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Bob Vila Radio: Planting Bulbs in Spring

Though many people associate flowering bulbs with fall planting, there are a variety of bulbs and tubers perfect for spring planting. Pick a sunny spot with well-drained soil, and consider these suggestions to get your garden started this spring.

When we think about flowering bulbs, we often picture beautiful spring bloomers like daffodils and tulips, whose bulbs go into the ground in the fall. But there’s a whole world of bulbs and tubers you can plant in the spring that will grace your garden with vibrant summer color.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON PLANTING BULBS IN SPRING or read the text below:

Planting Bulbs in Spring

Photo: Doprops.com

 

Start by picking out a sunny spot with well-drained soil, and select only bulbs and tubers that should be planted in the spring. You’ll have a lot to pick from, including towering gladiolus, sweet-smelling freesia, willowy iris, and a number of varieties of anemone. Make sure to wait until danger of frost in your area has passed, then plant the bulbs at the correct depth for the type of flower you’re planting, with the root at bottom, and pointy end or sprout on top. Depth and watering requirements vary by species, so read up before you plant. And be prepared to stake some of the taller flowers, such as the statuesque, top-heavy dahlia.

Depending on your hardiness zone, you may not be able to leave your spring-planted bulbs in the ground over the winter. If you need to remove them, shake off excess dirt and let them dry out before storing them in a cool, dry location. Then drop them in the ground next spring, and enjoy them all over again.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


5 Things to Do with… Old Toys

If you are having toy-separation anxiety, consider up-cycling them into useful, playful objects. Here are five repurposed toy ideas that cleverly show how to think outside the box—the toy box.

Up in the attic, down in the basement, or out in the garage, chances are that you’ve got a chest full of old toys. If you’re not saving those playthings for the grandchildren, then perhaps you simply can’t bear to get rid of belongings that were once cherished. Well, play time doesn’t have to be over: There are myriad ways to repurpose classic toys into objects for the home boasting practical or decorative value. Check out our five favorite projects involving repurposed toys now!

 

1. TOY AROUND WITH PLANTS

Repurposed Toys - Planter

Photo: puppylovepreschool.blogspot.com

Toy dinosaurs aren’t extinct. On the contrary, they are alive and well, improbably serving as small-scale, prehistoric-themed planters for succulents. To make your own, use a power drill to hollow out the widest-diameter portions of these plastic figurines, then go ahead and add soil along with your choice of hardy greenery.

 

2. SET SAIL TO A LAMP

Repurposed Toys - Lamp

Photo: diynetwork.com

Got a toy boat that’ll never again set sail on the waters of your bathtub? Embark on a new journey and convert the toy into a fun and fanciful table lamp. It doesn’t take much: All you need are a few simple tools, a thrift-store shade, and a do-it-yourself lamp kit—the kind readily available online or at your local hardware store.

 

3. HOLD STEADY WITH BOOKENDS

Repurposed Toys - Bookends

Photo: upcyclethat.com

Apart from saving the world, there’s something else that action figures can do: function as bookends! Enlist your hero for the task by gluing his top and bottom halves to the visible surface and underside of a bookshelf. Having put his arms into a combat-ready pose, watch as he bravely defends against the force of gravity.

 

4. ROLL OUT A GARDEN CART

Repurposed Toys - Garden Cart

Photo: thethingsithinkabout.com

For those who like to get their hands dirty, whether in a lone vegetable patch or on a rambling property with numerous beds, an out-of-commission Radio Flyer—or any old wagon, really—can make for an excellent way to transport outdoor essentials like terra cotta planters, bags of potting soil, and assorted garden tools.

 

5. PLUG IN AN ORGANIZER

Repurposed Toys - Organizer

Photo: gadgetsin.com

Game over? Think again! A neglected video game controller can become an object that you use every day in the home office. Here’s how: With a screwdriver, take the controller apart so that you can remove all of its buttons. Employ a power drill to form larger or deeper holes, if you wish, then put the joystick together again.


