If you own an older home, there’s a good chance it contains at least one ceiling you’d like to replace with something more stylish. Drop ceilings, ceiling tiles, old fashioned plaster that’s falling apart with age, popcorn ceilings…they all need to be replaced with clean, new drywall if you want to bring your home up to date. Even if you’ve chosen a stylish finish like tin or tongue-and-groove paneling, you’ll need a backer or substrate to support it, and drywall fits the bill. Removing a ceiling can be a messy and even dangerous process and installing new drywall is particularly labor intensive. Ask these questions before you start prying off the old ceiling.
What are you replacing?
How you begin the process of removing a ceiling will obviously depend on what, exactly, you are replacing. Ceiling tiles, for example, would either be attached to furring strip or glued directly to a substrate. If furring strips were used, you can cut each tile and then pry them off of the strips. Then, go back and pull down the furring strips. If the tiles were glued directly to the ceiling above, nothing but sheer will and a scraper will pull them down.
If you’re tearing down a drop ceiling, removing the tiles is the easy part, but you will then need to go back and remove the framing that held them up. The frame was likely screwed in place. Get your screw gun and start removing pieces.
Old plaster is held in place by lathe. Both the plaster and the lathe will need to come down. There is nothing to do but pry it off the ceiling and get ready for a mess. Removing popcorn ceilings is equally messy. The sprayed on popcorn needs to be scraped off. Spray the ceiling with water to minimize dust before you start scraping. When that’s done, the remaining drywall may be in good enough condition where it only needs to be patched and painted.
What’s Behind It?
In the best case, there will be nothing but level, plum framing left after you’ve removed the other ceiling materials, making for a great backing for the new ceiling. In the worst case, your ceiling is on the top floor of your house, meaning there’s insulation behind it. In an extreme situation, that insulation is the loose, blown-in kind. Be ready for light, fluffy, scratchy bits of insulation to billow down from above. In other cases, a past owner of your home installed tile or other ceiling materials to hide something. Unfortunately, you’ll only know once you start the demolition.
…And Is It Dangerous?
As with any demolition, particularly in an older home, there’s a good chance you will disturb hazardous materials. Our predecessors were not as sensitive to the environmental impact of building materials as we are today. Popcorn ceilings installed before 1979 may contain asbestos. Insulation, similarly, may contain asbestos. If you have any doubt whatsoever, get the room tested for asbestos and if it tests positive, have it properly remediated by a licensed professional. Prior to 1970, most paints contained hazardous lead. Take proper precautions to control the dust created when demolishing a ceiling that may contain lead paint.
Ready to Install the New Ceiling?
Affixing drywall sheets to a ceiling is no easy feat. After cutting each sheet to size, two people need to lift the sheet and hold it against the ceiling while a third person screws it to the ceiling joists. Alternatively, rent a drywall lift to minimize the effort and number of people required for the job. Tape, plaster and sand the seams between drywall sheets and the screw holes, and you’re ready for paint and finish. The ceiling in a newly renovated room is an often overlooked opportunity to add style and character. Consider finishing your ceiling paneling or other materials, or painting it a bright color. For an even more sophisticated look (and more complicated project) frame out a coffered ceiling, a tray ceiling, a recessed ceiling or even a barreled or arched ceiling.
During a renovation, the ceiling is one of the places where the proverbial “can of worms” can be lurking. It’s best to know what you’re getting into before you start the process of replacing it. Even if you’ve asked and answered all of the questions above, you need to be ready for surprises. The last thing you want is to be forced to live with a half-demolished ceiling for any longer than you have to.
Want to read more?