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Longtime reader Peter P. wrote in with an excellent question about ceiling construction. Since ceiling work can be a big deal, we thought opening it up to the readership would be the thing to do.

My dad is working on building out his basement workshop, and is trying to decide between suspended ceilings versus drywall. Drywall is cheaper, but will limit access to the plumbing and wiring. Suspended ceiling will give easy access, but at the cost of some clearance. Have any other Toolmongers faced this problem?

Thanks for the question, Peter. We hope the comments that come in help you and your dad get where you need to go on this project.


19 Responses to Reader Question: Ceiling Choice

  1. Bart'sDad says:

    Noise and dust also come into play. Drywall does a better job keeping sawdust out of places it shouldn’t be. I believe a suspended ceiling can do a better job of isolating noise from the rest of the house. Let the debates begin.

  2. Chris Farley says:

    I’ve done both ways – take pictures of everything so you know where the wires and pipes are and go with dry-wall. Faster, easier, cheaper, better for dust, better for noise and not that difficult to cut and patch if you need access – especially with the pictures.

  3. Wayne D. says:

    Personally, I would keep the ceilings bare, but I like to store things between the joists.

  4. Jim M says:

    Why not go for the cheapest solution – drywall – and incorporate access panels at critical points, such as valves, junction boxes, etc.

  5. Justin R. says:

    I agree with Jim. I am boxing out critical areas and will screw or hinge plywood access doors in those spots. Takes longer than just throwing up drywall and I assume that fitting shapes over my head will be a pain, but I like the compromise.

  6. Tom C says:

    Clearance is a big deal in many basements. I have seen ones where everything was sprayed black. It looked really nice all the pipes and everything blended in and the ceiling just sort of disappeared.

  7. fred says:

    Drywall – with fiberglass insulation for sound attenuation.
    Keep the insulation clear of the water piping and you should be OK

  8. Kurt Schwind says:

    I’m with Wayne. Unless you have other reasons, I’d go with the CHEAPEST solution. Bare. Ceilings just get in the way. I know that I wish I had bare ceilings instead of the plaster I currently have.

  9. russ says:

    Like some the others have said, keep them bare. You can use the space to store wood, etc. Over time the wife may think it is better for you have a woodshop out back. It’s worth a try anyway.

  10. chad says:

    You could use ceiling tiles flush against the joists held up by 1×2 or 1×4 pine strips. Run the long perpendicular to the joists.

    Would give access to the wiring/ plumbing, not require mudding and offer slightly better sound insulation over drywall.

  11. Tom says:

    The best of both worlds is a product called Ceilingmax. The plastic supports screw directly to the joists but still allows suspended ceiling tiles to be used. You loose only a little over an inche of ceiling height – just a little more than drywall.

  12. Michael W. says:

    The major problem with ceiling tiles in a workshop is dust, they’re like magnets to the stuff. Drywall is a little better and is easier to clean. 1/4″ – 3/8″ plywood Panels that have been polyurethaned are a nice alternative (and easily removed for service issues).

  13. McAngryPants says:

    I have an older (1913) house and am planning on drywalling most of the basement but I’m kinda stuck on how to handle any inconsistencies in the joist height. Or should I just put up 1/2″ and then blow mighty texture on it?

  14. Bob The Drywall Guy says:

    McAngryPants, if you’re willing to lose a inch of ceiling I would install resilient channel on the joists and fasten the drywall to that. It is used for sound proofing, but it’s design also works really well for flattening out ceilings.

    To the OP, If its going to be a serious workshop, then I would keep it bare, there are a lot of good reasons listed above. If you’re commited to finishing it, not like I’m partial or anything… but drywall is a fair bit more attractive…

  15. C. Nerd says:

    What is ‘resiliant channel?’

  16. jim says:

    I like things bare too! Huge storage space available up there (favorite is to cut strips of scrap plywood ~8″ wide and screw them lengthwise along the joists (only contacting one joist, not bridging them). That gives ~ a 3″ shelf on each side – perfect for little cans & yogurt tubs of parts, nails, finish, etc. They aren’t deep, so stuff doesn’t get lost. It also makes it easy to put up a quick screw or nail to temporarily hang a project you are working on (rows of shelves getting poly’ed, etc.). I also have used spring boards wedged between the ceiling and a workpiece on a table as clamps – hard to do with a finished ceiling.

    Finally color: I agree black looks slick and makes things blend in, but white really brightens the whole work room – easier to see with less power.

  17. MaxW says:

    I’ll second the ceilingmax method. The tiles are close to the joists so height loss is minimal. For me, the #1 issue was room brightness – I hate a dark workshop and this really lightened up the place. Its a bit more expensive than drywall, but easy enough to remove. The only downside is that, if the joists are uneven, you can’t adjust the tiles to a uniform height. But that’s not very important for a workshop.

  18. Jerry says:

    I like to use insulated panels, with a foil side. Screw them into the joists with the foil down and you get a much brighter room. Not something that I would do upstairs, but for my basement it was perfect.

  19. BJN says:

    Metal furring channel. I used it in my old house to entomb some cottage cheese asbestos texture over cracked plaster and lathe:


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