Sure, we've all seen drop ceilings—in offices, of course, but also in a lot of houses with finished basements. Traditional drop ceilings consist of a suspended metal framework, or grid, and lightweight "acoustic" tiles that simply lie in the grid. The grid is suspended from the floor or ceiling structure above by metal wires. The space between the two levels hides heating ducts, plumbing, and wiring.
Now there is a relatively new alternative for residences called a direct-mount ceiling. Ryan Rusher, of the Yankton, SD-based CeilingConnex offers the scoop on this affordable and easy-to-install product suitable for both new construction and remodeling. 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.
The name is a bit deceiving: The tiles of a direct-mount ceiling do not mount directly to the ceiling, but the grid does. As with a drop ceiling, individual tiles are laid into the grid and are not attached. The main difference is that the direct-mount ceiling grid attaches directly to the ceiling framing—by means of screws driven into the ceiling or floor joists above—rather than being suspended by wires.
Rusher says that the majority of his ceiling grids are installed as part of basement finishing projects. Basement ceilings in older homes can be a challenging issue since few of them reach 8 feet tall, and adding a suspended ceiling below takes up additional headroom. Most building codes require living spaces to have ceilings of at least 7 1/2 feet. Because a direct-mount grid is attached directly to the level above, with no intervening wires, no space is wasted.
Direct-Mount vs. Conventional Drywall Ceiling
Direct-mount ceilings also are an appealing alternative to standard drywall ceilings, for a few reasons:
- 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. With a direct-mount ceiling, access is as easy is lifting out a tile.
- Instant Coverage of Bad Ceiling: An existing drywall ceiling with minor cosmetic problems can be effectively covered up with a direct-mount system.
- Quick Installation: A direct-mount ceiling goes up faster and with less mess than a conventional drywall ceiling because no mudding or sanding is involved.
- DIY-friendly: 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.
Types of Tiles
You can use any standard 2 x 2-foot or 2 x 4-foot tile with a maximum thickness of 3/4 inch. 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. Whatever you do, don't use drywall tiles, which are too heavy for a direct-mount grid.
- For disguising the ceiling grid, Rusher says to purchase a ceiling tile that has relief, or dimension, to it, such as those from Genesis' Icon series. Flat tiles tend to highlight the grid.
- If an existing light fixture location conflict with the ceiling grid layout, it's best to 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 access the fixture's mounting fasteners.