How to Cover a Popcorn-Textured Ceiling

White popcorn ceiling.

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Overview
  • Working Time: 6 - 10 hrs
  • Total Time: 6 - 10 hrs
  • Yield: 100-square-foot ceiling
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $100 to $500

Spray-texture ceiling finishes, commonly called popcorn or cottage cheese ceilings, are often the target of a homeowners' scorn. The texture is said to have acoustical benefits, but mostly these old finishes 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, hard to clean and difficult to paint, and they absorb and diffuse light in a way that makes a room seem darker. Also, the textured material may contain 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 when you can no longer stand the look.

Here are three different DIY-friendly methods for covering a popcorn ceiling finish without the hassle of removing the texture.

Before You Begin

There are three popular options for covering over the ceiling: covering them with ordinary drywall; using a prefinished grid-plank system such Armstrong's Easy-Up grid system; or attaching furring strips then installing traditional tongue-and-groove planks or beadboard paneling on the ceiling. All three methods have advantages and disadvantages you should weigh when making your choice. With any method, you have the option of adding a layer of foam insulation board against the ceiling before adding the layer of drywall or planking.

Covering the ceiling with drywall is a very inexpensive option, but it can be hard work to lift and attach 8-foot-long drywall panels overhead, unless you rent a special drywall lifting tool. Installing drywall also requires finishing skills that are challenging for many DIYers. Finally, if your ceiling is not perfectly flat, a drywall covering often telegraphs the underlying dips and valleys—which will be even more evident on a smooth ceiling surface.

Grid-track systems are comprised of a series of parallel channels attached to the ceiling, to which you hang prefinished fiberboard planks or tiles. The planks are available in an impressive range of colors and styles. Grid-plank ceilings are quite easy to install, but you will pay a price for this convenience—grid ceiling systems may cost several hundred dollars to cover a ceiling. But this method can be a good choice if you have an uneven ceiling since it is possible to adjust the tracks to level out the new surface.

Finally, there is the traditional method: Covering the ceiling with tongue-and-groove wood planks or bead-board paneling that you can buy through any quality lumber supplier.

Using any of these methods becomes a little more complicated if there is a ceiling light fixture to deal with. The light fixtures will need to be removed and box extenders added to accommodate the extra thickness of the ceiling materials to ensure the ceiling box is flush with the new ceiling surface. This may require you to hire an electrician unless your DIY wiring skills are up to the challenge.

Safety Considerations

Spray texture was a common ceiling finish from the 1950s until the 1980s, and for much of that time, the texture material contained between 1 and 10 percent asbestos. The asbestos in spray-on ceiling texture does not pose any danger as long as the textured surface remains solid. But a textured ceiling that begins to crumble can put microscopic particles of asbestos into the air, where they can be inhaled. A badly crumbling textured ceiling is one that should be covered over for health reasons, as well as improve its appearance.

Sealed beneath a layer of new drywall or tongue-and-groove planks, a textured ceiling containing asbestos is quite safe. However, you should take care during installation to avoid disturbing the texture material and to wear a protective mask while working near it.

It's a good idea to have your ceiling texture tested for asbestos as you prepare to cover it. If the test shows the presence of asbestos, be very careful as you cover the ceiling with insulation panels and drywall or another surface.

Choosing Insulation Board

Insulating over a popcorn ceiling helps to stop airflow between living space and an unheated attic space or roof above and can significantly boost the thermal performance of the ceiling. The best material for this application is rigid foam insulation, which comes in several different types. For the highest R-value (insulating value), use polyisocyanurate (polyiso, or ISO) rigid panels. Choose polyiso panels without a foil facing, which is designed as an exterior vapor barrier and can create problems in some situations.

Polyiso insulation board comes in thicknesses of 1/2 inch to 2 inches. The thicker the board, the higher its R-value. A 1/2-inch-thick board has an R-value of about 3. A 2-inch-thick board has an R-value of about 13. But remember that thicker insulation board will require longer screws when it comes time to attach drywall, grid channels, or furrings strips to the ceiling.

Tip

Polyisocyanurate (ISO) rigid insulation that does not include a foil facing can be difficult to find in some locations. Some locales may place interior-use restrictions on foil-backed foam boards, as well. Extruded polystyrene foam panels (XPS) are a good substitute that offer only slightly lower insulating values. XPS may be easier to find and less restricted in some areas.