Bob Vila Radio: Building a Raised Garden Bed

Raised garden beds offer many advantages over planting directly into the earth. You can purchase a ready-made raised bed or follow these tips to construct your own.

There are lots of reasons why you might want to plant in a raised garden bed rather than directly in the soil. Raised beds create controlled environments that allow you to overcome problems such as weeds, roots, and poor soil. The good news is that raised beds are relatively inexpensive to buy and so simple to build that almost any gardener can have one.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON BUILDING RAISED GARDEN BEDS or read the text below:

Raised Garden Beds

Photo: popularmechanics.com

To plan your raised bed, start by evaluating the space you have available. You can build to suit almost any size space, but you’ll want to be sure you’re able to reach all your plants, so your bed shouldn’t be more than four feet wide. If you have more space than that, consider building two or more beds side by side, with a path between them.

The basic garden bed is bottomless: You can set it on the ground or inset it several inches into the earth. Freestanding beds have bottoms and can be placed anywhere. The frame and sides can be made of many different materials, including wood, stone, and brick, and can be assembled from a kit or built from scratch. Don’t use pressure-treated posts or railroad ties for a garden bed, since treated lumber contains chemicals that could leach into the soil.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


How To: Paint Glass

Sure, you can paint glass. You just need the right materials and know-how. Try our quick tutorial for satisfying results.

How to Paint Glass - Bottles

Photo: freepeople.com

Smooth and reflective, glass makes a lovely canvas for paint. If, however, you’ve never before tried to paint glass, you may be surprised to learn that the approach differs from that used for traditional building materials. Even so, it’s easy for first-timers to achieve satisfying, often remarkable results.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Glass paint (explanation below)
- Paintbrush or applicator sponge
- Lint-free cloth
- Latex gloves (optional)

Notes on Materials
At least three types of paint may be used on glass: acrylic enamel, acrylics marked as suitable for tile or glass, and specially formulated solvent-based paints. Your local store is likely to carry a range of options. To make your selection, compare products on the basis of color range, transparency, and degree of permanence.

STEP 1
Before you can paint glass with any success, take the time to clean it thoroughly. Use hot and soapy water in combination with a clean cotton cloth. Wait for the glass to dry completely before you proceed. Also, bear in mind that to avoid smudging the glass with your fingers, it’s wise to wear latex gloves while you work.

How to Paint Glass - Brushes

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 2
No matter what type of glass paint you have chosen to use, be sure to read the instructions that came with the product. For some glass paints, there are peripheral steps to execute, such as applying an undercoat or overcoat. Ignoring such requirements could mean compromising the quality of your finish.

Any type of paintbrush may be used. While synthetic-bristle brushes leave visible strokes, natural-bristle brushes give you smooth, even coverage. Applicator sponges, meanwhile, are the most common choice for painting with a stencil. Do-it-yourselfers typically find a stencil or transfer can make the project easier.

If you can access both sides of the glass surface you are painting, then consider the following approach. It’s not stenciling per se, but the technique is similar, and if you’re aiming to create a specific, preplanned pattern, it’s easier to do it this way (as opposed to freehand). Simply trace your pattern onto a piece of paper, then hold that paper against the glass on the side opposite to the one you are painting. As you go along, the pattern will serve as a guide to help you keep your lines straight and your proportions correct.

STEP 3
The necessity of the next step depends on the glass paint you’ve chosen. The issue is that in order to retain its finish, painted glassware often needs to be baked; the oven heat stabilizes the paint and gives it durability. Consult the instructions that came with your product to determine whether this step is required. If you haven’t yet made a purchase, try to find a glass paint that can last without baking. Know too that glass paint markers are an option; their fine tips are particularly good for detail work and writing.


5 Home Repairs That Can Break the Bank (and How to Avoid Them)

Every homeowner knows that avoiding regular maintenance and upkeep can result in costly repairs. Here are five "sleeping giants" that left undetected—could break the bank.

