suspension Wires for Main Tees

The suspension wires support the grid that holds up the panels. If you are going to use recessed lights, install the wiring before putting the suspension wires in place.

For recessed lighting, you can use 2x2 or 2x4 drop-in lighting fixtures, which are specially designed for this purpose. You can also center fluorescent light fixtures over the panels and use a luminous lay-in panel instead of a regular ceiling panel. These lay-in panels now come in several attractive designs.

Step 1 – Locate and Mark the Tees

Refer to your earlier sketch of the room for the location of all main tees. Main tees should always run at right angles to the joists in the room.

Locate the position of each main tee by stretching a tight line from the top edge of the wall angle on all sides of the room at each position where the main tees are to be placed.

Step 2 – Cut and Hang the Wires

Now, cut the suspension wires to the proper length. The wires should be 12-inches longer than the distance between the old ceiling and the new guideline string you have stretched to indicate the position of each main tee.

Locate the first suspension wire for each main tee directly above the point where the first cross tee meets the main tee. Check your original sketch of the room to determine this location. Be sure the suspension wires are securely fastened. Apply them to the ceiling with screw eyes, screw hooks, nails, or drilling.

Attach a suspension wire every 4-feet along the level guideline. Stretch each wire to remove any kinks and make a 90-degree bend where the suspension wire crosses the level line.

Stretch a tight line from the top edge of the wall angle on all sides of the room at each position where the main tees are to be placed.

Be sure the suspension wires are securely fastened.

Add a suspension wire every 4 feet along the level line and bend at a 90 degree angle.

Installing Main Tees

The main tees run the length of the room and are the supporting structure of the grid. Most main tees are 12-feet long and have cross-tee slots punched every 12 inches beginning 6 inches from each end.

Step 1 – Find Location of the First Tee

Refer to your layout sheet to determine the distance from the wall to the first cross tee. Now, measure this distance along the top flange of the main tee and locate the slot just beyond this point.

From this slot, measure back the same distance, subtract 1/8 inch, and saw the main tee at that point. The 1/8 inch subtraction is for the thickness of the wall angle. If the wall angles are not square, position the cross tee slots accordingly.

Step 2 – Install the Other Tees

When main tees are installed in rooms less than 12-feet across, cut the main tee to the exact measurement of the room, allowing 1/8 inch for the thickness of the wall angle.

For rooms wider than 12 feet, the main tee can be spliced. Be sure to align the splice so that the suspension wires are correctly positioned. Splice carefully, or all the main tees will be thrown off.

Install the main tees so that they are all level with the wall angle already mounted. Use a long level for this.

Main tees generally have cross tee slots every 12 inches.

If the room is less than 12 feet across, cut the main tee to the width of the room less 1/8 inch for the thickness of the wall angle.

Main tees can be spliced for rooms wider than 12 feet.

Installing Cross and Border-Cross Tees

The cross tees run between the main tees and hold the ceiling panels.

Step 1 – Determine Locations

Determine the location of the cross tees by the pattern you selected, either 2x2 or 2x4. Be sure the lock tab on the cross tee is on the outside of the slot. This attachment is slightly different in some types of tees.

Step 2 – Install Border-Cross and Cross Tees

Install the cross tees by inserting the ends of the cross tees into the slots in the main tees. Use the manufacturer's instructions for fitting the cross tees into position.

Border cross tees are installed between the wall angle and the last main tee. Measure from the last tee to the wall angle, allowing 1/8 inch for the thickness of the wall angle.

Cut the cross tees and install them by inserting the connector in the main tee and resting the cut edge on the wall angle. Your final main and cross tee arrangement will look similar. The top part of the illustration shows an arrangement of a 2x4 layout, while the lower half shows main and cross tees arranged for a 2x2 layout.

Insert the cross tees into the slots in the main cross tees.

Your final tee arrangement will look similar to this.

Installing Ceiling Panels

Drop the ceiling panels into position by tilting them slightly, lifting them above the framework and letting them fall into place. Keep in mind that if you want to soundproof your room with a suspended ceiling, you should do so before installing the panels to save yourself time.

Tilt the ceiling panels slightly and drop them into position.