When you shop through links on our site, we may receive compensation. This educational content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice or consultation.

How To Install Ceiling Tiles: Step-by-Step Guide

Transform your room with drop or stick-on ceiling tiles.

If you are looking for a way to change your room’s style, installing ceiling tiles could be the answer. However, deciding on which type of tile is another matter. You also need to prepare your ceiling so that the tiles bond correctly.

We show you how to install ceiling tiles, discuss the costs, and share tips to help you keep them well maintained.

Key Takeaways

  • Surface-mount tiles are easiest to install and apply directly to the ceiling, while drop tiles require a grid system for a suspended ceiling.
  • Before installing tiles, clean the ceiling, measure the area, and calculate the number of tiles needed.
  • For surface-mount tiles, apply adhesive to the back of each tile and press it onto the ceiling, starting from the center of the room.
  • For drop ceiling tiles, measure and install wall angles, main runners, and secondary runners, then attach the tiles to the grid system.

Easiest Ceiling Tile to Install

Essentially, there are two types of ceiling tiles: drop tiles attached to a suspended ceiling and stick-on tiles. The surface-mount varieties are the easiest to install because they apply directly to the ceiling.

However, you still need to clean the ceiling before applying the tile to get the best adherence.

Drop tiles require installing a grid system that suspends below your ceiling. This is a great option if you have mechanical or electrical components you still need access to.

They are commonly used in industrial and commercial settings. They also work better in basements and over drywall where the ceiling is unfinished.

How to Install Surface-Mount Ceiling Tiles

Office ceiling with air duck and lamps

So, the time has come to revamp your room, starting with the ceiling. Surface-mount tiles are an easy install, especially for a novice DIY enthusiast. You will need some tools and materials to complete the project.

What You’ll Need

  • Two ladders.
  • Detergent.
  • Sponge.
  • 12×12-inch fiberboard ceiling panels.
  • Tape measure.
  • Chalk string.
  • Screwdriver (Phillips or flathead).
  • Utility knife.
  • Putty knife.
  • Spirit level.
  • Metal ruler.
  • Adhesive.
  • Some assistance.

1. Cleaning the Ceiling

Soak your sponge in the detergent and scrub the surface of the ceiling. Grease and grime can build up and prevent the adhesive from bonding properly. Once up, you don’t want them to fall down.

“It’s Raining Ceiling Tiles” by the Pointer Sisters doesn’t have the same ring as “It’s Raining Men.”

Once you’ve scrubbed like a demon, let the ceiling dry before applying your ceiling tiles.

Top Tip

If your ceiling is filthy, use a mixture of white vinegar and water instead of detergent. It’s 100 percent natural and removes the most stubborn stains.

2. Measure the Ceiling

Grab the tape measure and measure the width and length of the ceiling. Now, multiply the two numbers to give you the square footage.

3. Calculate the Amount of Tiles You Need

Multiply the length and width of a single tile to calculate its square footage. Now divide the square footage of the entire ceiling by the dimension of the individual tiles. This will tell you how many tiles it takes to cover the ceiling.

So, if your ceiling is 180 square feet and your tile is 4 square feet, you will need 45 tiles.

Take Note

Always add 15 percent to the total amount of tiles needed to allow for mistakes and broken tiles.

4. Remove Ceiling Fixtures

Remove any light fittings, ceiling fans, and air vents, allowing you to install the tiles without damaging the fixtures. You will need a Phillips or flathead screwdriver to do this. Also, while the vent covers are off, take the opportunity to give the vent a clean.

5. Find the Center of the Room

Measure the walls on either side of the room to find the center point. Get your assistant to stand on the ladder on the opposite side, holding the chalk line. Next, climb your ladder, locate the center of the wall and pluck the chalk string like a double bass to mark the line.

Rotate the ladders and perform this exercise on the ceiling, marking the center of the two remaining walls. You should now have two lines that cross in the center of the ceiling.

