Installing Drop Ceilings

install drop ceiling
What You'll Need
Eye protection
Utility knife
Chalk line
Hacksaw or tin snips
Mitre box
Measuring tape
Cordless drill

A drop ceiling is a secondary ceiling that is installed below the room’s structural ceiling. This type of ceiling, which is often called a suspended or false ceiling, is very common in the construction industry to cover unsightly pipes, ductwork, or wiring. As an added benefit, drop ceilings are also better at suppressing sound between the floors. Installing a drop ceiling isn’t difficult, but there are certain considerations that need to be met to ensure a quality finish.

Ideal Locations for Installing Drop Ceilings

Locations where ceiling access may be required at some point are always good choices for a drop ceiling. They typically include basements, laundry rooms, and any room located below a bathroom. It’s also a popular ceiling choice in the lower level of most bi-level homes.

In these lower portions of the home, pipes, wires, and ductwork branch out to the upper levels of the home. If something goes wrong and a repair needs to be made, removing a couple of ceiling tiles makes the job much easier than cutting and replacing a drywall ceiling. In addition, if the problem isn’t where you anticipate it to be, all you have to do is return the tiles to their positions and remove different tiles until you find the affected area.

Tips for Installing Drop Ceilings

Determine head clearance requirements. Most building codes stipulate that a room must have at least 7.5 feet of ceiling height for new construction. However, for renovation jobs, there may be an alternative allowance. Ask your local zoning officer to find out what your area’s code is for drop ceilings.

Measure the room dimensions. Nothing stalls a job like not having all of the materials ready to go from the start. Measure the length and width of the room to determine how much track you will need. If you know the dimensions of the tiles you’re going to be installing, then you will be able to determine how many tiles, crossbeams, and crosstracks you’re going to need.

Make the ceiling low enough. The depth of the ceiling needs to be low enough so the tiles can be installed easily. Leave a 3 to 4 inch gap below the existing ceiling or joists. If you are planning on installing any recessed or drop-in fluorescent fixtures, an additional two inches may be required.

Install the Perimeter

Install the perimeter track first. Use a level and a chalk line to make sure your ceiling track is completely level. Do not rely on the existing ceiling to be level. In most cases, it won’t be. Once you have the perimeter chalked, start nailing or screwing the track to the wall. Use every nail hole in the track. In areas where no stud is available, use an anchor or other masonry fastener. To ensure the track remains level throughout the room, align the bottom part of the track with the chalk line all the way around.

Watch the corners. Improper installation at the corners is one of the easiest ways for the track to get off-level. For inside corners, overlapping the brackets works fine. For outside corners, the track will have to be mitered for a proper fit.


The main runners are the T-shaped tracks that get installed perpendicular to the ceiling joists. They need to be installed exactly 4 feet apart to accommodate the ceiling tiles. Measure out from one wall 4 feet and snap a chalk line, then measure and add a chalk line every 4 feet from the initial line. Screw an eye-hook into the ceiling joist where the chalk line makes its mark. Wrap hanging wire around the eye hook and allow about 12-inches of wire to hang from each hook.

Keep it level. In order to keep the entire ceiling installation level, run string from one side of the room to the other between perimeter moldings. Space the strings about eight feet apart and keep them taut. The string will work as a guide to keeping the main runners level. Set the first runner into the perimeter track and lower it until its bottom touches the string. Wrap the wire through the runner’s first hole and tightly wrap the wire back up along its length. Do this at every eye hook.

The runners have hook-type ends that snap into the slots on the main runners. They snap in easier if the end is slightly lifted when inserting the clip into the slot. Once you have all of the internal runners connected, the perimeter runners usually need to be cut in order to fit properly. Measure the length you need and cut the runner to size. When measuring, remember to size it so the perimeter side of the runner lays within the perimeter track’s lip.


If you’re planning on installing light fixtures in your drop ceiling, there are certain things you will need to keep in mind. For instance, the runners which will be supporting the fixture will need additional wires connected to it to handle the weight. Also, the National Electric Code states that light fixtures installed in a drop ceiling must be wired using flexible metal cable.