What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Covering a Popcorn Ceiling With Drywall

  • Stepladder
  • Stud finder
  • Pencil
  • Tape measure
  • Utility knife
  • Drywall square
  • Drywall lifter (optional)
  • Screwdrivers
  • Screwgun
  • Chalk line
  • Drywall saw
  • Caulk gun
  • Drywall finishing tools

Covering a Popcorn Ceiling With a Grid-Plank System

  • Stepladder
  • Stud finder
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Drywall saw
  • Screwgun
  • Caulk gun
  • Carpenter's level
  • Circular saw
  • Miter saw (optional)
  • Brad nailer
  • Screwdrivers

Covering a Popcorn Ceiling With Tongue-and-Groove Planks

  • Stepladder
  • Stud finder
  • Caulk gun
  • Drywall saw
  • Tape measure
  • Utility knife
  • Screwgun
  • Chalk line
  • Carpenter's level
  • Brad nailer
  • Circular saw
  • Miter saw (optional)
  • Screwdrivers

Materials

Covering a Popcorn Ceiling With Drywall

  • Ceiling box extender (if needed)
  • Rigid foam insulation panels (if desired)
  • Insulation board adhesive (if needed)
  • Insulation board seam tape (if needed)
  • Drywall screws
  • Drywall panels
  • Drywall screws
  • Drywall taping compound

Covering Ceiling With a Grid-Plank System

  • Foam insulation panels (if desired)
  • Insulation panel adhesive (if needed)
  • Insulation panel seam tape (if needed)
  • Drywall screws
  • Grid track system
  • Ceiling box extender (if needed)
  • Crown molding or similar trim

Covering a Popcorn Ceiling With Tongue-and-Groove Planks

  • Foam insulation panels (if desired)
  • Insulation panel adhesive (if needed)
  • Insulation panel seam tape (if needed)
  • Drywall screws
  • Ceiling box extender (if needed)
  • 1 x 2 furring strips
  • Tongue-and-groove planks or bead-board panels
  • Crown molding or similar trim molding
  • Wood putty

Instructions

How to Cover a Popcorn Ceiling With Drywall

This method involves attaching a new layer of 1/4-, 3/8-, or 1/2-inch-thick drywall to the ceiling joists over the popcorn texture. While 1/4-inch-thick drywall is the lightest, these thin panels can be brittle and hard to work with, and they are flexible enough to reveal most ceiling imperfections once screwed to the ceiling. A better choice is usually 3/8- or 1/2-inch-thick drywall, which is more rigid, though heavier.

  1. Find and Mark the Ceiling Joists

    Use a stud finder to locate each ceiling joist. Mark the center of each joist at opposing sides of the room. Mark the ceiling first, then transfer the marks onto the adjacent wall, a few inches down from the ceiling. This ensures the marks will be visible after the insulation is installed.

  2. Plan the Panel Layout

    Measure the width of the room, measuring parallel to the joist direction. Divide the measurement by 48 inches (the width of an insulation panel) to determine how many full panel rows there will be. If the remainder is less than about 6 inches, plan to trim at least 6 inches from the first row of panels, so you'll have full-width (or nearly full-width) panels in the last row.

  3. Adapt the Light Fixture Boxes

    If the ceiling has a light fixture, adapt the ceiling box to accommodate the extra thickness of the insulation panels and the drywall panels. This will require you to shut off the power, disconnect and temporarily remove the light fixture, then install an extension ring or new, deeper electrical box so that the face of the ceiling box will be flush with the surface of the new ceiling panels.

    This may call for the help of an electrician if you are not skilled in DIY electrical repairs.

  4. Install the First Insulation Panel

    Trim the first panel to width, if necessary, using a drywall saw or sharp utility knife. Apply a wavy bead of insulation board adhesive to the backside of the panel and press the panel onto the ceiling at the beginning of the first row. Tack the panel in place with a few drywall screws driven into the ceiling joists, using a screwgun.

  5. Install the Remaining Panels

    Repeat the same process to install the remaining panels. Push the panels tightly together and snugly against the walls on all sides.

    For obstacles such as ceiling electrical boxes, use a wallboard saw or utility knife to cut openings or notches to fit the insulation panel.

  6. Tape the Panel Seams

    Cover the joints between panels with a panel insulation tape recommended by the manufacturer. This is to block airflow between the panels, not to create a vapor barrier.

  7. Snap Chalk Lines

    Snap chalk lines across the installed panels to mark the centers of the ceiling joists. You will use these as guides for driving screws when installing the new ceiling drywall. With a helper, stretch the chalk line between opposing marks on the side walls, then snap the line over the paneled surface to create continuous reference lines.

  8. Install Drywall Panels


    Beginning along the longest wall, lift and attach drywall panels to the ceiing, using drywall screws driven into the ceiling joists. Space the screws every 8 inches along the edge of the panels, and every 12 inches through the field of the panel.

    Make sure to use drywall screws of sufficient length to penetrate through the insulation board and existing drywall ceiling and into the ceiling joists. If you are using 1-inch insulation panels, for example, use screws at least 3 inches long. Insulation panels that are 2-inch thick will call for drywall screws at least 4 inches long.

    Hoisting and attaching panels overhead can be hard work. At the very least, you'll need a helper. Better yet is a tool called a drywall lifter, available for lease at home improvement centers and tool rental outlets.

    At the end of the row, cut the last panel to size using a drywall square and utility knife. With subsequent rows, make sure to stagger joints so they don't line up from row to row.

  9. Tape and Finish the Drywall

    Cover the seams of the installed ceiiing surface with drywall joint tape and finish the seams and screw heads with drywall joint compound.

