Drop Ceilings: Pros and Cons

March 1, 2021

Humans have long had a love/hate relationship with ceilings. On one hand, they help to hide the structure that keeps the rain out; on the other, they can be a pain to install and maintain over time. So when the idea of the drop ceiling started gaining momentum, it followed that two very die-hard camps formed almost immediately. But drop ceilings have changed dramatically since the first patents were introduced in 1919 and subsequent improvements made in the 30s and 50s. Today’s drop ceiling, while building on these same principles, is a very different creature.

Drop Ceilings Aren’t Just for Offices

Most people get their first exposure to drop ceilings in their office or schools, where two foot by four foot styrofoam rectangles are set in a grid, along with harsh fluorescent lights, in place of a more traditional plastered or drywalled ceiling. Because these drop ceilings can be very severe in appearance, the very phrase has become suspect. But there are other drop ceilings that aren’t quite so industrial, and can actually really add to your home’s design and unique interior space. These may mimic stamped tin ceilings, coffered ceilings, or a number of different kinds of decorative wood patterns like beadboard. You may not even recognize a modern drop ceiling simply from looking at it, and that’s really the point.

Pros and Cons of Drop Ceilings

Looks aside, drop ceilings are not for everyone. They aren’t even for every kind of space, contrary to what some people may believe. It also really depends on the installation style you’re working with whether or not a drop ceiling in question is going to be the best choice for your home. But in general you can expect the following truths about drop ceilings.

  • They’re simple to install. Drop ceilings are popular with a lot of DIYers because they’re easy to install and don’t require expert drywall skills to get a good result. Unlike drywall, which must be hung, the joints sealed, sanded, primered, painted, and painted again, a drop ceiling comes as a kit and is put together much more like flat-packed furniture. Follow the instructions and you should have the ceiling you expect.
  • Maintenance is minimal. Drywall and plaster crack, it’s a fact. It’s also a reason a lot of older homes have newer drop ceilings installed over the originals. Regular patching of ceilings as a home ages and shifts ever so slightly is a headache. Styrofoam ceiling panels have much more give and can flex as a house moves. Bonus points for areas like basements where wood may shrink and swell throughout the year.
  • They provide small amounts of insulation. Depending on how a drop ceiling is hung and what type you choose, you can expect a very small amount of insulation gain from them, as well as noise dampening. They’ve been used in homes with tall ceilings successfully to lower the heated envelope of the home from 10 feet to a more energy efficient seven to eight feet across the country, but by doing this, you can also interfere with the way the home’s air exchange was designed to work. Take caution when dropping ceilings dramatically.
  • Head space is reduced. Even when you’re using a drop ceiling in a very minimalistic way, there’s going to be loss of headroom. This is because drop ceilings generally have to be hung on special brackets or dropped within a hanging framework. You may not lose a lot of headspace, possibly only inches, but in areas like basements where inches can be too much loss, it’s a serious consideration.
  • Lighting solutions can be tricky. You’ll need to plan your lighting carefully when installing a drop ceiling. Because of the gap that tends to be present, even if it’s just a few inches worth, mounting lighting can require a great deal of planning and care. You may have to use special supports or choose different lighting types when you change a ceiling to a drop ceiling, or carefully design lighting if adding a drop ceiling to an area that’s never had a ceiling in it before.


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