Easy, Budget-Friendly Ceiling Ideas

Home Projects Perfect for Summer

Sure, you’ve probably thought about upgrading your floors and walls, but ceilings?! The fifth wall, as they’re sometimes called, is out of sight, out of mind.

“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:

1. Paint

It’s a great way to change the perception of your space.

  • On the ceiling, use lighter paint colors to expand space.
  • Use dark colors to lend warmth and bring a better sense of scale in a tall space.
  • Continue wall color as a border around a ceiling perimeter to create the illusion of a taller space.

2. Tin Tiles

Hide damage and uneven surfaces with tin ceiling tiles that introduce a vintage vibe. Embossed 2-by-2-foot, tin-plated steel tiles often reproduce mid-1800s patterns. You’ll spend between $9 to $12 for 2-foot-by-2-foot tile.

Unfinished steel or aluminum tiles must be finished or they’ll rust, so add the cost of oil-based polyurethane (about $35 per gallon) for a clear finish, and paint. 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-foot room.

Cheaper: A nail-in installation in a 10-by-10-foot 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-inch furring strips. Furring strips are narrow strips of wood that help create a level horizontal or vertical surface.

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 $6.50 for a 1-pound pack of 2-inch #6 drywall screws.

Tin ceilings look best finished with molding. Tin-plated, steel crown molding runs $7 to $10 for a 2-inch-by-27-inch strip. You’ll pay $6 to $20 for 8-foot paintable composite wood crown moldings.

3. Moldings and More

Adding crown molding and other wood trim pieces to a plain ceiling creates dimension and architectural interest.

Using pre-made molding corners ($3 to $16 each), a novice can install trim — even crown molding — on the ceiling. But the tight-fitting miters and coped cuts required for installing crown moldings call for intermediate skills and a compound miter saw ($100-$600), which you can also rent.

Professionally installed crown molding in a 10-by-10-foot room costs $300 to $1,400, depending on the complexity of the installation and the molding size and design. A do-it-yourself installation requires skill to make those tricky corner cuts. You’ll spend $60 to $250 for crown molding, depending on the size and type of material.

Here are inexpensive ideas for adding wood trim and moldings to ceilings:

Cheap: Shop home improvement stores or online to find crown molding bargains, such as a 5-pack of 8-foot 5¼-inch primed finger-jointed crown molding (about $40).

Cheaper: Even on an 8-foot ceiling, you can create a coffered look using 1-by-6-inch boards ($5 for 8 feet) laid flat and joined in a grid pattern.

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 (around $5 per tube).

4. Tiles or Planks

Add 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 start as low as 40 cents for fiberboard and $3 for PVC vinyl. Planks that mimic wood or beaded board range from $1 to $4 per sq. ft.

You can save money installing 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-foot room cost about $140. Or you could opt for a metal track-and-clip system, which 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 ceiling tile adhesive ($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: Install an array of 1-by-2-inch furring strips on the existing ceiling and nail tiles or planks to the strips. Furring strips cost about $1 per strip.

Jan Soults Walker is a home improvement writer with more than 30 years’ experience, remodeling several of her own homes and reporting on everything from kitchen sinks to luxurious mansions. Even now, a deck of paint chips still makes her heart sing.

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