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Installing Ceiling Tile

Here are tips and general instructions on installing ceiling tiles. They can help you save time and effort once you begin the job.

Be sure to follow manufacturer's instructions for installation, particularly if you're using cement or adhesive. Inside this document you will find information about:

  • Selecting the right tiles
  • Determining how to apply tiles
  • How to determine the size of border tiles
  • Applying tile with adhesives
  • Installing tiles on wood furring strips
  • Installing the furring strips
  • Stapling tiles to furring strips
  • Tiling around posts or pipes

SELECTING THE RIGHT TILES

  • Most ceiling tiles are made of fiberboard, a mixture of fine fibers cut from wood or cane and chemical binders, which are pressed into semihard, flat panels. Special chemicals are added during this process to make fire-resistant tiles.
  • Standard tiles measure 12" by 12", although tiles are also made in 12" by 24" and other sizes. Most ceiling tiles have tongue-and-groove edges for easier installation. You can choose from plain, embossed and patterned finishes. Some are molded with special texturing and square edges - instead of the common beveled edges - to make seams barely visible when the tiles are in place.
  • Acoustical tiles are made from the same type of fiber, but an additional manufacturing process helps these tiles absorb much of the sound in a room. A well-designed acoustical tile absorbs up to 70 percent of the excess noise in an area.
  • Ask your retailer to help you estimate the materials you need for a tile installation. Most manufacturers provide charts to the retailer to help estimate the number of tiles, the amount of furring, and the gallons of adhesive needed, based on the room size.
  • Manufacturers typically pack 12" by 12" ceiling tiles in cartons of 40, and 12" by 24" tiles are packed 20 to a carton.

DETERMINING HOW TO APPLY TILES

  • The two most common methods of ceiling tile application are to use adhesives or to staple or nail the tiles to wood furring strips. A third system involves a metal grid instead of furring strips and metal clips instead of glue or nails.
  • For ceilings made of sound plaster, gypsum board, or other material that provides a sound, smooth, continuous backing, use adhesives to apply the ceiling tiles.
  • If the ceiling has exposed joints, cracked plaster, or any other unsound surface, apply furring strips and nail or staple the tiles to the furring strips.

FOLLOW THESE THREE BASIC RULES

  • All cut tiles should be used for the edges of the room where the ceiling meets the walls (see image).
  • Cut tiles at opposite ends of the room should be the same size.
  • Cut tiles should never be less than half a tile wide.

HOW TO DETERMINE THE SIZE OF BORDER TILES

  • Measure the total distance from wall to wall on the longer side of the room. If the length measures in exact feet, you will not need to cut any border tiles for that direction. If the distance does not come out in exact feet, add 12 to the number of inches remaining and divide by two. This gives you the width of your border tiles.
  • For example, if the room is 10'6" long, add 12 to the 6, divide 18 by 2, and the result, 9", is the proper width of your border tile. (Adding 12 guarantees that your border tile will be more than half the width of a full tile.)
  • Use the same measurement technique for the shorter side of the room.

APPLYING TILE WITH ADHESIVES

  • Use adhesive for applying tiles only if the ceiling is sound and even. If it is not, use the furring strip method (see step 6).
  • Surface preparation is important when using adhesives. Any painted surface should be checked carefully-the paint may flake, peel or become chalky, and your tiles will not adhere. You can test painted surfaces by installing four or five tiles at different places around the room and waiting 48 hours to see how well they adhere.
  • Using the technique outlined in Step 4 (determining the size of border tiles), make sure that the border tiles will be the same on opposing sides of the room.
  • Snap a chalk line along each side of the room that equals the width of the border tile from the wall. Use these lines to align the first row of border tiles along both the short and long sides of the room (see image).
  • Cut your first border tile to size. This tile fits into the corner, so you must take into consideration the dimensions of border tiles on both the short and long sides of the room. For example, if your border tiles on the long side of the room are to be 10" and on the short side of the room only 9", the corner tile should be cut to measure 10" by 9". This allows all other border tiles in the room to line up properly with your full-sized tiles.
  • Cut border tiles on a flat surface, with the finished side up. Use a very sharp knife or utility knife, and a clean (preferably metal-edged) straightedge.
  • Place the adhesive or cement in each corner of the tile about an inch from the edge, and in the middle of the tile (see image).
  • Place the border tile in position in the corner (see first image below). Make sure the wide stapling edge lines up with the chalk marks on both sides. The flange must be exposed so the tongue of the next tile can slide into the tile you've just placed. This guarantees a solid fit.
  • It may be necessary to use a staple in each flange to hold the tile in position while the adhesive dries. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations.
  • Place several border tiles in position along each edge, then fill in the ceiling with full-sized tiles (see second image below).
  • Once you've installed all the full-sized tiles, you must measure and fit each border tile carefully on the opposite border.
  • Install a border molding to complete the job, and finish with a neat and finished appearance (see image).
  

