When someone talks about a drop ceiling, they’re referring to a secondary ceiling that you hang below your main ceiling, and it’s more commonly called a suspended acoustic ceiling. It’s a nice way to cover damaged or stained areas in your ceiling, hide ductwork, hide wiring and plumbing pipes, or improve a room’s acoustics, and these uses have a lot of people wondering about the average drop ceiling costs. You may also hear people call it ceiling tiles, drop-out ceiling, drop-in ceiling, grid ceiling, false ceiling, and a T-bar ceiling, depending on who you talk to about it.
There are two basic parts to this type of ceiling, and they both factor into your final drop ceiling cost. You’ll have the tiles and the grid, and the grid will attach to your walls in a crisscross pattern by using beams. The beams all come with small edges on them that support the tiles and hold the ceiling in place over your original ceiling. They’re very popular around the world, and many people in the United States are starting to add them to their homes to help improve the room’s acoustics while improving the design and aesthetics.
Your drop ceiling costs range from $900 up to $3,000. On average, you’ll pay around $1,400 for 130-square feet of suspended plastic ceiling and trim. You can also opt to have a fiberboard ceiling installed if you’re worried about budgeting for your drop ceiling cost, and this will run you around $850. On the high end, you can opt for a smooth metal drop ceiling for around $3,000.
The material quality and the room size are the two biggest factors that play into your drop ceiling cost. Labor will cost you between $2.00 and $5.00 a square foot, depending on your location and the size of the job. Grid rails and ceiling tiles range between $3.00 to $25.00 a square foot. You’ll have to add more to your drop ceiling cost if you want to add lighting, insulating tiles, or rail covers. This comprehensive guide will outline everything you need to know about this project so you can budget for it below.
Drop ceilings are very popular in schools or office buildings, but they’re catching on in homes too because they help deaden sound and they can make the whole room quieter. Hanging Lamps by Melinda Young Stuart / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
How Materials Impact Your Drop Ceiling Cost
One of the first things you want to do is pick out a material for your ceiling. The type of material you pick will give you different features, and they all have different price points. There are four main materials used for this project that impact your drop ceiling cost, and the exact cost ranges will depend on the tile design and the manufacturer. YOu can pick from patterned, smooth, or textured.
Fiberboard or Mineral Fiber
If you want a quiet room, install a soundproof floor and mineral fiber or fiberboard for the drop ceiling. This is the most common material used for this ceiling style, and they offer the most acoustic properties without having a large price tag attached. They’re easy to install, relatively budget-friendly, and they’re excellent at absorbing sounds. You do have to install these tiles in a dry environment because they’ll develop unattractive yellow stains or discoloration with humid environments and moisture. Your drop ceiling cost will range from $1.10 to $6.60 a tile without labor.
Plastic tiles have one huge advantage over other materials, and that advantage is that they’re very easy to install, and this can speed up your project. You can drop the tiles in using grid rails, or you can easily nail them up. If they sustain damage during the installation process, it’s easy to paint them another color to help you cover up any dents. They’re not as durable as other materials because they’re plastic, so it’s possible for them to break more easily. Plastic can cost between $5.00 and $9.00 a square.
Tin or Metal
Tin tiles aren’t actually tin today. Instead, they use a mix of copper, aluminum, or brass to get that classic tin look and feel. They come in different patterns that allow you to add a dramatic visual look to your home. They’re also the most durable option out of any material. However, they’re also the most difficult type to install, and they can increase your drop ceiling cost significantly at the rate of $12.00 to $20.00 a tile.
If you want to add a more luxurious or rustic look to your room, wood is a great option. They work well with bright mexican decor to create an eye-catching contrast. They give you a very elegant look, and you have several types of wood to choose from. They’re not a good pick for areas with high humidity because they’re prone to warping and rot if there is a lot of moisture in the air. They’re also expensive, and they can increase your drop ceiling cost by $9.00 to $68.00 a tile if you go with the more expensive cherry wood.
Drop Ceiling Cost by Square Footage
Another large factor in your total drop ceiling cost will be how large the project is. The exact design and type you choose also factor in, and the average cost to install your drop ceiling when you hire a professional to take on this project is just over $9.30 a square foot. This works out to:
- 70 Square Feet – $651
- 100 Square Feet – $930
- 130 Square Feet – $1,209
- 160 Square Feet – $1,488
- 190 Square Feet – $1,787
- 220 Square Feet – $2,046
Factoring in Grid Cost
The tiles are only half of your suspended ceilings, and you can’t forget about the grid as the second part. The grid is a T-bar system that attaches to the wall to hold your ceiling panels or tiles in place. Per square foot, you drop ceiling cost will go up between $1.50 and $2.25 to purchase the grid rails. This doesn’t include labor, and you’ll add between $35.00 to $80.00 an hour for your contractor’s price when they install them.
