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Here’s a cure for the common ceiling: Cover it with affordable, easy-to-apply Armstrong ceiling plank panels and paint for a fresh look.
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To cover an existing ceiling, install a plank system with tracks, or adhere the planks directly to the ceiling. A track system requires no ceiling prep work and it is better for covering damaged ceilings. The alternative method using adhesive requires a sound, flat substrate. You may need to scrape off a heavy texture for the adhesive to work.
The mineral fiber planks we chose cover 40 square feet per box, but plan to purchase 10 percent more than the surface you’ll cover to allow for cuts and test pieces.
Using an electronic stud finder and a pencil, mark the locations of ceiling joists along two opposite walls of the room. With the assistance of a friend, snap a chalk line across the ceiling surface at each joist location.
If you want to install planks parallel to the joists, install the track perpendicular to the direction of the joists. To make the planks run perpendicular to the joists, attach the track along the length of each joist.
Install the track following the manufacturer’s instructions. For tracks that are running across the joists, screw the first track to a joist 2 inches away from the wall. Install the remaining tracks spaced 12 inches apart and screwed to the ceiling each place it crosses a chalk line.
If you are installing the track in the same direction as the joists, secure the track along the length of each joist.
If the existing ceiling is flat and smooth, go to the next section. If you have an acoustical spray texture, sometimes called a popcorn ceiling texture, you may need to remove the majority of that texture for the adhesive to bond. If your home was built between 1950 and the early 1980s, have the surface tested for asbestos before proceeding.
To find an accredited testing lab, search online for the “National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program” or go to www.nist.gov/nvlap/ and search for an accredited lab. They can point you to an agency that is trained to test the surface properly.
To remove unwanted surface texture, spray it with a mix of soap and water and allow it to soak in for 10 minutes. Then use a large-blade drywall knife to scrape away the texture. If the texture is difficult to remove, a light scraping and another spray of soap and water may soften it.
Regardless of which installation method you choose, first measure the width of the ceiling the planks will cover -- width being the dimension that will run across the widths of the planks side by side. For our example, the width is 82 inches.
Divide the ceiling width by the width of the exposed planks. The planks may measure 6-5/8 inches wide, but the exposed surface (not including the tongue) is 6 inches. For our example, 82 inches divided by 6 inches equals 13.667, or 14 rows of planks with some trimming.
To center the pattern on the ceiling, trim planks to equal widths for the outside row. To do that, first drop the 13 from 13.667 leaving you 0.667 inch, then add 1 to get 1.667. Divide 1.667 by 2, which equals 0.833. Multiply the exposed plank width of 6 inches by .833 to get 5 inches. With a straight edge and a utility knife, cut the first row of planks to 5 inches wide, cutting off the tongue side of the plank.
When cutting the planks, lightly score them first with a sharp utility knife. Make a second pass slightly deeper, then make a third pass cutting most of the way through the plank. Now break the tile at the cut line.
For the track system, trim an additional 1/2 inch from the row against the wall yielding a 4-1/2-inch-wide plank.
Cut the plank to width for the first row of planks using a utility knife and a straight edge. Cut the tongue from the end of the first plank using a carpenter’s square and a utility knife.
Install clips on the hanger tracks and then push the plank into position – the teeth on the clips will bite into the cut edge of the plank.
At every other track, add a clip to the track, and slide the clip to support the groove edge of the plank. Continue installing the first row of cut planks along the wall, adding clips to every other track. Cut the final plank of the first row to fit the remaining space and install.
For the second row, begin creating a staggered pattern. Cut a plank to one-third the length of the first plank so that the cut removes the tongue end of plank. Push the tongue edge of this plank into the grooved edge of the installed plank.
Add clips to support the second row starter plank. Continue installing the second row by adding full planks and clips.
For the third row, start with a plank cut to two-thirds the length of a full plank. (Again, trim off the tongue end.) Insert the tongue edge of the plank into the previously installed row of planks and add clips.
Start the fourth row with a plank with just the tongue end removed. This will be the final row in the staggered pattern of the two previous rows. Continue adding planks in this staggered pattern across the rest of the ceiling.
For the final row, cut the plank to 1/2 inch narrower than the remaining space. This should be about the width of the first row of planks. Before installing the planks, add the clips to the tracks and press them against the wall. Fit the plank into position and engage the edge tongue. Use a small pry bar to press the clips into the edges of the final row of plank. Clips only need to engage the plank about 1/8-inch.
Using adhesive eliminates the need for tracks. If you choose this option, purchase seven tubes of adhesive for each box of planks. Each 10-oz tube of adhesive should be enough to install three planks, depending on the amount applied to each plank.
Cut the first row of planks to the determined width (5 inches) by trimming on the tongue side of each plank. Then cut off the tongue from the end that will go against the wall. Apply adhesive to the back of the trimmed plank in a wavy pattern -- a 1/4-inch-diameter bead will be sufficient for lightly textured surfaces.
Increase the adhesive bead size for heavily textured surfaces. A 5/16-inch bead will require about 25 percent more adhesive and a 3/8-inch bead 50 percent more. As a test, apply a bead and install a plank. Immediately remove it. If there are even amounts of adhesive on both surfaces, the bead is sufficient. If not, apply a larger bead.
Install the first plank with the cut edges against the wall and the groove facing out. Press the plank against the ceiling for a firm bond. Continue applying the planks until the entire first row is installed. Cut the final plank to fit.
For the second row, cut the first plank to about one-third of its length, removing the tongue end. Install the second row by tilting the tongue edge into the groove of the first row with the cut end against the end wall.
Install the remainder of the second row. The third row can start with a two-thirds plank to continue the staggered pattern. At the end of each row of planks, the waste piece may be used as a starter plank elsewhere to minimize waste -- just cut it to fit your pattern.
Install the last row by cutting the plank to fit the width of the gap between the plank and the wall or beam. This time, cut the plank to remove the grooved edge. If you’re duplicating this example, it should be about 5 inches wide to match the first row. Any small differences won’t be noticeable.
Where the planks meet the wall, cover the gap with your choice of trim. For a rustic look, a square trim would be best. For a more refined look, add a piece of decorative moulding.
Trim with square edges can be installed quickly without miters. For decorative trim, you’ll need to miter the corners.
Cut the trim to fit each length of wall and secure to the intersection of the wall and ceiling with glue and nails.
Apply a primer to the wood trim parts. When the primer has dried, apply two coats of ceiling paint to the planks and trim.