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Drop ceiling can be used in a bathroom as long as doing so does not make the bathroom ceiling lower than the code-prescribed 6’8”. Furthermore, the materials used have to be moisture-resistant and or be treated with a protective coating.
A drop or suspended ceiling is often installed in a bathroom to hide unsightly pipes, heating ductwork, building infrastructure, and any other necessary equipment which needs to be hidden from sight. This type of ceiling is also excellent for soundproofing the bathroom and displaying light fixtures. However, because of the humidity in bathrooms, moisture is a concern when installing a drop ceiling.
Below I take you through the minimum requirements of allowable drop ceiling in the bathroom, some great materials, and how to install a drop ceiling.
Bathroom Drop Ceiling Requirements
The International Residential Code (IRC) does not mention any defined regulations for a drop ceiling in a bathroom. The code does, however, stipulate the following regulations that should be complied with before installing a dropped ceiling:
- The minimum allowable height of the bathroom ceiling
- Protecting the ceiling against moisture in the bathroom
When considering a drop ceiling, check with your local authorities regarding local codes and rules for your area. Although all local codes and regulations supersede the IRC, local codes must be used in conjunction with the IRC.
Minimum Allowable Bathroom Ceiling Height
R305.1 of IRC defines the minimum height of the bathroom ceiling—this rule applies to a standard or a dropped ceiling.
“Bathrooms, toilet rooms, and laundry rooms shall have a ceiling height of not less than 6 feet 8 inches (2032 mm).”
Exceptions to this rule (which are pertinent to drop ceilings) are:
- Rooms with sloped ceilings. While the floor area of the room should have a ceiling height of 5 ft (1524 mm), 50% of the floor area should have a ceiling height of 7 ft (2134 mm).
- The ceiling height above the bathroom and toilet fixtures should be high enough to allow these fixtures to be used for their intended purposes. This means that the minimum height is most important over something like a showerhead and the ceiling must be 6’8″ for an area of 30″ (762 mm) by 30″ (762 mm) above the fixture.
Protecting the Ceiling Against Moisture
Bathrooms are humid spaces, more so if you have a shower or bathtub installed. Using moisture-resistant materials and mold-resistant paint is a good idea in a bathroom that is used often. Water vapor and dampness should be controlled to prevent long-term water damage.
Choosing the Best Material
A typical drop ceiling is suspended by a metal grid that supports individual tiles. Because of this type of grid-like ceiling structure, everything hidden above the ceiling is easily accessible even though it’s out of sight!
When choosing materials for your dropped ceiling, consider the following:
- The weight of the tiles—they must be easy to remove.
- The style and material should complement your bathroom décor.
- The material should be durable, waterproof, and mold- and mildew-resistant.
- Consider your budget—factor in the costs of purchasing the materials needed, the installation, and future maintenance and repairs.
Do your research before buying ceiling materials for your bathroom. Some materials like Fiberboard are susceptible to water damage and staining and should never be used in a moist, humid environment, even if painted with waterproof paint.
Let’s discuss some of the available options to see which suits your needs according to your budget.
Cementboard is the best inexpensive backer material primarily used behind tiles in a wet area. Cementboard is made from a mixture of glass fibers and cement to provide a solid base on which to install tiles, including ceiling tiles.
As cementboard lacks organic matter, it is resistant to mold and rot and will not warp or shrink, making it the ideal backing base when used as a sub-surface for tiling in moist, humid areas.
If you decide to go with the cementboard option and are doing a DIY installation, you will need a tool to cut the board to the correct sizes. A great option is the PacTool Snapper Shear (amazon link), which is an attachment that fits onto any drill.
2. Drywall (Green Board)
Green board is a moisture-resistant, inexpensive bathroom ceiling material. The board itself is green but is available in different textures like orange peel or splatter. Simply paint over the green board with water-resistant paint to enhance and match the décor of the bathroom.
Using high-quality paint should prevent high maintenance costs for many years, making Green board an inexpensive, durable, and hardy ceiling material, even in a bathroom.
Because of the textured style, the Green board hides all imperfections and is lightweight enough to cover old, damaged ceilings without incurring expensive installation costs. The textured style is designed to absorb sounds reducing the noise in the space—always a plus in a bathroom!
Fiberglass ceiling tiles are manufactured by encasing glass fibers into resins and pressing them into the required sized panels. Fiberglass is durable, maintenance-free, and protects from long-term water damage, making it an excellent choice for ceiling boards in a bathroom!
