It’s common to upgrade floors and walls to give rooms more appeal, but ceilings (sometimes referred to as the fifth wall) are often overlooked.
“Treat the ceiling with the same attention you would a wall,” says Minneapolis architect Petra Schwartze, project manager for TEA2 Architects. “Too often ceilings are an afterthought. The ceiling treatment should enhance and support the rest of the room décor and intent.”
Here are some affordable ways to beautify your home’s ceilings.
At just $12-$50 per gallon, paint is one of the most cost-effective tools for dressing up ceilings. Lighter paint colors on the ceiling expand space, while dark colors lend warmth. Continuing wall color as a border around a ceiling perimeter creates the illusion of a taller space. But use caution when wielding paint as a decorating tool on the ceiling.
“The scale, sense of space, and detail of a room can be affected by painted ceiling treatments in good and bad ways,” Schwartze says. “Painting the average 8-foot ceiling dark, for example, could compress the room in an unappealing way. However, a very tall ceiling painted in a darker color can warm up a space and bring a better sense of scale.”
Hide damage and uneven surfaces with tin ceiling tiles that introduce a vintage vibe. Embossed 2-by-2-ft., tin-plated steel tiles often reproduce mid-1800s patterns.
The cost to cover 100 square feet (a 10-by-10-ft. room) with tin tiles ranges between $175 (for unfinished tiles) to $1,100 for tiles with rust-proof, powder-coated color finishes.
Unfinished tiles must be finished on-site or they’ll rust, so add the cost of oil-based polyurethane ($35/gal.) for a clear finish. For color, use oil-based primer ($21/gal.) plus oil-based paint ($30/gal.). Also, although nail-up and drop-in tiles cost less initially than snap-together tiles, they require additional materials for installation.
Here are your low-cost options for tin ceilings:
Cheap: Installing a suspended metal or PVC grid to hold drop-in tin ceiling tiles requires intermediate DIY skills. Expect to pay about $145 for enough grid materials for a 10-by-10-ft. room.
Cheaper: A nail-in installation in a 10-by-10-ft. room also requires intermediate DIY skills because you must first cut and install a wood nailing substrate. Plan to spend $70 for enough 3/8-inch plywood or $10 for an array of 1-by-2-in. furring strips.
Cheapest: A novice do-it-yourselfer can install a snap-together tin ceiling, which screws directly to the existing drywall or plaster ceiling. Expect to pay less than $5 for a 1-pound pack of #6 drywall screws.
Tin ceilings look best finished with moulding around the perimeter. Tin-plated, steel crown moulding runs $90-$250 for a 10-by-10-ft. room. You’ll pay about $250 for paintable composite wood crown mouldings.
Mouldings and more
Adding crown moulding and other wood trim pieces to a plain ceiling creates dimension and architectural interest.
Using pre-made moulding corners ($1.50-$7 each), a novice can install trim — even crown moulding — on the ceiling. But the tight-fitting miters and coped cuts required for installing crown mouldings call for intermediate skills and a compound miter saw ($80-$850).
Professionally installed crown moulding in a 10-by-10-ft. room costs $300-$1,400, depending on the complexity of the installation and the moulding size and design. A do-it-yourself installation requires skill to make those tricky corner cuts and $40-$260 for crown moulding, depending on the size and type of material.
Here are inexpensive ideas for adding wood trim and mouldings to ceilings:
Cheap: Shop home improvement stores or online to find crown moulding bargains, such as 5¼-inch paintable finger-jointed crown moulding at $3 per 8-ft. length, or about $20 for a 10-by-10-ft. space.
Cheaper: Even on an 8-ft. ceiling, you can create a coffered look using 1-by-6-in. boards ($80 for a 10-by-10-ft. room) laid flat and butt-joined in a grid pattern. On a 9-ft. or higher ceiling, create a coffered look with more depth by adding another layer of mouldings on the flat boards. For example, add 1-by-2-in. strips for about $16.
Cheapest: Molded polyurethane medallions start as low as $9 each and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Cut the center from a medallion (or buy one precut) to hide gaps around a light fixture. Medallions install quickly with a bead of construction adhesive ($4 per tube).
Tiles or planks
Bring in more style while concealing ceiling damage or ugly popcorn texture with square or rectangular tiles or planks made of PVC vinyl, laminate, or mineral fiber (which also offers some insulation and sound-proofing qualities).
Patterned tiles for a 10-by-10-ft. room start at about $200. Planks that mimic wood or beaded board range from $180-$400.
You can save money on the installation of tiles or planks, depending on how you mount them:
Cheap: A suspended grid system holds drop-in tiles and panels at least 3 inches below the existing ceiling, making it a poor choice for low ceilings but a good solution for hiding severe damage or retaining access to pipes and wire. Materials for a suspended grid for a 10-by-10-ft. room cost about $143.
As an alternative, a metal track and clip system ($144) secures to the ceiling much like furring strips to hold planks or panels about ½-inch below the existing ceiling surface.
Cheaper: For a space where you don’t want a lower ceiling and the existing surface is stable, consider tongue-and-groove tiles, planks, or panels that adhere directly to your old ceiling with adhesive formulated for ceiling tiles ($14 per gallon).
If you have an existing ceiling grid, use retrofit clips (about $40) to secure new tongue-and-groove tiles or planks to the framework.
Cheapest: Another option is to install an array of 1-by-2-in. furring strips on the existing ceiling and nail tiles or planks to the strips. Fourteen furring strips (enough for a 10-by-10-ft. room, spaced 2 feet apart, perpendicular to the ceiling joists) costs about $12.