- 70 Square Feet – $105 to $157.50
- 100 Square Feet – $150 to $225
- 130 Square Feet – $195 to $293.50
- 160 Square Feet – $240 to $360
- 190 Square Feet – $285 to $427.50
- 220 Square Feet – $330 to $495
Some drop ceilings can be very decorative while others are more plain. The more decorative it is, the more your drop ceiling costs will go up because the materials and project complexity goes up.
Comparing Drywall Costs to Drop Ceiling Costs
A drop ceiling lets you pick the shape, design, and color of the suspended ceiling that anyone who goes into the room sees, and the drop ceiling cost is usually less than installing and finishing drywall. Drywall is more durable, and it can work to give your room a much more finished look.
You’d install drywall ceilings by attaching measured and cut sheetrock pieces to your home’s structure. For a four by eight sheet of drywall, you’ll pay between $12.00 and $60.00. The drywall’s thickness and any added features you decide you want will impact the final price. Mold-resistant drywall sheets can cost between $15.00 and $60.00 a sheet, and a basic ½-inch sheet can cost between $12.00 to $18.00.
Cost Factors to Consider
It should come as no surprise that the bigger your ceiling is, the higher your drop ceiling cost will go. However, a smaller ceiling could actually cost more if it’s a more complex project. If you have wires or pipes in the way of the installation process, you’ll have to pay to relocate the pipes and rewire the house. You may also need to modify or repair the main ceiling to ensure that it can support the weight of the new drop ceiling. So, the job’s complexity will really play a role in your final drop ceiling cost.
The quality and durability of the panel material will influence the panel’s costs too. If you want soundproof, durable panels, metal is a good choice. However, it’ll cost you more. Plastic or wood panels are more cost-effective to help control your drop ceiling cost, but they provide minimal insulation while not lasting as long.
If you want to install lighting between your panels, this will boost your drop ceiling cost. The best time to install lighting on this project is after you install the grids. This will allow you to locate the junction boxes and mark them out in your plan while you build the ceiling out.
Additional Options and Price Points
If you want to add other options to your new ceiling, you’ll have to budget for these additional drop ceiling costs. You don’t have to add these items for the project to turn out nice, but it’s possible to customize it to suit your design aesthetic with them.
A ceiling fan can help to move the air around your room when it’s on, and it’s particularly nice to use when you have the air conditioner on to help cool down the room. Your ceiling fan cost will depend on where you want to install it and the type of fan you choose. On average, it can add to your drop ceiling cost by $450 to $700 per fan.
These are heat-sensitive tiles that work alongside your fire sprinkler system. If a fire breaks out, these tiles will melt and fall out of your dropped ceiling to allow the sprinkler system to activate and pour water down on the fire. Better known as melt-away tiles, they cost between $95.00 and $100 for a two by four tile.
Maybe you want to add more texture and depth to your ceiling. If so, you can buy a reveal or regular edge to put up with your ceiling tiles. They come in angular and square shapes, and they come designed to hang down from the drop ceiling grid to add texture while hiding the grids. They can be more cost-effective than regular tiles, and they’ll increase your drop ceiling cost by $1.50 to $3.50 per tile.
An LED panel will sit into your drop ceiling and emit light. You’ll typically install them to help avoid having to have additional lighting fixtures or ceiling fans. These lighted panels can cost between $85.00 and $170 each. If you want a recessed lighting fixture, you’ll start your price point at $30.00 each and go up. You’ll also want to install controls, and this ranges from $20.00 to $35.00 each.
Installing lighting or ceiling fans can make the area more aesthetically pleasing, but you’ll have to budget for these things in your initial project costs because they can quickly turn a simple project into a complex one. 2019-03-FL-204206 by ACME / CC BY-NC 2.0
To install this type of ceiling, your labor costs will range between $2.00 to $5.00 for every square foot. On average, this works out to $3.50. This includes installing the tiles and the grid. For labor alone for a 120-square foot room, your labor costs can range from $240 to $1,000. Adding any decorative accents, switches, and lighting will increase your labor costs because this boosts your project’s complexity. You can avoid them if you want to keep your drop ceiling costs lower.
Hiring a local contractor is a good pick if you’re not confident enough to DIY this project yourself. You may also have to contract with an electrician to install lights, wiring, and controls, and they usually charge by hour to perform this work. Your labor rates will be higher in bigger metro areas, and they go down in small towns or rural areas.
- Hire a Licensed Contractor – $70.00 to $135 per hour
- Hire a Handyman – $50.00 to $80.00 per hour
How long your project goes on will also impact your drop ceiling cost. Having a rough estimate on how much each step of the installation process takes will give you a good understanding of the scope of the project, and this will allow you to budget correctly.
