Direct Mount Ceiling Grid and Tiles

A Great Solution For Basement Ceilings...and Elsewhere

Sure, we've all seen drop ceilings.  If you've ever worked in an office, you've spent a third of your life under a drop ceiling.  Acoustic tiles rest in a metal grid.  This grid is suspended from the floor above by metal wires.  The space between the two levels hides the heavy services (HVAC, high voltage electrical, high capacity plumbing, etc.) that office buildings require. 

An interesting alternative for residences is called a direct mount ceiling.  I spoke with Ryan Rusher, of...MORE the Yankton, SD-based CeilingConnex (link below) to get the scoop on this affordable and easily DIY-able product suitable either for new-construction or remodeling purposes:

  • 01 of 07

    What Is a Direct Mount Ceiling?

    Modern luxury kitchen interior
    Yana Bukharova / Getty Images

    The name is a bit deceptive:  a direct mount ceiling tile does not exactly mount directly to the ceiling.  What further complicates matters is that some manufacturers like to sell ceiling tiles that they claim can be stapled directly to your existing ceiling, which I don't think is a great idea.

    Like the drop ceiling, individual tiles still do attach to a ceiling-wide grid.  The difference is that the direct mount ceiling grid attaches directly to the ceiling--by means of screws driven into...MORE the ceiling rafters or floor joists above--rather than being suspended by wires.

    Rusher's company has been in business since August 2012.  He estimates that direct mount grids have been around since the early 1990s--a relative newcomer compared to drop ceilings.

  • 02 of 07

    Where to Use Them

    Rusher says that the majority of his ceiling grids tend to be installed as part of basement finishing projects.  Basement ceilings in older homes can be a real issue, since few of them reach 8' and practically none of them reach the 9'+ height required for drop ceilings.

  • 03 of 07

    Direct Mount vs. Conventional Drywall Ceiling

    • Accessibility:  With a drywall ceiling, access to the area above the ceiling is difficult.  If a pipe leaks or a wire needs to be replaced, nothing short of ripping out the drywall will do.  Yet with a direct mount ceiling, access is as easy is lifting out a tile panel.
    • Instant Coverage of Bad Ceiling:  A drywall ceiling with minor problems can be effectively covered up with a direct mount system.
    • Quick Installation:  A grid-mount ceiling goes up faster and with less mess than a conventional...MORE drywall ceiling because no mudding or sanding is involved.
    • DIY-Friendly:  Of course, DIYers install drywall ceilings all the time; it's not limited to the professionals.  But it involves heavy lifting, and it's just no fun.  By contrast, with direct mount ceilings, everything is lightweight.
  • 04 of 07

    Direct Mount vs. Drop Ceiling

    • Ceiling Height:  Because the direct mount grid is attached directly to the level above, with no intervening wires, no space is wasted.
    • Easier Installation:  Installing the grid for drop ceilings can be frustrating, because you're dealing with three dimensions:  both vertical and horizontal adjustments.  Because the direct mount grid lays flat, you do not need to worry about vertical adjustments.
    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Types of Tiles You Can Use

    Easy Elegance Deep Coffer Panels
    Not For Direct Mounts: Easy Elegance Deep Coffer Panels. © Armstrong

    You can use any standard 2'x2' or 2'x4' with a maximum thickness of 3/4".  Many, but not all, tiles designed for drop ceilings work for direct mount ceilings.   As mentioned, drop ceilings have been around for decades, so it's easy to find a tile that suits your needs.

    Rusher recommends Genesis or Armstrong Easy Elegance tiles.

    For example, the pictured Armstrong Easy Elegance Deep Coffer panel will not work in direct mount systems because it is 2 1/2" thick.  But a...MORE product such as this company's Fine Fissured Drop Panel would work because its thickness is 5/8".

    Whatever you do, don't use drywall.  Conventional drywall weighs 57 pounds per 4'x8' sheet--far too heavy to be supported by direct mount grids.  Even a lighter product such as Sheetrock's UltraLight Panel, at 44 pounds per sheet, strains the capacity of a direct mount grid.

  • 06 of 07


    1. For disguising the ceiling grid, Rusher says to purchase a ceiling tile that has relief--or dimension--to it, such as Genesis' Icon series.  Flat tiles tend to highlight the grid.
    2. How do you handle existing light fixtures?  Do you adjust the grid around them?  Move the light fixture, says Rusher.  With exposed joists, it's an easy matter to move the light fixture a few inches over to avoid the grid.  If ceiling drywall is in place, you'll need to cut out a small section of drywall to...MORE access the fixture's mounting fasteners.  
  • 07 of 07


    CeilingConnex prices out at about $.85 to $1.00 per square foot (grid only).  An entire grid system for a 256 square foot room would cost about $215 total (shipping and tax not included).

    Flat, smooth, white Genesis tiles begin at about $7.00 per 2'x2' tile and range up to about $12 for fancy textured brown tiles with revealed edges.