Ceiling Treatments

Drywall ceilings are most common

Drywall attached to ceiling joists with nails or screws is the most common ceiling treatment. Drywall ceilings may be textured, painted or covered with wallpaper.

Drywall compound, thinned with water and applied with a roller or spray applicator, is used to provide texture. Further finishing can be accomplished with a drywall knife or trowel.

Knock-down texturing involves applying the compound mixture with a spray gun and knocking the peaks down with a trowel. The trowel-on technique uses a standard trowel to achieve a plaster-like look. A special trowel featuring triangular notches creates a combed finish.

dining room, tray ceiling, tin ceiling

This tray ceiling is accented with tin tiles, giving the dining room a dramatic effect. (Photo by Melissa Palange)

Plaster ceilings give a historical nod

According to the Technical Preservation Services division of the National Park Service, plaster was used for the walls and ceilings in most buildings constructed before the 1930s because it could be adapted to all building shapes and sizes.

In the plastering process, plaster is applied to a rock, metal or wood substrate in two or three coats. Because of the thickness provided by the lathing and plaster, these ceilings provide superior insulating and noise-absorbing qualities.

Plaster fell out of favor because its application is labor intensive and time consuming, and it's more expensive than drywall.

How to clean textured and popcorn ceilings

Textured ceilings may be vacuumed gently with a soft brush attachment. A chemical dry cleaning sponge will remove soot and smudges on surfaces vulnerable to moisture damage. If you’re looking for a DIY option, several textured ceiling cleaning products are available.

Popcorn ceilings, especially those installed before 1979, require special care because they may contain asbestos. A professional can determine if asbestos is present. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that asbestos-containing popcorn ceilings in good condition be encapsulated or left alone, since their removal can present a health hazard.

Popcorn ceilings that do not contain asbestos may be painted, vacuumed gently or sealed with a special primer/sealer product to cover stains. Textured ceiling cleaner may be used, or homeowners can hire a residential ceiling cleaning company.

Alternative ceiling treatments

There are several alternatives to traditional ceiling types. Plastic tile is affordable and available in a wide variety of styles and finishes. These plastic tiles provide good insulation and are resistant to fire. They may be either stuck on the current ceiling with adhesive backing or nailed or stapled in place.

More expensive metal ceiling tiles come in a variety of patterns and designs. They can be made of pure tin or combined with copper, steel or brass. Benefits of these tiles include resistance to fire and moisture.

Cork ceiling tiles offer the dual benefits of affordability and environmental friendliness. Easy to install, they come in waxed and unwaxed styles. Waxed tiles are shinier and show more texture, while unwaxed cork looks duller and more natural. Both types possess good insulating qualities and fire resistance.

Other finishes include inexpensive fiberboard, standard plywood that can be painted or stained, panels and tiles. Acoustical tiles are used in drop ceilings for their insulating and sound-absorbing qualities.

basement, ceiling

Drop ceilings, which allow homeowners access to wiring and pipes, are common in finished basements. (Photo by Jaimie Hooker)

Drop ceilings ideal for hiding wires and pipes

Many older homes feature drop or suspended ceilings. Drop ceilings consist of a hanging metal grid into which acoustical panels are dropped to form a solid ceiling surface. Benefits include access to electrical and plumbing work, sound absorption and superior insulation.

With age, these ceilings become dirty and begin to sag from humidity. Fortunately, drop ceilings are easy to renew. The metal suspension grid can be repainted and lightweight tile material glued over the old ceiling panels. Faux tin and plaster tiles can replace existing tiles. A coffered ceiling system clipped onto a metal grid system offers the beauty of recessed panels while retaining the convenience of a drop ceiling.

Some homeowners looking for an update choose to replace their drop ceilings with drywall, which can then be painted and textured. Drywall requires less space and looks more professional, though it does not offer access to wiring and pipes.

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