Photo: adependable.com

A home is like a relationship—it requires a little bit of money and attention to keep it going strong. Neglect some easy, quick home repairs, however, and you may end up shelling out tens of thousands of dollars in expensive fixes. How can you discover these sleeping giants before they wake? Read on.

 

Photo: shutterstock.com

SLEEPING GIANT #1: Water damage in the bathroom

When the Giant Wakes: “There’s one thing that a homeowner could do that could save them thousands and thousands of dollars: prevent water damage,” says David Niskanen, owner of NW Property Preservation, a Seattle-area company that offers everything from basic handyman services through whole-house remodels. “Water kills houses,” says Niskanen.

The biggest place people let water go unchecked is the bathroom, says Niskanen. “They don’t keep the caulking around the tub. They’ll notice that caulking is going but let it go, or see that it’s molded and pull it out…. In showers it’s always caulking or grout between the tiles,” he says. If left unchecked, mold, mildew, and water will rot the underlying wood, chew through the shower pan, “and just destroy everything around it. It could easily be $10,000 or $15,000 to replace everything around a shower.”

Take Action Now: Homeowners should examine their bathroom with fresh eyes. “They should look for gaps in the caulking, either around the shower or the tub, including around the spouts in the tub, and also look for any missing grout,” says Niskanen. “They should also look for mold.” Mold isn’t the underlying problem, but the symptom of larger issues, cautions Niskanen; it indicates moisture coming from behind the caulking, likely thanks to a leak higher up in the bathroom. Replace any frayed, gapped, or absent caulking, or missing grout.

A few bucks on grout and waterproof caulk—and a few hours of work—will save you untold dollars and aggravation later.

SLEEPING GIANT #2: Poor attic and crawlspace ventilation

When the Giant Wakes: “What happens is that an unvented crawlspace or an unvented attic traps heat or moisture in those spaces,” says Mike Kuhn, the New Jersey owner of a HouseMaster inspection service and coauthor of The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Home Inspections. “Eventually the plywood is going to delaminate; that’s what the roof sits on. It’s also going to lead to excessive moisture” in those spaces, which creates mold, says Kuhn. He recently inspected a home that contained two separate attics—one side had a fan and was fine, the other had no fan and was coated in toxic black mold. “They probably have to tear off all of the roof” to get at the plywood, he says. “That’s not an unlikely scenario.” If a crawlspace isn’t vented and moisture festers there, “it could lead to framing decay,” he says.

What’s more, moisture and mold prematurely age roof shingles. “If you think you’re going to get 20 years out of a roof, you might just get 15 years.”

Take Action Now: Step one is to see what you can see on your own. Go into the attic and look (and smell) for trouble. Does it smell musty? Do you see mold or water? Do your eaves have soffit vents to help your attic “breathe”? Does your attic have a mechanical vent? If so, make sure the vent is working. If you’re unsure what you’re seeing, consider calling in a home inspector or a roofer to take a look—“somebody unbiased who’s not going to sell you something,” says Kuhn.

Next, check your crawlspaces—and remember, many people forget they have them, especially in cases where renovations or additions have obscured them.

One of the best simple solutions is an attic fan. “A simple exhaust fan and soffit vents that cost together maybe a few hundred dollars could save you thousands of dollars in roofing and structural repairs,” says Kuhn. “It’s not unusual to put in an exhaust fan that is controlled by both a thermostat and humidistat.” An entire system might cost $1,600. “But you might save yourself $16,000 in roofing damage.”

 

Termite Damage

Photo: shutterstock.com

SLEEPING GIANT #3: Termites

When the Giant Wakes: Termites, those prolific munchers, can be devastating if they go unnoticed and unchecked. In most parts of the country, homeowners deal with subterranean termites that are hidden but come up to the house to forage, so “they might be very difficult to spot,” says home inspector Kuhn. Otherwise, they’re most obvious only twice a year when they swarm and come up out of the colony for a few days, flying around like ants with wings. “If you don’t understand that or you miss that indication of a potential termite colony in a house, you might not notice the termites until it’s too late.”

