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Woodcutter 02-23-2009 09:12 AM

Suspended Ceiling - measure up or down?
I am finishing my basement and will install a suspended ceiling in the back half where all the mechanicals and pipes are run. I have 9' ceilings in the basement, so this still leaves me with an 8' ceiling.

My question is, when I am ready to strike the line to put up the edge angles, do I measure from the floor up, or from the floor joists above down? While the concrete floor seems to be level, I do not believe it is perfectly level, and I think if I measure from the floor up, I could have a celing that is not level. Since the floor above the basement is level, I thought that once I determine my optimum height, I could make a template to measure down from the joists for the wall angles and the wires supporting the grid.

Any suggestions? I have seen basement dropped ceilings that look like they are doing the 'wave' - all over the place. I do not want that.

Thanks! :)

Bob Mariani 02-23-2009 09:50 AM

use a rotating laser. Mark a level line along the laser mark and measure up from this. Or use a water level to do the same.

Termite 02-23-2009 11:45 AM

To clarify, a water level is a clear plastic flexible hose (3/8" or 1/2") with a certain quantity of water in it. Hold both ends above the ceiling and the water will find perfect level. Make marks on the wall and snap a line around the perimeter and you have something level to measure off of.

A laser sure does make it easy!

buletbob 02-23-2009 12:23 PM

Yes A roto Laser level would be your best bet as mentioned above.this way you could set your wall angles with the laser. then you can stretch a line from wall angle to wall angle to wire your main runners Wave free. BOB

bjbatlanta 02-23-2009 06:00 PM

Laser is the best if you can borrow one. Water level is good. Measure down from the joists should work fine. I usually do that in smaller areas. And pull a string line as Bob said. Move your line as you go to level the mains. Home Depot has the very thin leveling line in the ceiling grid dept. that you can pull very tight and there's not a lot of sag.

Brik 02-27-2009 05:16 PM

Measure down so you have enough room to install the panels make a single mark. Use level laser line off of that.

Black and decker has a relatively cheap, self leveling laser lever. I used it for mine. Works great in basements and is OK in sunlight for short throws.
Check it out at
only $49
Also, I did a series of podcasts on basement finishing at you may find helpful.

wrangler 02-27-2009 05:39 PM

Definitely use a laser level. and I would not be surprised if you could not rent one fairly cheaply from Home Depot. If they do not rent them, try calling around to your local rental centers. 1/4" difference in one section will show up when you are done if you don't have a perfectly straight line, and by measuring either up or down could leave you with that much variance or more.

bjbatlanta 02-27-2009 08:07 PM

More important than having enough room to install the tiles is enough room to install lay in lights (if you're using them) minimum 4-1/2" generally, and room to twist your hanger wires. If you use the proper gauge wire, you need a couple of inches just to be able to twist them. Measuring down in the corners and chalking a line will work unless it's a very large area. Pull "level" lines (string) across as you do the final leveling of the ceiling. A laser is great but hardly worth the trouble of moving around from room to room in an average basement. If it's a 600 -700 sq.ft. room, I could see it. A couple of 10'x12' or 12'x14' and a bath, I could measure down, chalk the lines, and have the wall angle up by in the time it takes to get a laser set up and leveled. The thing that will "tell on you" the worst is if the main tees and cross tees aren't straight (from one end of the room to the other). A laser won't help you there. A string line will. It will also get a ceiling level within tolerance (again, in a smaller area and always pull it as tight as you can get it across the shortest side of the room). And ABOVE ALL ELSE, if your ceiling is not SQUARE, you will have trouble getting the tiles in. There's not a lot of room for trimming to make them fit. And you can't trim a lay-in light. After you determine where your first main runner will be, pull a string line from one end of the room to the other. As you begin to add your cross tees from the side wall and lock them into the main, keep the center of that main in the center of the string line. Some tees will be shorter/longer than the others due to variances in your wall. KEEP THE MAIN STRAIGHT. Since you are cutting the tees for the border and there's nothing to "lock" them into the wall angle, it is worth buying some ceiling clamps (HD and Lowes both sell them) to hold the tees in place temporarily. Once you get that first main in place and have it clamped (every other cross tee) start your second main tee. Clamp it to the wall angle. add your 4' cross tees. Now measure corner to corner one of the 4' "squares". If it measures 53-5/16" - 53-1/4" (depending on how your particular tape reads) you are square. If not, the new main you put up needs to move in or out to square things up. That's the need for the clamps, for adjustment. May have to trim a bit off the main if you can't push it back enough. Once you are satisfied with the placement of the tees (especially the mains) they should be pop riveted in place. I would highly recommend spending money on a punch and pop rivet gun as opposed to a laser (HD and Lowes both sell them). You can come back and adjust the level of a ceiling after the fact, but once the tile and lights are in, it's REALLY difficult to try and make the lines of the grid look straight if the ceiling wasn't framed square. Check each main for square after you get some cross tees in. The rest is like an "erector set". Snap the tees in and go. Once you've got it framed for 2'x4' add the 2' tees if you want 2'x2'. If there's any chance at all of humidity in the basement, use 2'x2', 2'x4' WILL sag. I've framed hundreds of thousands of feet of commercial and residential ceilings and never used a laser for a basement. Wouldn't recommend for a one time use, spend the money on a punch and a rivet gun. You'd be surprised how many ceilings just look like c**p after a few months because they aren't riveted. All it takes is one of the kids to bang a main with a pool cue, soccer ball (why were you playing with that in the house anyway??).......

buletbob 02-28-2009 05:53 AM

Listen to BJB its great advice, in fact the correct advice. here its code in all commercial buildings to pop rivet ALL tee,s to the runners. You will thank your self later. :thumbsup: BOB

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