Look up: Time for a Unique Ceiling?

Written by Doug Bonderud
Updated September 25, 2015
ceiling with crown molding
Crown molding adds a unique touch to a ceiling. (Photo by Summer Galyan)

If you're tackling a home remodel, it's worth considering a unique ceiling installation instead of standard matte or popcorn. Here are some of the most popular ceiling types, costs and benefits.

If you're in the middle of a home remodel, it's worth looking up before the work is done. While standard ceilings are cost-effective and simple to install, there's a case to be made for unique ceilings—the right treatment can turn a bland kitchen or living room into something else entirely. Here are some of the most popular types, and what you can expect to pay for materials and installation.

Standard Ceilings

When you hire a remodeling contractor, most will budget for a "standard" installation. The simplest ceiling type is known as "smooth" or "flat" and will look exactly like you walls: Painted and unadorned. These ceilings are simple, but require a professional touch to hide any imperfections. Expect to pay between $2000 and $3000 extra for smooth ceilings throughout your home. Wondering why this is an extra charge? It's because another type, the "popcorn" ceiling, is actually less expense. These ceilings gained popularity in the 1980s since they didn't require painting—instead, contractors could spray them on using a special applicator. When finished, these ceilings look like small bits of popcorn or cottage cheese. On the plus side, they provide excellent acoustic dampening, owing to a larger surface space but are hard to paint, hard to repair and difficult to remove. Many homeowners want homes without popcorn ceilings, but this comes with a price.

Drop ceilings are another common type, often found in basements. Here, a metal grid is constructed just above the top of your drywall, leaving a "drop" under the rafters. Mineral-fiber or fire-rated wood panels are then placed into the grid. If the panels are too large or too bright, these ceilings can have an institutional feel, but do allow easy access in the event of a burst pipe or electrical issue.

Spectacular Substitutes

If you're hoping to think outside the box, however, there are a number of unique options available. Crown moulding is one option—these are one or two inch pieces of textured or carved wood which cover the joints where drywall and ceilings meet. Expect to pay between $5 and $7 per linear foor for installation, and more if you want thicker pieces with elaborate designs. Crown moulding offers a simple enhancement to your roof and serves as an accent to similar baseboard mouldings. As a bonus, it is relatively easy to remove.

Tin ceilings are also a unique option for your home. Originally, these metal ceilings consisted of tin plates stamped with a design and then tightly fit, but modern options include aluminum or plastic made to look metallic, then hand-painted. A simple, "nail-up" option goes for $1500 to $2000, but isn't a good idea if you have anything less than ten-foot ceilings, since the reflective nature of this product can make small spaces seem claustrophobic. If you're willing to pay the price, a home builder can increase ceiling height for $5000 to $10000 for the whole home. If you don't want to pay quite that much, consider a tray ceiling in one main room, which has a standard height perimeter but is taller in the center. This adds a sense of spaciousness, and costs approximately $1500 for a 10-by-12 foot room.

Other unique options include wood beam ceilings, which give homes a classic or historic feel. Often, these are 4-by-4 inch beams laid in a cross pattern; both real wood and high-density polyurethane are available. You'll need the help of a professional to cut and install these beams and they won't work for everyone—they're commonly stained a dark brown, which can seem to masculine or heavy in some rooms. Another choice is a coffered ceiling, which is a series of recessed squares. This type comes with a mid-range cost—between $1200 and $1500 for a single room—but adds a great focal point and gives the impression of greater space.

Picking a Pro

The right contractor to install your ceilings has a good grasp on basic options and is willing to do his homework on more unique styles. If he's never done a particular type before, or if you're unsure how the finished product will look, set up a series of milestones before work begins. That way, you'll have a chance to evaluate the contractor's work and your reaction at each step in the process, and change your mind if needed. In addition, always get more than one quote. Call a general remodeling company, a ceiling specialist and local handyman—see who offers the best combination of price and knowledge.

Unique ceilings can make all the difference in a room. Popcorn is still a viable option, but it's not your only choice.