Metal ceilings are making a comeback

James and Morris Carey
Friday January 18, 2002

We live, work and play in the town where we were born and raised — Pittsburg, Calif. 

Urban renewal hit our downtown in the early ’70s. Dozens of turn-of-the century buildings were leveled to make room for a new waterfront complex and new housing developments. What was once our local business district — and the epitome of small-town America — disappeared. Since then there have been repeated attempts to revive the old area. And although several of the old buildings have been restored, the downtown area as we once knew it has vaporized. 

Only one of the original businesses still survives — The New Mecca Cafe. It’s been there since we were kids. The man who owns it is from Mexico and its food is known for hundreds of miles around. Everyone knows where the Mecca is. The food served there today tastes as it did 30 years ago. Even the metal ceiling — an excellent example of restoration (restored about 20 years ago) — looks precisely as it did when the old building was originally built in the early 1900s. 

Our downtown may not have survived, but experts say there is a resurgence of interest in old-fashioned architectural finishes — and in particular, metal ceilings. 

The Internet lists many companies that offer metal ceiling tiles in all shapes and sizes. Ceiling tiles aren’t made just of metal anymore. New offerings are available in plastic and in fibrous acoustic materials. For more on what’s available on the Internet, go to your favorite search engine and type in “metal ceiling tile.” 

Metal tiles used to be made of plated brass and painted copper and were usually found in 1-by-1, 1-by-2, 2-by-4 and 4-by-8 sizes (all sizes are in feet). They were tacked to wooden furring strips spaced 12 inches apart. Crown moldings, borders and center medallions also were available. 

All of those shapes, sizes and accessories still are available. You now can make a ceiling in your home look like the turn-of-the-century ceiling you used to see at the old five-and-dime store. Wall panels still can be found as well. 

However, ornate as they might be, metal panels are not acoustically sound. You could be asking for reverberations galore by installing metal surfaces in some modern homes. Metal ceilings most often were used in commercial buildings, and therefore were usually 20 to 30 feet up. It’s hard to see installation details (nails and seams) from such a distance. And the acoustics in a store with a high ceiling are quite different from those in a home with a much lower ceiling. 

We love metal ceilings, but there is a place for everything and everything has its place. Metal ceiling tiles work well on large, high ceilings. The reason is that the smallest tile is 1-foot square — not small by tile standards. Using large metal tiles in small rooms and halls was once popular, but today’s ceilings are lower, and that can make a difference. 

If you have the right place for a metal tile ceiling, you will need to install a grid of wooden furring strips. The spacing of the strips will depend on the size of the tiles that you purchase. Some sculpted tiles that can be glued into place are available. How easy can it get? In any event, you must select the tile before deciding on the installation method. 

Tiling a ceiling is no different from tiling a floor or a counter. A good job cannot be achieved unless the tiles are laid out first. In most cases, you will start with the first tile centered in both directions in the room. In this way, opposing edges will match in width, and the result will be more uniform. By drawing an X in the room (from corner to corner) you can locate the center.  

To make the job a little easier, draw the ceiling to scale on a piece of paper. It will give you a better idea of where things eventually will be placed. 

For more home improvement tips and information visit our Web site at www.onthehouse.com. 

Tips of the week:  


Toilet Flush



If your toilet is not flushing properly, you might think it’s low water pressure that’s causing the problem. But pressure has nothing to do with it. The water in the tank does the job. It fills the bowl and starts the flush-and-siphon action, and the p-trap below completes it. Gravity starts a flush, and natural siphoning draws it through. When a toilet doesn’t work right, something is inhibiting water flow. Maybe a line is blocked; or water ports under the rim are clogged; or the tank is not full enough. First check the tank’s water level. If it’s low, adjust it by raising the float. Then try cleaning the water ports using white vinegar and a coat hanger. If that doesn’t do it, call in a sewer and drain specialist.  



Low-voltage Lighting



Are your outdoor security lights on all night? Beautify, protect and save energy with low-voltage lighting instead. It’s a smart replacement for outdoor floor lighting. Do-it-yourself systems are easy to install, and they plug into any standard 110-volt outlet. Sets have walkway lights with optional floodlights and color lenses for dramatic landscape lighting. Versatile and beautiful when in place, some sets use only 11 watts per light, and cost less than a single 110-volt floodlight to operate. And, because they don’t use enough current to be dangerous, even a novice can install them without concern for fire or shock. It isn’t necessary to remove your old security lights. Instead, add a motion-sensor switch on each, and you’ll have the best of both worlds — beautiful low voltage, energy-saving lighting and brilliant 110-volt security when things go bump in the night.