If termites go unnoticed for a long time, “The structural damage and repairs themselves could be $15,000” or more, says Kuhn; one current repair project Kuhn knows of will cost the homeowner $20,000, not including the inconvenience of moving out while floor joists are replaced.

Take Action Now: Don’t think you’re immune from termites. The insects live in nearly every state. Do an annual termite patrol around your house, paying particular attention to unfinished basement areas and darker nooks and crannies. (Underground termites need moisture to survive.) You’re looking for the termites’ tell-tale, pencil-thin mud tubes. If you see one, break it off to see if it is rebuilt. Also look for termite damage to beams, and possibly swarming. If you find some wood that might be infested, probe it with a knife blade or screwdriver to see if termites have hollowed it out; it might sound hollow if you tap on it.

Have any concerns or doubts? A detailed survey of your home “is best left to the professionals,” says Kuhn. “It might cost you $150 annually to have somebody come out and check.”

If termites are found, “The cost of a treatment might be $500 to $1,500 for an average home,” he estimates. That’s a pittance compared with the damage if you let it go any further.

 

SLEEPING GIANT #4: Poor septic system maintenance

When the Giant Wakes: An estimated one in five of all U.S. housing units are on septic systems rather than hooked up to a municipal sewer system, according to the EPA. “With proper usage, [the life of a septic system] can be extended…. They can go for quite a while,” says home inspector Kuhn. But “septic systems don’t have an infinite life span,” especially if they’re mistreated.

Think of a septic system as a machine, and if you don’t maintain this machine, it can essentially clog and stop working. “Generally, once a septic field is done, it can’t be repaired,” says Kuhn. “It has to be replaced.” Rules vary by state, but in New Jersey, where Kuhn lives, if you have an older system that fails, it has to be brought up to today’s standards, “and a new system can cost you anywhere from $25,000 to $45,000,” he says.

Take Action Now: Septic systems are pretty simple: Human waste goes from the toilet into an underground septic tank. The solids settle at the bottom. At the other side of the tank is an outlet baffle where the (lighter) liquids leave the tank and are dispersed into a leach field that usually consists of gravel and soil.

To keep this machine running smoothly, be sure to have your septic tank professionally emptied of solids every two to three years, depending on the occupancy of your house, says Kuhn, at a cost of roughly $200 to $300. (Check your system’s requirements.) If your tank isn’t emptied regularly, the solids and foreign items may work their way into the leach field, clogging it so it loses the ability to absorb liquids. To further reduce the chance of clogging, don’t put anything down the toilet except toilet paper (for example, no baby wipes or feminine products).

 

poor water drainage

Photo: mastertechmold.wordpress.com

SLEEPING GIANT #5: Bad drainage outside the home

When the Giant Wakes: Water that pools around the outside of your house looks harmless enough, but that water can cause major trouble, says contractor Niskanen. That water can leak into a basement, causing major mold and rot issues. It can even saturate the soil and cause the entire home’s foundation to shift, experts say. Now you’re talking tens of thousands of dollars in repairs.

Take Action Now: The next time it’s really pouring, head outside (with an umbrella!) and stroll slowly around your home’s exterior, looking for areas of ponding—a danger sign.

If you’ve got landscaping, make sure you haven’t simply piled up mulch and dirt around the house and created a big dam that keeps water next to the house. Pull that material away from the house. It’s doubly smart to get dirt and mulch away from the house and its siding because water will wick up the siding, and insects like termites can often use the dirt as a highway to enter the house, says Niskanen.

If you’ve got downspouts and gutters, make sure everything is connected and that they carry the water at least 10 feet away from the house. If needed, buy extenders.