Fiberglass is the most common bathroom ceiling material used in American bathrooms as it is visually appealing and inexpensive! Fiberglass is available in pre-cut sheets making for an easy DIY installation.
As a bonus, fiberglass has insulating qualities, making it effective at sound absorption, which means that you can play your favorite sounds as loud as you like while taking a shower! A great feature to have in a bathroom!
4. PVC, Plastic, Or Vinyl
These plastic materials are highly versatile with a wide range of styles and designs. You can purchase PVC or plastic tile pre-finished in various colors made to resemble metals, wood, mirrors, stained or murals, or you can paint them yourself!
Plastic materials are a popular choice for drop ceilings as they are entirely waterproof, nonporous, aren’t prone to rust, and don’t absorb moisture. They are resistant to mildew and mold and won’t sag or discolor due to the moisture and humidity in the bathroom.
PVC panels are inexpensive, lightweight, and easy to install, perfect for a dropped ceiling!
5. Metal (Steel, Tin, Aluminium, Copper)
Stamping or molded metal tiles are fire, water, and mold resistant, making them durable and long-lasting. The downside of using metal tiles in the bathroom is they echo, making your room rather noisy! Painted metals are quieter, so they are a better choice for a bathroom.
Metal is easy to clean and can be polished to a beautiful shine to enhance the look of your bathroom space. Most metal for bathroom ceilings is supplied in embossed tiles or sheets, offering a quick installation with the possibility of removing one tile instead of the entire roof to repair damages.
It seems that one of the biggest US suppliers of materials that would be appropriate for drop ceilings in a bathroom is Armstrong Ceilings (manufacturer link), so you can start there on your hunt for the best ceiling tile for you.
What About Paint in a Bathroom?
Painting a bathroom dropped ceiling is an inexpensive and convenient solution to giving your old, outdated bathroom a modern facelift. You could change the entire look of your bathroom annually by changing the color of the paint!
When choosing the ideal paint for the bathroom, points to consider are water vapor and condensation, leading to mold and mildew, or bubbling and peeling paint. A bathroom window or good ventilation in the bathroom will slow down the damage, but ultimately, the choice of paint will protect the ceiling from damage.
The best paints for a bathroom are:
- Semi-gloss paint, which is tough, moisture-resistant, and will prevent the growth of mold and mildew in more humid bathrooms.
- Satin paint, which is moisture and mildew-resistant and best for bathrooms with lower humidity.
Top tips for painting your bathroom ceiling:
- Never paint over mildew. Always scrub the existing mildew from the ceiling before repainting.
- Install a waterproof membrane to protect ceiling corners, seams, and ceiling-wall edges.
Installing a Good Bathroom Fan
High humidity in your bathroom can damage wood cabinets, shelving and your ceiling structure. To protect porous materials in your bathroom, install a good bathroom fan to vent the air out and away.
If you install a bathroom fan in a dropped ceiling in the bathroom, first install the correct blocking between the joists above the ceiling tiles to lower the fan down to ceiling height.
Choose a fan with the correct capacity for your bathroom—a stronger fan might exhaust the moist air slightly faster, but using a too big fan for the space could waste energy and cost you more!
Additionally, install vent ducting from the fan to the home’s exterior to ensure that the humid air is forced out of and away from the bathroom and not into the ceiling.
A bathroom fan is excellent for venting the air out of the bathroom. Still, it can be time-consuming to remember to switch it off and back on. My informative article, Are Humidity Sensing Bathroom Fans Worth It will provide excellent advice on the advantages of a humidity sensing bathroom fan.
How to Install Drop Ceiling in a Bathroom
If you are a DIYer and are ready to install the drop ceiling yourself, it can be done with the correct planning, tools, and equipment. Before you start, however, consider the following:
- Safety first – always have the appropriate PPE gear, gloves, goggles, and a strong ladder.
- Tools – consult the installation manual for the correct tools to use for the job. Have all the tools available and within easy reach to prevent accidents while reaching for tools that are not readily accessible.
- Site preparation – check the direction of the joists and main beams before you begin to know which beams can carry the additional weight of the ceiling frame.
- Plan your layout before you begin – this is a vital step! Draw a floor plan of the area to know which tile to place where.
The informative video below will give you clear instructions on what to do and how to do it!
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