We’ve been finishing our basement, and I’m super happy with the way things are coming along. One of the biggest decisions we had to make was going with a drop ceiling or drying the ceiling in our basement. While each one has its own pros and cons, I’ll go over them all so that you have a better idea of which one is best for your house.
Ultimately we went with a drop ceiling in the basement for 90%, and the rest of it we did drywall ceiling, but I’ll explain my thinking, and you can see if it’s better to do a drop ceiling or a drywall ceiling in your basement.
Understanding The Difference between Drop Ceiling, Suspending Ceiling, and Drywall Ceiling
Drop ceiling and suspended ceiling are the same thing. It’s a grid system that holds tiles in place on the ceiling. Drywall ceilings are pieces of sheetrock that are screwed, taped, and mudded to give a smooth texture and are commonly found in most upstairs of newer houses. Here is what they look like together.
Pros of a Drop Ceiling
Drop ceilings give you easy access after you have installed them. This was a big one in choosing between a drop ceiling or drywall ceiling. If you are good at thinking everything through, then maybe you will get your wiring done right and can do a drywall ceiling. That just isn’t me.
With a suspended tile ceiling, you can get in there any time you want without hesitation. Simply pop out the tile, and you are in. Easy peasy.
With a drywall ceiling, you have to make sure you have thought of every possible thing before you close up your ceiling, making it extremely difficult to access after it’s installed.
Repairs Are Easy
If there is water damage to an area, drop ceilings are easily fixed, which we have had a few times. It’s unfortunate but an easy fix. Simply pop out the tile and put in a new one. Probably one of the fastest DIY home improvements/repairs you will ever do.
To me, being able to fix this is one of the top reasons for choosing a drop ceiling of all the ceiling types in our basement. Though an open beam look could have worked, that’s for another time.
You also have easy access to pipes, which is another big advantage, as we found out pretty quickly when we had water running down into the basement from upstairs.
They Look Cool
The look of a drop ceiling is pleasing to the eye. You can do a lot of interesting things with a drop ceiling that you weren’t able to do a few decades ago. Plus, the lines and the pattern in the ceiling combined with the right tile can transform a finished basement into something unique and cool!
Installing lighting fixtures and changing lighting is much easier with a drop ceiling. We went with these LED disk lights. They are super flat and easy to use. Plus, the drop ceiling tiles can be interchanged, so if you don’t like how the lighting is, you can move the tiles around to give you a better lighting setup.
Ceiling tiles are a great way to insulate the sound in a room. Different tiles can have a better acoustical rating to block sound. This is great for a movie room or just to muffle the sounds of people walking around upstairs.
We went a step further and put insulation in the ceiling, and the difference was staggering. Before we finished the entire basement, we could hear everything through the floor. Now we can’t hear anything. The difference in sound is unbelievable.
Cons of a Drop Ceiling
Not Everyone Loves The Look
Well, at least that used to be the way it was, but now you can get so many different tiles and layouts that it can really add to the overall look of the room. Still, if you prefer a smooth-looking ceiling over a tile ceiling grid, then drop ceilings aren’t your jam.
This one really boils down to personal preference. We love the look of the grid, but that could be because we have been looking at the floor joists, wiring, and plumbing for the past decade, and any change was a welcome one.
Loss of height
Drop ceilings usually require 4 – 6 inches below the floor joists to install them, so if you are in a low ceiling basement, these extra inches can make a big difference. Drop ceilings are typically a few inches lower than a drywall ceiling. So if you have a low ceiling in spots, a drop ceiling can be a pain.
I thought a drop ceiling would be a simple install. It is, and it definitely isn’t. While the systems and steps are all very clear cut for installing a drop ceiling, the process isn’t a fast one, and it can take a lot more time than you think. Though, to be fair, I think every home project takes twice as long as people would expect.
The setup for the install also takes a good amount of time and thought. Even the professionals take a good hour to plan out the install before they jump in—something to know before you DIY the suspended ceiling.
Costs of a Drop Ceiling
The drop ceiling cost will range from around $4 a square foot for materials and installation. Labor can be more, and if you want to do fancier tiles like darker for a movie room or better sound muffling, then your price goes way up.
Depending on your budget and your DIY abilities as homeowners, you can do a drop ceiling for a reasonable price. You may be able to do it for around $2 a square foot, depending on the tiles you chose and the layout of the room.
That said, if you are looking at a new build, the cost difference between getting a drywall ceiling and a suspended ceiling is much closer because the drywallers are already coming to the house several times. However, this article assumes you are doing the ceiling after you have moved in.
Tools You Need to Install a Drop Ceiling
Whether you are new to building and DIY, you will need certain materials to install a drop ceiling. These are needed for just a small area on the entire ceiling.
