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Homeowner needs advice on how to cover old ceiling tiles

QuestionI anticipate a project to freshen up the paint in one of the rooms of my 1927 house. The ceiling is covered with acoustic tiles, apparently installed in a remodel about 1960. I would like to restore the room to a more authentic and less commercial look.

Because of the location of cabinetry, covering the tiles with a layer of drywall is not a good option. This same cabinetry makes removing the tiles problematic, so I would like to hide or cover the tiles. I've seen systems advertised which cover plaster with heavy wallpaper-like material and was wondering if you had any experience with such products. If I were to use such a method, what could I use to fill in the seams between tiles? I would like to achieve a smooth look and not resort to some sort of texture or popcorn spray.

AnswerYou have an interesting project planned—thanks for sending photos. Yes, there are products on the market similar to wallpaper that cover a multitude of sins and eliminate the need to fill in the tile seams. The time involved to fill the seams would be considerable, so instead I recommend that you research a couple of products by Flexi-Wall Systems. In general, applying a Flexi-Wall finish is similar to installing conventional wall covering material.

Plaster In A Roll is a one-step, crack-proof wall covering available in three decorative textured weaves. It covers walls and ceilings in one easy step with little or no preparation and can bring a sound-absorbing atmosphere to interior spaces.

The second product, Faster Plaster, is a two-step upgrade to most finishes. After its installation on walls or ceiling, you can apply your preferred final finish: paint, vinyl, plaster, or paper. This product also allows you to upgrade cinder blocks, wallboard, paneling, or tile for a fresh look. Both products would work in your situation. To learn more, call 800-843-5394 or visit Flexiwall at www.flexiwall.com.

Alternatively you could remove the tile and the furring strips attached to the lath and plaster ceiling and install drywall directly against the ceiling. This would give you enough room to put up a finished trim molding on the cabinet's face (rail) up against the new ceiling.

However, because the tile has been there since the 1960s, I would be concerned about the presence of asbestos. Before removing any tile, cut a 1-inch by 1-inch sample using a utility knife and send it to an independent laboratory for analysis (look for "Asbestos Consulting & Testing" in the yellow pages). Use only a utility knife to cut the sample as a power tool will send fibers airborne. Wet the area before you collect the sample, and place it into a zipper-style plastic bag for shipment to the lab. If the test comes back positive, then plan to encase the tile with one of the Flexiwall products or install new drywall directly to the ceiling tile.

If you prefer to have the tile removed, bring in a contractor who specializes in the safe removal of asbestos (found in the yellow pages under "Asbestos Abatement") or contact your local air pollution control authority or whoever regulates asbestos abatement in your area. They would be able to provide you with useful information about asbestos abatement for homeowners who want to do the work themselves.

If you opt to install drywall directly to the ceiling tiles, fasten directly into the furring strips under the tiles. Locate these furring strips with a stud finder such as the Triscanner by Zircon. You can set this particular unit to "stud deepscan" and find framing members by hovering the unit 1/4 inch over the surface. Because your ceiling is painted, it would be OK to drag a stud finder across the surface. If the room has a ceiling light, an extension to the ceiling electrical box or longer fixture screws may be required.

Note that a building permit will be required if you decide to hang drywall. A permit is not necessary if you apply either of the two Flexiwall products.

Don't worry about the distance from the new ceiling to the top of the cabinet doors because the doors can be cut down to accommodate a finish trim. At least three sides of the new ceiling can be taped back into the wall. The joint at the cabinet's face will be covered with a finished trim molding.

Use a table saw, or a circular saw with a finish blade, to cut the top of the doors down, allowing about 1/2-inch of space between the top of the door and the bottom of 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch quarter-round molding. Use a router to cut a dado into the backside of the newly cut area to match the cut on the bottom of the door. Finish the top outside edge using a sander or router to match existing doors and rehang. Next, measure from this new dado cut to the underside of the rail (the horizontal face/top frame of the door's opening) and cut a new filler piece less 1/8 inch in height. This will leave some space so the door doesn't rub on the filler when closing. Screw the filler pieces to the underside of the rail and between the stiles (vertical face frame). Predrill the holes and countersink the screws so the filler pieces don't crack and plug the countersunk holes with wood putty.

My top recommendation would be to remove the ceiling tiles and furring strips to achieve extra height to the ceiling. If asbestos is present, I would encase the tiles using drywall and cut the cabinet doors down, adding filler pieces as necessary. The choice is yours—good luck!

Copyright © 2004, 2006, & 2007 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved.
Question answered by Leon A. Frechette.



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