- 3 Days – Constructing the gridwork and hanging it
- 4 to 6 Hours – Installing the tiles
- Up to 6 Hours – Installation rail covers or tape (optional)
So, depending on how complex the project is, it can easily take between 3 and 5 days from start to finish for your contractor to get all of your materials, install it, and add the rail tape or covers to give you a more finished look. Of course, if you plan on having ductwork rerouted or wiring moved, this can cost more because you’ll have to get a hold of an HVAC technician and an electrician to work before you get the drop ceiling up. They usually charge hourly rates too.
Miscellaneous Material Costs
Along with the tiles and grid rails, there are a few miscellaneous pieces you may want to have around when you start this project. Again, the more materials you need, the more your drop ceiling costs can go up. These items and tools include but are not limited to:
- Bubble Level ($20.00 to $50.00) – A good six-inch bubble level or a laser level will help ensure that everything is precisely level as you hang the grid and tiles.
- Decorative Rail Covers ($0.45 to $0.60/linear foot) – Brands like ProLITE create decorative vinyl rail covers that work to complement the ceiling tiles.
- Grid Rails ($1.50 to $2.25/linear foot) – You can get boxes of grid rails that will cover between 60 and 120-square feet. Some other grid rails come sold by the piece, and you’ll need enough to cover your entire drop ceiling.
- Hand Tools ($3.00 to $10.00) – You’ll need a few hand tools like a utility knife and blade to cut any fiberboard tiles you need. If you want plastic or vinyl drop tiles, you’ll need snips.
- Insulation Tiles ($1.60 to $1.85/square foot) – You can add an insulation tile above each tile in your drop ceiling. It helps reduce the noise levels while adding R6 insulation value, and Soniguard is a popular brand.
- Plastic Tape ($0.25 to $0.50/linear foot) – Your drop ceiling costs shouldn’t go up much if you choose to put plastic tape over your rails. It has many color options available, and it can contrast or match your ceiling color.
- Wire, Clips and Anchors ($0.75 to $1.15/square foot) – These are cheap installation accessories that you should have on hand, so you want to factor them into your drop ceiling cost budget.
Cost to Add a Drop Ceiling to a Basement
Maybe you’re building a house with a basement and you want to add a drop ceiling to your basement. If so, the drop ceiling cost to add it to a 400-square foot basement ranges between $2,000 to $11,200. For materials, you’ll pay between $1,200 to $9,200, depending on the space’s size. Labor costs will go up with larger basements, and you should budget for $800 to $2,000 for it. If your basement has a lot of exposed plumbing pipes, wiring, or ductwork, your drop ceiling costs will go up due to increased labor costs. Working around these items or fixing them could add a day or two to your project’s timeline.
Where to Find a Drop Ceiling Contractor Near You
If you want a drop ceiling, it’s important that you do your research and call two or three different contractors or companies that excel at this type of work. This can help you keep your drop ceiling costs low by finding a quality company that works within your budget.
Frequently Asked Questions
When you contact your local contractors, be sure to ask the same questions of every company to get price quotes for the same type of installation projects and project criteria. Office Ceiling by Steve Burt / CC BY-SA 2.0
1. How much clearance do you need for your drop ceiling?
There are laws and regulations that outline how much clearance your drop ceiling needs from the floor. Your room has to be 7 ½ feet tall from floor to ceiling to install a drop ceiling. This will keep you inside the residential building codes in most states. You should call your code enforcement office before you start to get an exact estimate.
2. Do you need a permit?
You won’t normally need a permit to install a drop ceiling in your home, and this can help to keep your drop ceiling cost low. However, always double-check with your local agencies to help avoid problems down the road if you ever go to sell and need an inspection.
3. How much height does this ceiling take up?
At minimum, you typically need four inches between the main ceiling and your drop ceiling. If you want to install ceiling lights, you’ll have to add at least two more inches to this measurement. So, you’ll lose between four and six inches in all.
4. Which is cheaper: drywall or drop ceilings?
Generally speaking, drop ceilings are more expensive to install than drywall at $5.00 to $28.00 per square foot. Drywall costs between $1.00 to $3.00 a square foot, and you want to add $2.00 to $6.00 for every square foot you paint. This still makes drywall cheaper.
5. Are drop ceilings and suspended ceilings different?
No. Drop ceilings, suspended ceilings, and acoustic ceilings are all referring to the same thing.
Your drop ceiling cost will depend on a broad range of factors, and you can use this guide to see which ones do and don’t make sense for your project. The larger the area, the more your drop ceiling cost can go up. However, the complexity of the project can also go up. Use this guide to get a rough estimate to take to your local contractors to get this project finished and improve how soundproof your room is.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.