- Drop ceiling tiles
- Wire and Wire Hanging Eyelets
- 4-foot cross T’s, T channel, L channel, and 2-foot cross Ts (Don’t worry, I knew nothing about any of these either)
- Tin Snips
- Cordless Drill
- Drill Eyelet Adapter
- Utility Knife (get lots of blades)
- Friend (not saying your friend is a tool, but things will go a lot faster with a second set of hands)
Pros of a Drywall Ceiling
It’s hard to argue that the look of a nice smooth drywall ceiling isn’t pleasing to the eye. It blends into the room and gives an easy aesthetic to the room. Allowing the more prominent features of a room to grab your eye.
Really the look is the biggest thing with a drywall ceiling is the look. It’s hard to beat, and we all know it. Enough said.
Cons of a Drywall Ceiling
Installation is a pain… literally.
If you are doing it yourself, the costs of installing a drywall ceiling are minimal. The materials are just some drywall, screws, tape, and mudding.
But that’s the rub.
Mudding drywall is an art. If you get it wrong, you will see the seams forever. Not to mention lifting up drywall over your shoulders for a day or two isn’t as fun as it sounds (if it did sound fun to you, leave your contact info below, I’ve got work for you 😉
Sure the pain of all of this is temporary, and if you have the time, you can save a bit of money installing it on your own, but you will want to make sure you have things done right when you do it.
If you are like me and can see every imperfection that you do (but never those of anyone else…it’s a blessing and a curse), then this can lead to a frustrating install plus years of looking at everything you did wrong. Maybe it’s just me.
If you are getting someone to do the drywalling themselves (which is what we did for a few parts). Be prepared for them to come out multiple times. The trips might not be too long. They will need to sand and re-mud the walls until it’s uniform. But it might get done a lot faster, and you won’t notice the issues because there won’t be any. Still, you are paying for time, transportation, materials, and labor to have someone come to your place multiple times until it’s looking seamless.
When you do drywall, inevitably, over time, the drywall shifts, this can make the screws start to protrude through the drywall, show the screw bump, and not really giving it the initial smooth look you were hoping for.
While it’s an easy fix, it is time-consuming and annoying to look at. Plus, if you have extreme temperatures throughout the year, you can end up dealing with them several times over the years.
When you do a drywall ceiling, it’s for a lot of reasons. In a basement, you want to not lose the inches that you would have to give up to a drop ceiling. So when you have a drywall ceiling, you want to put in pot lights (or recessed lighting). This type of lightning requires boxing in the light and can cost you a lot of time and effort. Plus, if you need to get it done by a professional, it can really add up.
Another factor of lighting in a drywall ceiling is that it’s permanent. If you are DIYing your basement ceiling, then you want to make sure you have enough lighting and placed it properly before the drywall goes up. Because trying to add more lights after the ceiling is done is a hard thing to do.
When you have water damage on a ceiling tile, you swap out the ceiling tile (after you fix the leak, of course). When you have water damage on drywall (after you are done staring at it for 5 years), you have to cut out the whole damaged area, put in a new piece of drywall.
That includes screwing it in, taping it, mudding it constantly, and repainting it. Then you have to hope it looks the same as the rest of the ceiling, which it won’t because the paint will be fresher than all around it, and it will take a long time for it to blend in if it ever does. Repairs on drywall ceilings are not an easy thing to do, and they never really look as good unless it’s being done by a pro.
Remember how 10 years ago, there were no smart home devices, and everything needed to be wired. Just think about what will change in the next 10 years. While you can make an access point in the drywall ceiling, you are likely going to wish over time you had done one thing or another and just can’t because the ceiling is locked in.
Drywall ceilings are really hard to run wires, and cutting into them is hard for most home DIY people (pros usually have little issue with this. Just something to consider before you drywall the ceiling.
Final Thoughts on Drop Ceilings or Drywall Ceilings
At the beginning of this article, I shared that we did both a drop ceiling and a drywall ceiling. You can see it in the picture at the beginning of this article. Here’s why what we decided and why.
Our basement has an oversized bulkhead due to our geothermal heating and cooling unit and larger ducts. This area is about a full foot down from the rest of the ceiling. This is where we opted to do a drywall ceiling. We needed to keep it as high as possible due to the drop in the ceiling height from the ductwork.
For the rest of the living space, we went with a suspended ceiling. The bulkhead served as a nice divider for both halves of the basement, and we were able to make nice use of extra ceiling height and didn’t mind losing the extra couple of inches we discussed from using a drop ceiling. The truth is we love the look of both, and it made sense for us.
Whichever ceiling you decide to go with, make sure you know what you are going to be using it for and what kind of accessibility you will want.
Lastly, if you go with a drop ceiling vs. a drywall ceiling, you should realize that people rarely look up unless there is a reason to. I can almost guarantee that a good ceiling installation is the one you never look at again. That’s how it’s been for us since we put it in. It looks great, but we never look at it because we’re busy using the rooms for what they were built for.
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