Acoustic tiles

(Bob Kast / illustration)

Dear James: It gets too noisy in the kids’ playroom. Are acoustic ceiling tiles difficult to install myself, and are there attractive ones made for home use?

— Michelle Y.

Dear Michelle: Most people like the sound-deadening characteristics of acoustic tiles, but then they think they must look like those big, ugly tiles in a school, supermarket, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth. Installing acoustic tiles in a relatively simple, medium-sized room is just a weekend project.

There are at least 50 various styles, textures and colors of residential acoustic ceiling tiles available. Although you are probably most familiar with the traditional white grid supports, they are also available in attractive woodgrain, black and brass.

I have installed many suspended tile ceilings, and it can easily be a one-person job. You should be able to do a typical room, start to finish, in about one day. The only particular skill it requires is good planning and attention to detail.

A suspended acoustic tile ceiling is an excellent choice for your playroom. First and most obvious, it reduces loud reverberating sounds and can help block sound transmission to adjacent rooms. You’ll appreciate this at night.

Also, suspended ceilings make it easy to run wiring to speakers, game controls to the television, etc. It even simplifies the installation of additional ceiling lighting if necessary. Light fixtures are specifically designed to fit the common grid patterns.

There are significant variations among different types and brands of acoustic ceiling tiles — sound-deadening, washability, color, styles, etc. Read the product packaging carefully. Some so-called acoustic ceiling tiles barely deaden noise at all.

Sound-deadening properties of acoustic tiles depend primarily on the density and weight of the tile and the surface characteristics. If you look closely, the surface of tiles with a noise reduction coefficient of about 50% is a mass of tiny holes.

Some tiles are washable, and others are not. Particularly if you have a fireplace in your family room, I recommend a washable tile. The salesperson at the ceiling tile outlet can help you with this.

Just a note about old tiles. The only method to renew the appearance of old nonwashable tiles is to paint them. In order to maintain the acoustic properties, the tiny surface holes must not be clogged with paint. If you paint tiles, use two or three very light coats of spray paint.

Your next decision is to select the edge treatment of your tiles. Most acoustic tiles are available in three edge profiles: square, beveled and notched. The beveled design provides a more contemporary appearance. The notched ones tend to hide the support grids somewhat.

If you are not interested in running wires above the ceiling or additional lighting, consider installing interlocking tiles that you either staple to furring strips or glue directly to the ceiling.

Before you glue them to the ceiling, make sure this is what you want because it is no easy task to remove them and restore the ceiling. With a suspended ceiling, you can change the tiles whenever you like. Vary the types and patterns of tiles for a unique decor.

When you install the grid pattern, pay attention to the manufacturer’s recommendations for the clearance of the dropped ceiling from the old ceiling. Do not try to gain a little extra overall room height. If there is not enough clearance, you will not have room to get the tiles in place.

If your room is slightly out of square (and whose isn’t?), snap a chalk line down the center of the room splitting the difference. This leaves a similar-sized tile border on each side of the room and makes the out-of-squareness less apparent.

James Dulley is a mechanical engineer, an avid Do-It-Yourselfer and a nationally syndicated columnist with Email your questions to him at Here’s How. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

James Dulley

James Dulley

James Dulley is a mechanical engineer, an avid Do-It-Yourselfer and a nationally syndicated columnist with Email your questions to him at Here’s How. The opinions expressed are his own.