How to Cover a Popcorn Ceiling with Grid-Plank System

Modern grid ceiling systems are similar to the older suspended drop ceilings that used large acoustic panels, but these newer systems use much more stylish prefinished fiberboard planks that can look very much like natural wood paneling. Once a series of parallel metal tracks are attached t the ceiling joists, the planks are very quickly installed with metal clips.

  1. Locate and Mark Joists

    Using a stud finder locate and mark the center of each ceiling joist. Mark the center of each joist at opposing sides of the room, then transfer the marks onto the adjacent wall, a few inches down from the ceiling. This ensures the marks will be visible after the insulation is installed.

  2. Install Insulation Panels (If Desired)

    If desired, you can insulate the ceiling with a layer of foam insulation panels installed against the ceiling surface (see steps 2 to 7, above). After installing the insulation, snap chalk lines across the panels to mark the centers of the ceiling joists.

  3. Mark Track Locations

    Measure and mark the joist reference lines to indicate where the system's tracks will be installed. It is essential that the tracks be exactly parallel. Make sure not to run tracks directly over ceiling electrical boxes or other obstacles.

  4. Attach Metal Tracks

    Attach the metal tracks to the ceiling joists at the spacing suggested by the grid-plank system's instructions, using drywall screws. With most systems, the tracks should have a gap of 2 inches to the wall. Make sure to use screws long enough to penetrate through the insulation panels and into the ceiling joists. It is essential that the tracks be exactly parallel and spaced properly. Where two or more track segments must be used, the ends can simply be overlapped; they do not need to be cut to size.

    Check the tracks with a long level to make sure they are flat and level. If necessary, the screws anchoring the tracks can be adjusted to level the installation.

  5. Install the First Row of Planks

    Prepare the first row of planks as directed by the manufacturer. With most systems, this involves cutting off the tongue side of the planks.

    Install the first row of planks so it runs perpendicular to the metal tracks; the trimmed edge should face the wall. Screw one side of the planks to the metal tracks, then secure the tongue side with the metal clips provided by the manufacturer. The clips fit into the tracks, then slide into place to hold the groove edge of the planks.

  6. Continue Installing Planks

    Work across the room to install the subsequent planks, cutting the planks to length as needed, using a circular saw or miter saw. Each plank's tongue edge fits into the groove of the previous row, then is held in place with additional clips attached to the tracks. Make sure to maintain a 3/4-inch gap between the ends of the planks and the wall (or whatever gap is recommended by the manufacturer.)

    End joints should be staggered so they don't ling up from row to row. End joints should be offset by at least 16 inches, preferably more.

  7. Install the Final Row

    For the final row, trim off the grooved edge to create the correct plank width, then install the planks. Secure the wall edge of the planks with screws driven into the tracks. Make sure to maintain the recommended expansion gap between the last row of planks and the wall.

  8. Add Moldings

    Cover the expansion gaps along the walls with crown molding or another trim molding, atttached to the walls with a brad nailer. Fill the nail holes with matching wood putty.

How to Cover a Popcorn Ceiling with Tongue-and-Groove Planks or Bead-Board Panels

Covering a ceiling with traditional tongue-and-groove planks or bead-board paneling is a traditional method. The result looks very similar to the grid-track system. This method is less expensive, but more labor-intensive.

  1. Mark Ceiling Joists

    Use a stud finder to locate the ceiling joists. Make reference lines extending down the walls to indicate the joist locations.

  2. Install Insulation Panels (If Desired)

    If you wish, insulate the ceiling with a layer of foam insulation panels installed against the ceiling surface (see steps 2 to 7, above).

  3. Snap Chalk Lines

    After installing the insulation, snap chalk lines across the panels to mark the centers of the ceiling joists. Mark these lines at 18-inch intervals to show the location of furring strips.

  4. Cut and Install Furring Strips

    Cut a series of 1x2 furring strips and attach them to the ceiling joists with drywall screws. Make sure to use screws long enough to penetrate the insulation panels and anchor into the joists.

    Check the furring strips in both directions with a carpenter's level to make sure they are flat and level. If necessary, you can adjust individual furring strips with shims placed beneath the anchoring screws.

    Take your time checking and adjusting the furring strips. Flat, level installation is essential to good results with the planks or panels.

  5. Install Tongue-and-Groove Planks or Bead-board Panels

    Cut tongue-and-groove planks or beadboard panels to size and attach them to the furring strips, using a brad nailer. Make sure end joints are staggered from row to row. Maintain a slight gap around the walls to allow for expansion.

  6. Add Trim Molding

    Cover the gaps around the planks or panels with crown molding or another trim molding, attaching the molding to the walls with a brad nailer.

Article Sources
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  1. Mesothelioma.com. “Asbestos in Popcorn Ceilings | Removal, Testing and Safety.” Accessed August 11, 2021. https://www.mesothelioma.com/asbestos-exposure/products/asbestos-popcorn-ceilings/.