How to Install Ceiling Tiles

Installing Ceiling Tiles

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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 6 hrs
  • Total Time: 7 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $200 to $400

Ceilings get less attention than walls or other surfaces. Yet ceilings have actual design potential. While most ceilings tend to be painted flat, that's not the only way to cover a ceiling. Ceiling tiles can lend a distinctive touch to a room. Not only that, ceiling tiles can cover up cosmetic flaws in the existing ceiling.

Drop Ceiling Tiles

Drop ceiling tiles rest in a metal gridwork suspended several inches below the existing ceiling. Drop ceiling tiles can effectively cover up major flaws in an existing ceiling.

  • Helps to sound-proof a room

  • Heavily damaged ceilings can be covered

  • Simple to change out tiles if desired

  • Three or more inches of ceiling height is lost

  • The drop frame grid is visible

  • Covers up ceiling essentials such as lights

Surface Mount Glue-Up Ceiling Tiles

Surface mount ceiling tiles made of fiberboard or thermoformed styrene glue directly onto the existing ceiling. The ceiling must be in excellent condition, as any surface imperfections will translate to the ceiling tiles.

  • Maximizes ceiling height

  • Easy to install (if base ceiling is in good condition)

  • Only tiles are visible: no drop ceiling grid visible

  • Base ceiling must be in good condition

  • Ceiling tiles cannot be changed out (with adhesive method)

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

For Drop Ceilings

  • Hacksaw
  • Tin snip
  • Tape measure
  • Chalk snap line
  • Hammer
  • Utility knife
  • Pencil or indelible marker
  • Ladder
  • Rotary laser level (optional)
  • Stud finder

For Surface Mount Glue-Up Ceiling Tiles

  • Paint roller
  • Ladder
  • Caulking gun
  • Chalk snap line
  • Tape measure


For Drop Ceilings

  • 6d common nails
  • Drop ceiling package, with tiles

For Surface Mount Glue-Up Ceiling Tiles

  • Surface mount ceiling tiles
  • Construction adhesive


Installing Drop Ceiling Tiles

  1. Mark the Intended Height of the Drop Ceiling

    Standing on the ladder, measure down from the existing ceiling to the intended height of the drop ceiling. With many drop ceilings, you must drop the grid at least 3 inches below the existing base ceiling; consult your ceiling's instructions. Mark with a pencil. Measure at two opposite ends for each of the four walls.

  2. Run a Perimeter Line Around the Room

    Snap a chalk line for each of the four walls, from end to end. Have an assistant hold one end of the snap line while you hold the other end. Pull taut, then snap the line.


    If you want to drop the ceiling to a level point (ignoring the existing base ceiling as a reference point), then measure just at one point. Shoot your rotary laser level line around the room, on that point. Snap your chalk line on top of the laser line.

  3. Install the Wall Tracks

    Use the stud finder to locate all studs. Mark with the pencil high up on the walls, above the future ceiling height. With the hammer and nails, nail the wall tracks into place, onto the studs. The tracks should match the level of the chalk lines.

  4. Locate and Place the Center Main Track

    With the tape measure, locate the center of the room on opposite walls. Run the main track (often called a main tee), down this center line.

  5. Locate and Place the Side Main Tracks

    Using the center main track as your reference line, run additional main tracks on both sides. Each additional run should be the width of the ceiling tiles. The last run of main track should be the width of the ceiling tile or less.

  6. Install and Bend Hanger Wires

    Use the stud finder to locate the ceiling joists. Screw the eye-hook screws (included with the kit) into the joists directly above the main tracks or no more than 4 feet from each other. Loop the hanger wires from the kit through eye-hooks. With the pliers, bend the wires at 90-degree angles and push them through the holes in the main tracks.

  7. Locate the Cross Tracks (Tees)

    Place the cross tracks (or tees) at 90-degree angles to the main tracks. The cross tracks should be placed as far apart as the length of the ceiling tiles.

  8. Install the Ceiling Tiles

    While standing on the ladder, drop the ceiling tiles into the drop ceiling structure from above. Each tile fits in its own section of the grid.

Installing Surface Mount Ceiling Tiles

  1. Determine the Number of Tiles Needed

    Measure the size of the room (length times width) to arrive at the area. Round up the number of ceiling tiles. For example, if the space is 98 square feet, round up to 100 and then add 10-percent for wastage.

  2. Prepare the Ceiling

    Clear any bumps or imperfections from the ceiling. If covering a textured or popcorn-style ceiling, knock off prominent sections. If the textured ceiling is unpainted, cover it with one coat of primer.

  3. Begin in the Center of the Room

    With the tape measure and pencil, determine the center of the room. Strike a "+" shape with the chalk line. The legs of the "+" should be perpendicular to each legs' nearest wall.

  4. Apply the Adhesive

    Lightly mark the center of all four sides of the first tile with a pencil. Apply the construction adhesive to the back of the tile.

  5. Lay the Tiles on the Ceiling

    Apply to the middle of the ceiling, lining up the pencil marks with the chalk lines. Press firmly to the ceiling with the paint roller, rolling back and forth several times. When you are satisfied that this tile is sticking, continue down the line until you reach each wall.

  6. Cut the Ceiling Tiles

    At the ends, cut the ceiling tiles with a utility knife or with scissors. Continue with more rows until you reach the ends of the room.