Hot Topics: Installing a Plywood Ceiling

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PaulSC Member

Original Post: Anyone installed plywood or similar material for ceiling?

I am working on my basement and saw some pictures of plywood used instead of Sheetrock for the ceiling. I really like the look and the fact that it would be a dust-free install: I can do all the cuts outside, screw the panels to the joist, and then glue thin strips to hide the seams and screws.

I’m wondering if anyone here did this and how thick of plywood you would recommend. Is it better to use smaller 2x2’ square panels or just go for full-size 4x8’? What kind of screws should I use, or can I get away with a 16-gauge finishing nailer? (I do NOT want to use glue, in case I need to remove a section to access wires, etc.)

Finally, what grade plywood would you use? I have worked with B and it seems really perfect. I probably wouldn't even have to paint it. Maybe I can just give it one coat of protective stain/ poly.

Norm201 Member

I don't suppose anything is wrong with it, but it seems costly and an awful lot of wood tone for a room.

PaulSC Member

I forgot to mention that this would be in only a section of the basement in my audio room. Comparing it to Sheetrock, yes, it’s much more expensive, but I haven't calculated the exact number. Sheetrock is $12 and plywood is about $70.

Wirepuller38 Member

You must be pricing cabinet-grade plywood?

marksr Forum Topic Moderator

My son has a shop/garage with OSB on the ceiling. It was that way when he bought it. Other than needing a fresh coat of paint, it looks fine. The ceiling on my front porch has 3/8" beadboard plywood which looks nice, although if the ceiling is wider than 8' it could be a challenge to make the joint look nice.

PaulSC Member

Yeah, 3/4" cabinet grade. I bet I could get away with something much cheaper. First, I think ½" is good, and then go for something like C grade. I don't want to buy poor quality plywood as I really like the unpainted / clear stain look of it, so it can't have too many imperfections.

Bud9051 Member

C grade is fairly low on the quality list. Look at 1/2" A/C and the A should look nice.

Rather than strips to cover the seams, consider clean cuts (sanded) and use cabinet screws uniformly spaced in pairs. By keeping the screws arranged neatly, you can leave them exposed and the brass look of the cabinet screw will fit right in with the plywood ceiling.

Dixie2012 Forum Topic Moderator

This may not work for you, but it worked fine for me because of design and use.

I built a personal play / wood / metal / mechanic shop. Because I did not mount anything from the ceiling (only from the rafters), I didn't need really anything for support between the rafters. I did put R-13 roll insulation, but it weighs almost nothing.

I used lauan in lightweight, 1/4" 4x8 sheets. All I needed was something to hold up the insulation and finish the ceiling. It worked for me for 15 years until we sold the place. Now, if you're going to need something to support stuff hanging from the ceiling, you'll want to consider something thicker/stronger.

Pilot Dane Group Moderator

I did my wine cellar in OSB. When painted, it has an interesting texture and actually looks pretty decent. If you go with plywood, especially if you intend to paint, I would also consider a premium luan sheet. It's about 3/16" thick and has a nice smooth face that accepts paint well. And, it’s less than $20 a sheet.

AllanJ Member

I did a similar project and did not want to use drywall for the same reasons: weight and dust. I ended up using hardboard (Masonite) because all the reasonably priced plywood was warped in a way that the edges of adjoining pieces would not line up well, given that I did not have furring strips lengthwise under every joint.

aka pedro Member

My father-in-law and I did the ceiling in his tool shed with OSB, and it's held up fine for something like 20 years. More recently though, and more on track with your project, I have seen several limited areas of plywood ceilings in basement game rooms, bars, etc. that look really great, and some that don’t. Preferring to err on the side of caution, I'd probably go 1/2" to avoid any potential for sag. Before you get to the point of hanging it, I would check the bottoms of the joists with a level and string to see how you want to support it.

Marq1 Member

T1-11 siding is another option to look at. I can’t imagine needing anything thicker than 1/4 to 3/8"!

Wirepuller38 Member

½” plywood is very adequate for a ceiling. Fasten it with screws to enable easy removal for future wiring or plumbing projects.

Before closing in the ceiling, draw a location map of important items that will be hidden above the ceiling. This will enable removal of a minimum number of sheets should you need to open the ceiling for repairs or additions to wiring or plumbing items.

Minimac Member

I did the same as Dixie2012. It’s cheap, clean, easy to work with, and easy to cover if you want to. It's much nicer looking than particle board or OSB. Pegboard could be another alternative, but it’s more expensive.

PaulSC Member

So, you guys are saying that ¼” lauan won't sag at all. I see that it’s the most cost-effective and looks nice. I’m just a bit concerned over its thickness and worry that it would show sagging.

Marq1 Member

Assuming 24" rafters, I'd go with the assumption that, yes, you will probably see some sag, especially if there is any insulation up there. You have gravity working against you and the material is not really made for overhead installation but, as you note, it's cost-effective!

aka pedro Member

What exactly are you spanning? Since it’s a basement, I'm assuming joists are 16" on center. Are they 2x joists or 16" OC? My opinion is that 1/4" is going to sag. I would probably clamp a piece to the bottom of a couple 2x4s laying across a set of horses for a few days and see what it does before I started hanging it from the ceiling.

Marksr Forum Topic Moderator

Usually nothing thinner than 1/2" is recommended for ceilings because of the propensity of sagging. It will be worse if there is any humidity. My front porch ceiling is 3/8" beadboard plywood and it hasn't sagged any (around 15 years), but I did add extra blocking.

Norm201 Member

It would be possible to counter the sag effect by running batten strips every few feet based on where each seam falls. That would also break up the continuous flat, all-wood look. It would give the ceiling a bit of "texture."

Dixie2012 Forum Topic Moderator

Mine did not sag. I had 16" centers, so you have four rafters to tack to. It’s lightweight so there is hardly any weight to pull down. By the time you get it tacked / nailed / screwed to the rafters, it’s not going to sag. Now, let me say again, you can’t hang anything from it alone. I hung ceiling fans and four-foot fluorescent lights at the rafters, but don’t plan to attach anything much from the lauan itself. It’s just not strong enough to hold very much and is there mainly for finishing out the area, period.

PaulSC Member

Thank you all, guys. This has been extremely helpful.

As noted, this is for a basement ceiling, so it would go up on joists 16" OC. I won't have anything hanging off of it and the insulation, pipes, and wires are secured so they won't weigh against the ceiling.

Here’s another question. Most people talk about using screws, but I'd prefer to use a finishing gun for obvious reasons (ease, speed of work, and less visible spots). Assuming I will go with 2x4 ¼-inch lauan, any concerns?

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