Options for Covering a Popcorn Ceiling

Textured Popcorn Ceiling
Textured Popcorn Ceiling.

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Textured ceilings, commonly called "popcorn" or "cottage cheese" ceilings, are often the target of many homeowners' displeasure. The texture is said to have acoustical benefits, but mostly these old textures were favored by builders because they reduced the amount of finishing work the drywaller had to do.

For the homeowner, textured ceilings come with many drawbacks. They are cobweb magnets and are hard to clean and difficult to paint, and they reduce the ambient natural light in a room. Also, the texture material in many areas contains asbestos, making removal of the texture or the ceiling problematic and costly. That's why covering up a popcorn ceiling may be the best option. Consider the pros and cons of several DIY-friendly methods to determine the best fit for you.

Covering a Popcorn Ceiling With Drywall

This method involves installing a complete layer of 1/4-, 3/8-, or 1/2-inch drywall over the popcorn ceiling, screwing the drywall into the ceiling joists above the original ceiling.

Pros

  • Inexpensive; drywall materials and tools are cheap and available everywhere
  • Creates a smooth surface that is ideal for paint
  • Can be textured, if desired
  • More "neutral" than most other options; an important consideration if you're fixing up your house for resale

Cons

  • Increases the total weight of ceiling; usually, this is not a problem because you're fastening into the ceiling joists, but it is an important consideration if the joists are small or are undersized for their span
  • Difficult to install alone without a drywall lift; drywall is heavy and unwieldy when working overhead
  • Labor-intensive and time-consuming; once the drywall panels are installed, the joints must be taped and finished with at least three coats of drywall compound ("mud")
  • Drywall finishing takes practice; difficult for beginners to create a perfectly smooth, flat surface

Covering a Popcorn Ceiling With Prepared Ceiling Planks

Prepared ceiling planks are fiberboard planks made especially for this purpose. The planks are installed onto metal channels that are placed over the old ceiling and screwed to the ceiling joists. One well-known product is Armstrong's Easy Up grid system.

Pros

  • Perfectly uniform; planks fit perfectly together
  • Channels can be leveled during installation to compensate for dips and humps in the ceiling
  • Planks are prefinished, eliminating the need for staining or painting
  • Faster and much less messy than new drywall installation

Cons:

  • High cost
  • Limited plank styles
  • Planks have a manmade look, somewhat like laminate wood flooring
  • May require special-ordering; not an "off-the-shelf" material at your local lumberyard or home center

Covering a Popcorn Ceiling With Tongue-and-Groove Paneling

This is the "old-school" option: Covering the ceiling with traditional tongue-and-groove wood planks or beadboard paneling that you can buy through any quality lumber supplier. If the old ceiling is reliably flat, you can install the paneling right over the old drywall. But if the ceiling is wavy, start with furring strips of 1x2 lumber, and level the strips with shims to create a flat nailing surface for the planks.

Pros:

  • Natural wood look that you can't replicate with other materials
  • Faster and less messy than drywall installation
  • Offers the greatest variety of styles; real wood planks come in different types of wood and can be finished as you like
  • Less expensive than manufactured systems

Cons:

  • Installation requires some carpentry skill and attention to detail
  • More expensive than drywall
  • Wood ceilings can be busy or dark in rooms with low ceilings (painting or whitewashing the paneling can help)