INSTALLING TILES ON WOOD FURRING STRIPS

  • For a ceiling with exposed joists, unsound plaster or an uneven surface, nail furring strips to the ceiling before applying the tiles.
  • Seasoned, straight-grained soft woods, such as pine, spruce or fir make ideal furring strips.
  • If the ceiling has joists hidden by an existing ceiling, these joists must be located and marked before the furring strips are applied. You can locate joists by driving a nail into the ceiling or by using a stud finder.
  • Joists are usually located every 16" or 24". After you locate the first joist, measure across 16" and try again. After you have determined the spacing, locate and mark all joists with a chalk line so you can attach the furring strips without having to locate the joists again on each run.
  • Nail the 1" x 3" furring strips across the joists at right angles to the joists.
  • Attach the first furring strip on the ceiling immediately against the wall that runs at right angles to the ceiling joists.

INSTALLING THE FURRING STRIPS

  • Position the second furring strip so that the distance between the center of the strip and the wall is the width of your border tile.
  • It is critical that the remaining furring strips be exactly parallel to this strip, and that the distance from center to center of each furring strip is 12". One of the easiest ways to position the remaining furring strips is to cut a block of wood exactly 12" less the width of one furring strip. Use the block as a guide in positioning the remaining strips (see image).
  
  • Use 8-penny common nails for nailing the strips, with one nail at each joist.
  • All furring strips must be level. Use a long level to get a reading on all strips as they are added. If needed, insert wood shims between the joists and the furring strips for leveling.
  • At the walls running parallel to the ceiling joists (at right angles to the furring strips), use scraps of furring to provide a nailing or stapling position for the border tiles (see image).
  

STAPLING TILES TO FURRING STRIPS

  • Snap a chalk line along both the short and long sides of the room to align the first row of border tiles. These chalk lines will run down the center of the furring strip on one side and across the furring strips on the other side (see image).
  • Cut your first border tile to size. This tile fits into a corner, so you must take into consideration the dimensions of the border tiles on both the short and long sides of the room. For example, if your border tiles on the long side of the room are 10" and on the short side of the room only 9", the corner tile should be cut to measure 10" by 9". This allows all other border tiles in the room to line up properly with your full-size tiles (see first image below).
  • When you cut these first border tiles, cut off the side without the wide stapling edge. The wide stapling flange must be exposed so the tongue of the next tile can fit into the groove of the tile you've just placed. This guarantees a solid fit.
  • Staple the tile in place, with three staples on the edge that is completely against a furring strip and staples only in the corner on the other edge (see second image below).
  • Place several border tiles in position along each edge, then fill in the ceiling with your full-sized tiles (see third image below).
  • After working your way across to the opposite wall, you must measure and fit each border tile carefully on the opposite border.
  • Install a border molding to complete the job. The molding also holds the final border tiles in place where there is no flange left for stapling. At the border, where your access to the stapling area is limited, you can attach the tiles with small, broad headed nails. Position the nails as close to the wall as possible so the border molding conceals them.
  

TILING AROUND POSTS OR PIPES

  • The first image below illustrates how ceiling tiles can be fitted around posts or pipes. Cut the tile in half, then cut each half to the contour of the pipe or post.
  • The second image illustrates how to fit ceiling tiles around ceiling fixture outlets or smaller pipes near the wall. When you're cutting a ceiling tile, always be sure to cut the tile face up, using a sharp utility knife.
  
TOOL AND MATERIAL CHECKLIST
Ceiling TileHandsaw
Nails (Several Sizes)Staples
Glue GunChalk Line
Steel TapeUtility Knife
LadderGraph Paper
Furring StripsHammer
StaplerAdhesive
Caulking GunFolding Rule
Border MoldingHand Cleaner
StraightedgeTracing Paper

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Check your state and local codes before starting any project. Follow all safety precautions. Information in this document has been furnished by the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy and safety. Neither NRHA, any contributor nor the retailer can be held responsible for damages or injuries resulting from the use of the information in this document.

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