Finally, make sure that your yard slopes away from your house so that gravity naturally carries water away from the foundation, says Niskanen. If that isn’t happening, you may need to bring in some dirt and grade your lawn so that water is pulled away. Aim for a minimum of six inches of slope for every 10 horizontal feet.

 

 


Bob Vila Radio: Fire Extinguisher Inspection

Check your fire extinguishers at least twice a year to ensure proper functioning in case you ever need them. Here's how to evaluate its condition.

You know you should test your smoke alarm twice a year, but what about your fire extinguisher? If yours is at the back of the closet where you stashed it ten years ago, chances are it won’t be much help in a fire. Here’s how to check your fire extinguisher to make sure it’s ready if you ever need it.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON FIRE EXTINGUISHER INSPECTION or read the text below:

Fire Extinguisher Inspection

Photo: nbclosangeles.com

The first thing to check is the pressure gauge, which will tell you if your fire extinguisher is overcharged, undercharged, or just right. If it’s not properly charged, contact your local firehouse first to see if they can help. If they can’t, they can at least point you in the right direction.

Check the fire extinguisher for dents, rust, or other signs of damage. If you see any, it’s time to dispose of it, because a crack in a pressurized fire extinguisher can cause it to explode.

Make sure the tamper seal and the pin are in place. If your extinguisher has an inspection tag, check to see when it was last professionally inspected, if ever.

It’s a very good idea to stick to the recommended schedule for professional maintenance. If you have any doubts, contact a local fire safety company for guidance.

Finally, don’t put your extinguisher back in that closet—for it to be useful, you need to be able to get to it quickly.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

 


How To: Clean Copper

Do you have copper that's looking tarnished and dingy? Freshen it up using items that you probably already have in your pantry. Here's how.

How to Clean Copper

Photo: shutterstock.com

Copper can be a finicky material; it tarnishes easily even when subject to normal wear. Fortunately, using only common household items that most people keep on hand, it doesn’t take much to clean copper and renew its earthy and robust shine. Choose your approach from the following options based on the supplies you already have in your pantry.

How to Clean Copper - Texture

Photo: shutterstock.com

SALT AND VINEGAR
It’s a winning combination, not only as a flavoring for potato chips, but also as a cleaning solution for copper. Simply sprinkle salt over the object you want to clean, then thoroughly scrub it with a vinegar-soaked cloth. (Expect the cloth to get dirty as you work; if it gets really dirty, swap in a new one.) Once you have rubbed away all the tarnish, rinse the object under the faucet to remove the salt residue. At this point, the copper should be looking a lot better than it did.

Do dents and depressions in the copper still harbor hard-to-reach dirt and grime? If so, apply salt directly to those areas, then head to the bathroom and retrieve an old toothbrush. After dipping its bristles in the vinegar, use the toothbrush to scrub the dirty or oxidized parts of the copper that eluded your cleaning efforts the first time around.

If the steps above leave you frustrated, there’s still one more thing you can try. In a large pot, mix one cup of vinegar, one tablespoon of salt, and four or five cups of water. Place the entire copper object into the pot, then bring the water to a boil. Leave it boiling until you begin to see the tarnish falling away from the copper. Once you’ve taken the copper out of the pot, it may be necessary to do some more scrubbing, but now it should be significantly easier to get results.

LEMONS OR LIMES
If there’s no vinegar in your cupboard this week, you can rely instead on any number of common household acids—prime examples are lemon or lime juice. (But know that in a pinch, anything acidic, even tomato ketchup, can be used.) Cut the citrus fruit in half, sprinkle salt on its exposed flesh, then rub the lemon or lime against the tarnished copper. Finish by wiping the copper object thoroughly with a dry cloth, polishing away all the accumulations marring the surface, which the combination of acidity and salt should have effectively loosened up for you.


How To: Remove a Popcorn Ceiling

Popcorn ceilings can make a room appear dated and dark. Fortunately, you can remove all that textured coating to reveal the smoother surface below. Here's how.