Use the putty knife to apply adhesive to the back of your tile. Leave a one-inch gap from the edge of the tile. This allows the glue to spread when you press the tile onto the ceiling.

6. Install the Tile

Press your tile to the ceiling where the chalk lines cross in the center of the room. Take extra care that the tile edges match up with the chalk lines. Repeat this process, working out from the center of the ceiling.

7. Cutting Tiles for Fixtures

Mark out the location of your fixtures so that you can cut out holes in your ceiling tiles. Do a dry run first to ensure the openings match the fixture locations. Hold the tile to the ceiling without adhesive and make adjustments as necessary.

8. Cut the Tiles to Size

As you near the outer edges of the ceiling, you will need to cut the tiles to size. You’ll need the metal ruler to get a straight cut with the utility knife. Again, test that the tile fits before you apply the adhesive.

If the tile doesn’t fit, make adjustments as necessary. Next, apply the adhesive and press the tiles in place.

How to Install Drop Ceiling Tiles

Drop ceilings are sometimes known as suspended ceilings. They are great if you want to conceal mechanical and electrical fixtures but still access them.

What You’ll Need

  • Carpet knife.
  • Tape measure.
  • Spirit level.
  • Wall angles.
  • Stud finder.
  • Screwdriver.
  • 1.25-inch screws.
  • Wall runners.
  • String.
  • Lag screwdriver bit.
  • Eyelet screws.
  • 16-gauge wire.
  • Pliers.
  • Chalk line.
  • New ceiling grid materials.

1. Measure Your Walls

Measure the walls and write the dimensions down on a piece of paper. You can also write the measurements on the top of the wall for easy reference, as they will be concealed under the suspended ceiling.

2. Mark the Height

Grab the tape measure and make a mark approximately four to six inches from the top of the wall. Use the spirit level to draw a straight line around the tops of the walls.

You can use a chalk line to mark the wall if you don’t fancy drawing the line manually. You would need assistance with this method.

3. Cut the Wall Angles

Wall angles are L-shaped mounting brackets that attach to your walls to hold the tiles in place. Wall angles are typically sold in eight to 12-foot sections, so you’ll need to trim them to size to fit your walls. If you have protruding corners, allow an extra 0.5 inches in your measurements.

4. Attach the Wall Angles

Use a stud finder, like this Tavool Wall Sensor, to find the wall studs. Mark their locations with a pencil. Use 1.25-inch screws to secure the angles to the wall where you marked the studs. Double-check they are level with the spirit level.

Top Tip

If the wall is bowed, it is better to use wooden shims to pack out the recess rather than force the angles.

5. Cut the Runners

The runners support the main bulk of your suspended ceiling. Measure the length of your room perpendicular to the way your joists run. Cut the runners to size using the tin snips.

If your room extends beyond the length of the runner, join two pieces end to end.

6. Use the Chalk Line

Mark every four feet with your chalk line. Tie one end to the wall and extend it to the other side of the room, pulling it tight. Next, snap the line like plucking the strings of a guitar, and a line appears on your ceiling.

If you don’t have a chalk line, you can use string to mark out the lines. Simply pin it in place to create the guidelines.

7. Secure the Eyelets

Attach an eyelet on every third joist along the length of the line. Eyelets like this Muzata 10-Pack have holes at one end and screws at the other. Use the pliers to help you screw them into the wooden joists.

8. Attach the Wire

Cut the 16-gauge wire into eight to 10-inch lengths and feed two inches through the hole in the eyelet. Bend it with the pliers so that it points down like a hook. These will eventually support your main runners.

9. Attach the Main Runners

Place both ends of the runner in the wall angles running perpendicular to the joists. Feed the other end of the wire through the slots in the runner and bend it back to make a hook. This secures the runner and helps distribute the weight of the frame.

10. Install the Secondary Runners

The secondary runners clip into the main runners and are parallel with the joists. You should space them every two feet.

