Installing Paneling & a Suspended Ceiling in Basement — Home tips

Installing Paneling & a Suspended Ceiling in Basement - Home tips

Installing Paneling & a Suspended Ceiling in Basement

by Frank Gehr February 5, 2014

Paneling is a versatile wall-surfacing material that comes in a wide range of styles, colors, and prices. Paneling sheets are made from a variety of materials for numerous applications, most of which are suitable for basement installations.

Laminate panels are sheets of MDF, particle-board, or plywood faced with paper, print, or vinyl. Laminates are available in hundreds of colors, styles, and patterns, providing a durable alternative to paint or wallcoverings. If you routinely have moisture problems in your basement, avoid these in favor of paneling that doesn’t have a wood-based backing.

FRP (fiberglass reinforced plastic), extruded plastic, and vinyl panels contain solid material throughout the panel, creating a low-maintenance, water-resistant wall surface for bathrooms, utility rooms, garages, and workshops, as well as having numerous commercial applications.

Paneling is popular  in basement rooms because it is inexpensive and doesn’t require finishing. With the exception of solid PVC tileboard, most paneling is made from a base layer of hardboard or lauan plywood covered with a printed facing.

Mark cutouts  on back of paneling sheet by coloring the edges of electrical boxes with chalk or lipstick and then pressing the panel against the box.

Tileboard is moisture-resistant hardboard coated with melamine, providing a durable, easy-to-clean plastic finish. It’s designed to replicate the appearance of ceramic tile and is especially popular in bathrooms.

Most paneling is available in 4 × 8, 4 × 9, and 4 × 10 sheets. Some manufacturers also offer sheets in 60-inch widths. Paneling that is 1/4 or less in thickness requires a solid backer of at least 1/2 wallboard; paneling 3/8 thick or more is rigid enough to be fastened directly to framing with 16-inch O.C. spacing. Installation typically involves a panel adhesive, either applied in beads along the wall or framing, or troweled onto the back surface of the panel. Make sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions for the product you purchase.

To estimate the number of paneling sheets you’ll need, measure the total width of the walls and divide by 48 inches. For every door subtract half a sheet, for every window, a quarter sheet.

Before installing paneling, condition it to the room it will be installed in for at least twenty-four hours. Stand sheets upright along their long edge, either separately or stacked together with wood spacers between each sheet to allow air to flow.

Starting in the corner  farthest from the entry, use a stud finder to locate the center of the stud closest to, but less than, 48 from the corner. Find and mark stud centers every 48 from this first stud. Snap a plumb chalk line down the wall at each location. Paneling seams will fall along these lines.

Lay the first paneling sheet face-side down.  Measure the distance from corner to the first plumb mark and add 1 to allow for scribing. Use a circular saw and clamped straightedge to cut paneling to this measurement.

Apply stain or paint  to the wall at the plumb lines so the backer will not show through the slight gaps at joints. Select a stain that matches the color of the paneling edges, which may be darker than the paneling surface.

Use a caulk gun  to apply 2-long wavy beads of panel adhesive to the wall at 6 intervals about 1 back from plumb lines (to prevent adhesive from seeping out through the joints). For new construction, apply adhesive directly to the studs.

Attach the paneling  to the top of the wall using 4d finishing nails driven every 16. Press the paneling against the adhesive, then pull it away from the wall. Press the paneling back against the wall when the adhesive is tacky, about 2 minutes.

Hang the remaining  paneling so that there is a slight space at the joints. This space allows paneling to expand in damp weather. Use a dime as a spacing gauge.

Installing a Suspended Ceiling

Suspended ceilings are traditionally popular ceiling finishes for basements because they hang below pipes and other mechanicals, providing easy access to them. Suspended ceiling tile manufacturers have a wide array of ceiling tiles to choose from. Popular styles mimic historical tin tiles and add depth to the ceiling while minimizing sound and vibration noise.