How to Remove Popcorn Ceiling

Photo: shutterstock.com

For a significant chunk of the 20th century, from the 1950s through the ’80s, the ceilings in many new homes—particularly in bedrooms—came with a rough, stippled texture that become known as a “popcorn” finish. People tout the sound-dampening properties of popcorn ceilings, but I think they really caught on for a pretty simple reason: They hide imperfections and made life a little easier for professional builders. One major drawback is that, because they don’t reflect very much light, popcorn ceilings tend to eat up the light in a room. Another con is that many homeowners consider popcorn ceilings to be just plain ugly. Fortunately, it’s easy to remove popcorn ceilings, and although it can be a very messy and labor-intensive affair, the transformative results can make the effort well worth it.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Plastic sheeting
- Masking tape
- Dust mask
- Protective goggles
- Wide putty knife
- Ladder
- Garden sprayer
- Metal file
- Paint

STEP 1
Before doing anything else, it’s critically important that you get the popcorn tested by an EPA-certified laboratory. In homes built before 1982, asbestos was a main ingredient in spray-on ceiling textures. If yours turns out to contain asbestos, then I very strongly advise you to bring in trained professionals who are licensed to deal with hazardous materials. If, on the other hand, the test indicates that your ceiling has a paper-based popcorn treatment, you can handle its removal the do-it-yourself way. Because the process involves water, however, it’s prudent to cut electrical power to the room where you’re going to be working.

How to Remove a Popcorn Ceiling - Detail

Photo: dwellingonadime.com

STEP 2
There’s no getting around it: To remove a popcorn ceiling, you’ve got to make a mess. By properly preparing the room beforehand, however, you can minimize the amount of cleanup required once the project is completed. After you have removed all furniture from the room, cover the floor—and the bottom 16 inches of each wall—with thick plastic sheeting. Secure that sheeting in place with masking tape.

Upper walls too must be protected; do so by applying a strip of tape around the perimeter of the room, one quarter-inch below the ceiling. Then fasten plastic sheeting to that initial strip by means of an additional tape layer. Bear in mind that ceiling fixtures may hinder progress, so if there’s a ceiling fan, medallion molding, or hanging light fixture in the room, you may wish to take it down at this early stage.

STEP 3
Divide the ceiling into four-foot-square sections. Next, using the garden sprayer, thoroughly moisten the initial section, letting the water soak in for 10 or 15 minutes. After enough time has elapsed, position the ladder under the moistened section, put on your dust mask and protective goggles, then climb up. Holding a putty knife at a 30-degree angle to the ceiling, commence scraping the popcorn away. The method is to spray, wait, and then scrape. In this manner, work your way around the room, one section at a time.

STEP 4
Continue until you have removed the popcorn ceiling to reveal the drywall surface beneath. Given that you’ve put so much work into preparing the room, fastidiously covering the walls and floor with plastic sheeting, now would be an opportune moment to prime and paint the ceiling. If you decide to go this route, wait until the final coat has dried before removing the sheeting. But whatever you decide, don’t forget to reinstall ceiling fixtures and restore power to the room. In the newly popcorn-free space, you should notice that everything seems a lot brighter. Isn’t that so? Enjoy it!


Bob Vila Radio: Ferns

Ferns remain popular with homeowners and renters alike, thanks to the ancient plant's attractive fronds and forgiving care requirements.

Leafy, green, and graceful, ferns bring drama and texture to the garden. They are attractive in rock gardens and make effective background plantings and ground covers. Their frilly fronds, some with subtle variegations, lend character and color to shady spots. If chosen wisely, a fern can enhance your landscape for many years.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON FERNS or read the text below:

ferns

Photo: eofdreams.com

Ferns have an ancient lineage. They first appeared on earth more than 300 million years ago and have over time adapted to a diverse range of environments. Although you can find a fern suited to almost any conditions, they generally prefer shady, moist locations and loose soils with a high concentration of organic matter.