11. Cut Holes for Fixtures

Locate any heating ducts or light fittings that you need to make an opening for. Do this by tracing the shape of the fixture of the back of the tile. Now, cut it out with the utility knife.

Take Note

You don’t need to cut the tiles for fluorescent light panels incorporated into the suspended ceiling.

12. Trim the Tile Edges

It is unlikely that your tiles will fit the room exactly, so you must trim them to size. Measure the grid opening for the tile and add 0.375 inches to that measurement. Use the utility knife to cut the tile to size.

This helps when you are ready to cut the shadow line in the next step.

13. Cut the Shadow Line

The shadow line is a flange, enabling the tile to sit flush with the frame. Remember that we added an extra 0.375 inches to the tile size, so measure in from the edge by that amount.

Draw along the line with a pencil. Cut along the mark with the utility knife, ensuring that you only cut halfway through the tile. Flip the tile on its side, make the same cut at the same depth, and remove the waste piece of tile.

You can skip this step if your tiles come with a flange precut.

14. Install the Tiles

Lift the tiles into place and complete the project. Ensure the tiles are level when you install them. If not, you may need to adjust the tile dimensions or tweak the runner spacing.

How to Maintain Ceiling Tiles

Once the ceiling tiles are in place, they will need to be maintained. If you want to keep them looking their best, follow our hints and tips for the best maintenance regime.

Vacuum Your Ceiling

Attach the hose to your vacuum cleaner and run it over the ceiling tiles as part of your weekly cleaning regime. Dust, cobwebs, and other debris gather on the tiles and affect the room’s air quality.

Use Soap and Water

If you have wipeable tiles like tin and copper, they can be cleaned using a minimal amount of soap and water. The cloth should be damp rather than wet. Wipe the tile in one direction to avoid grinding in the dirt.

Once completed, dry the tiles with a clean rag.

Remove Drop and Acoustic Tiles

Drop and acoustic tiles should be removed so that you can clean the backs and the grid frame that holds them in situ. Dust gathers in the concealed gap between the actual ceiling and the tiles.

A vacuum cleaner and hose attachment should take care of the dust.

Use a Feather Duster

For lighter dust and cobwebs, a feather duster is the most accessible tool to use. This Boomjoy model has an extendable handle to reach the tallest ceilings.

Ceiling Tile Installation Costs

Installing ceiling tiles yourself costs just the price of the tiles and materials. The average is about $100 if you include glue and any replacement tools you may need.

Calling in the pros could seriously dent your bank balance, costing close to $500. Okay, that includes the labor costs, but it is a massive difference from taking the DIY approach.

The costs also change depending on the type of tiles you install. Surface-mounted tiles are cheaper than installing a hanging tile with a grid frame. False ceilings extend the installation time, increasing labor costs.


How Do You Install Ceiling Tiles In the Basement?

Basements can be pretty bleak places, so it’s only natural to ask questions. You install the ceiling tiles using the same techniques as any other room in the house.

Unlike the concrete floor, the ceiling in your basement will be raftered, so a hanging tile would be better. If the ceiling is finished, you can glue surface-mount tiles.

Can I Nail Ceiling Tiles?

You can if you install wood furring strips. Either nail the tiles to the wood or secure them with staples. Don’t be tempted to nail directly into a plastered ceiling because you may puncture water pipes or electrical cables.

How Much Weight Can a Ceiling Tile Hold?

Drop ceiling tiles are not designed to hold any weight at all. They are only fit to hold their own weight.

Top Tiles

Installing ceiling tiles needn’t be a drama. Surface-mounted varieties are by far the easiest to apply and the perfect choice for beginners. However, if you want to cover an ugly ceiling or have fixtures you need access to, a drop-tile ceiling is your best bet.

Most DIY projects look daunting, but your ceiling tile project is pretty straightforward once you get going.

Feedback: Was This Article Helpful?
Thank You For Your Feedback!
Thank You For Your Feedback!
What Did You Like?
What Went Wrong?
Headshot of Mark Weir

About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.