A suspended ceiling is a grid framework made of lightweight metal brackets hung on wires attached to ceiling or floor joists. The frame consists of T-shaped main beams (mains), cross tees (tees), and L-shaped wall angles. The grid supports ceiling panels, which rest on the flanges of the framing pieces. Panels are available in 2 × 2-ft. or 2 × 4-ft. in a variety of styles. Special options include insulated panels, acoustical panels that absorb sound, and light-diffuser screens for use with fluorescent lights. Generally, metal-frame ceiling systems are more durable than ones made of plastic.

To begin your ceiling project, devise the panel layout based on the size of the room, placing equally sized trimmed panels on opposite sides to create a balanced look. Your ceiling must also be level.

Build a valance  around basement awning windows so they can be opened fully. Attach 1× lumber of an appropriate width to joists or blocking. Install drywall (or a suspended-ceiling panel trimmed to fit) to the joists inside the valance.

Suspended ceilings are  very practical in basement rooms, and you can find them in many more design choices than you might expect.

How to Install a Suspended Ceiling

Make a mark  on one wall that represents the ceiling height plus the height of the wall angle. Use a water level to transfer that height to both ends of each wall. Snap a chalk line to connect the marks. This line represents the top of the ceiling’s wall angle.

Attach wall angle  pieces to the studs on all walls, positioning the top of the wall angle flush with the chalk line. Use 1-1/2 drywall screws (or short masonry nails driven into mortar joints on concrete block walls). Cut angle pieces using aviation snips.

Tip: Trim wall angle pieces to fit around corners.  At inside corners, back-cut the vertical flanges slightly, then overlap the horizontal flanges. At outside corners, miter-cut one horizontal flange, and overlap the flanges.

Mark the location  of each main on the wall angles at the ends of the room. The mains must be parallel to each other and perpendicular to the ceiling joists. Set up a guide string for each main using a thin string and lock-type clamps (inset). Clamp the strings to the opposing wall angles, stretching them very taut so there’s no sagging.

Install screw eyes  for hanging the mains using a drill and screw eye driver. Drill pilot holes and drive the eyes into the joists every 4 ft. locating them directly above the guide strings. Attach hanger wire to the screw eyes by threading one end through the eye and twisting the wire on itself at least three times. Trim excess wire, leaving a few inches of wire hanging below the level of the guide string.

Measure the distance  from the bottom of a main’s flange to the hanger hole in the web (inset). Use this measurement to prebend each hanger wire. Measure up from the guide string and make a 90° bend in the wire using pliers.

Following your ceiling  plan, mark the placement of the first tee on opposite wall angles at one end of the room. Set up a guide string for the tee using a string and clamps, as before. This string must be perpendicular to the guide strings for the mains.

Trim one end  of each main so that a tee slot in the main’s web is aligned with the tee guide string, and the end of the main bears fully on a wall angle. Set the main in place to check the alignment of the tee slot with the string.

Cut the other  end of each main to fit, so that it rests on the opposing wall angle. If a single main cannot span the room, splice two mains together end-to-end (the ends should be fashioned with male-female connectors). Make sure the tee slots remain aligned when splicing.

Install the mains  by setting the ends on the wall angle and threading the hanger wires through the hanger holes in the webs. The wires should be as close to vertical as possible. Wrap each wire around itself three times, making sure the main’s flange is level with the main guide string. Also install a hanger near each main splice.

Attach tees to the mains,  slipping the tabbed ends into the tee slots on the mains. Align the first row of tees with the tee guide string; install the remaining rows at 4-ft. intervals. If you’re using 2 × 2-ft. panels, install 2-ft. cross tees between the midpoints of the 4-ft. tees. Cut and install the border tees, setting the tee ends on the wall angles. Remove all guide strings and clamps.

Place full ceiling panels into the grid  first, then install the border panels. Lift the panels in at an angle, and position them so they rest on the frame’s flanges. Reach through adjacent openings to adjust the panels, if necessary.


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