One of their big attractions is that ferns are easy to grow and maintain. Once established, they need little care. They typically don’t require fertilizer, they’re unattractive to pests, and they’re not subject to disease. You’ll have greatest success, however, if you stick with ferns that are suited to your region. In colder climates, plant ferns in the spring; in warmer areas, in the fall. Water regularly—don’t let the soil dry out—and mulch to help the plant retain moisture.

One caveat: Tempting though it may be, don’t collect ferns from the wild—you could mistakenly end up with highly endangered or highly invasive species, and you shouldn’t have either in your garden.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


What Would Bob Do? Installing a Drop Ceiling

Although drop ceilings have a bit of a cringe factor, they can be useful for hiding that tangle of pipes and wiring that inhabits the upper reaches of the basement. If you're trying to fix up a downstairs space, a drop ceiling may be your best option. Read on for the installation basics.

How to Install a Drop Ceiling

Photo: askdesignfirst.com

I’m interested in installing a drop ceiling in my basement rec room. Do you have any helpful hints for a do-it-yourselfer taking on this project for the first time?

A drop ceiling—also known as a suspended ceiling—conceals the plumbing or electrical work running overhead while allowing easy access to those elements in the future, should any adjustments or repairs become necessary. If you’re familiar with drop ceilings, then you are likely aware that some people dislike how they look. When the choice is between a drop ceiling and a messy warren of exposed mechanicals, however, homeowners often treat the former as a necessary evil.

We tend to think of ceilings as being solid and permanent, closely related to the structure of a home. But a drop ceiling isn’t that; rather, it’s a screen formed by a metal grid and the movable ceiling tiles placed into that framework. When it comes to the tiles, you have lots of choices. Countless textures and patterns are available, some even resembling tin or wood. In addition, many tiles feature soundproofing properties, valuable in a basement workshop or kid’s playroom.

It’s certainly possible to purchase the parts of a drop ceiling in an à la carte fashion, piece by piece—and you may wish to do so if you’re working in a compact utility space. But most of the time it’s cheaper to opt for the grid kits commonly available online and in local home improvement centers. Bear in mind that because one kit typically covers an eight-by-eight ceiling expanse, you’ll probably need to buy several if you’re trying to properly outfit an entire basement or a large garage space.

How to Install a Drop Ceiling - Detail

Photo: familyhandyman.com

The average drop ceiling kit includes the following:

Wall molding—L-shaped metal strips that run along the ceiling perimeter, supporting tiles on one edge

Main beams—panel supports that span the distance from wall to wall and run perpendicular to the joists

Cross tees—panel supports that are installed parallel to the joists and between the main beams of the grid

Hanger wire and fasteners—hardware that ties the main beams of the grid to the wood ceiling joists

Installing a drop ceiling yourself? Rest assured that the process isn’t overly difficult, but for best results be sure to start with a detailed plan. If you’ve ever laid a floor, then you know the trick is to arrange the boards in such a way that you don’t end up with small, narrow pieces around the perimeter. The same principle applies here.

On graph paper, sketch the ceiling to scale. Include the location of any ceiling fixtures that need to be taken into account (for example, recessed lighting or ceiling fans). Continue sketching different arrangements until you strike upon one that allows for ceiling tiles with the widest possible diameter to go around the edge of the space.

Most ceiling tiles can be cut to size with a simple utility knife, if necessary. During installation, I recommend using a stepladder with an integral paint tray that can hold your tools and materials, saving you the hassle of repeatedly climbing up and down. Also, it’s wise to wear safety glasses; you’ll be directly below the action.

A parting thought: If all you’re looking to do is hide a cracked or stained ceiling—in other words, if there are no pipes, cables, or ducts to accommodate—then you may want to check out many of the direct-to-ceiling products on the market today. They don’t hang on a grid; instead, they install directly to the ceiling via adhesives, screws, or a combination of clips and tracks. In the right context, they can be real time- and effort-savers.