How to install vinyl grid covers over an existing drop ceiling grid frame

By Timothy Chapel

Ever walk into a room and notice how disgusting the ceiling looks? That always gives you a great feeling about the rest of the place doesn’t it…especially if it’s a restaurant!

First impressions are important and when it comes to drop ceilings, the look of that ceiling can explain a lot about a person’s character and what their priorities are.

covers1Clearly there are several factors involved when dressing up an existing ceiling like:

  • Is it better to remove the existing ceiling and replace it?
  • How long will the area being remodeled be out of commission?
  • What is the cost difference between covering the ceiling grid frame members and installing new ceiling grid?
  • Can I afford to have someone to do either?

All of these factors need to be taken into consideration when updating an existing drop ceiling. Let’s examine what it takes to install ceiling grid covers over existing grid.

We installed vinyl grid covers on a project recently, so we can give you an idea of what to expect.

Step 1   Components for a vinyl grid cover system

There are four separate pieces required for a 2×2 vinyl grid cover system. covers2The 2’ cover…The 4’ cover…The Main runner cover…and the wall angle cover. The main runner covers look just like the 4’ covers except for the notch in the main for the cross tees.

The wall angle cover is a simple cover that slips on over the wall angle.

One thing to note about the main and tee covers are that they only go on one way. There is a larger lip on one side. You would install the larger lip side first and then snap the smaller lip other end over the tee.

Step 2 Installing the vinyl grid covers on the wall angle

Begin by installing the wall angle cover at the corner first. You’ll find they install pretty easily until you get to the first tee.

The covers tend to be a little stubborn going on but eventually they go.

covers3When installing a piece adjacent to the first corner piece you have to notch out part of the end of the cover or it would be impossible to install. The problem is that the existing piece of wall angle goes underneath the other piece.

Once again you’ll find they don’t like to slip on where ever there is a tee intersecting at the angle.

Ultimately we have found that installing the wall angle covers is a very time consuming part of the job. We thought it would be easy, but it’s not.

Step 3 Installing the vinyl grid covers on the main runner

The existing main runner in our area wasn’t in too bad of shape so we were pretty sure it was going to be easy. We placed the cover up to the existing main and aligned the notch.

We begin by snapping on the cover. As the cover seats, you can hear it make a clicking noise.

Once again, just like the wall angle cover it’s kind of stubborn so we had tried the idea of using the butt end of a screwdriver to assist us. The screw driver idea worked out much better but installing the main runner covers went very slowly.

covers4One other thing we noticed was that if the tee was rusty, the cap did not go on very well, in fact it was almost impossible!

On a side note: Maybe these covers weren’t designed to be installed over rusty tees, but if the tees and mains have to be in great shape in order for the cover to go on easily, why would I need to cover them? One main runner cover took us 4 minutes to install!

We realized that this is not a job for the amateur, and even for the professional it’s not easy by any means.

Another thing that we found was happening was…because we had such a struggle installing the cover, the vinyl was getting marred up and dirty from all the pressure required to install it.

At this point we were thinking it would have been faster to install a new ceiling but we wanted to give the vinyl grid covers the benefit of the doubt so next we installed a 4’ tee cover on a mildly rusty tee.

Step 4 Installing the vinyl grid covers on the 2’ & 4’ cross tees

We were installing vinyl grid covers on a 2×2 ceiling grid system and we found that in order for the 4’ cover to go on properly you have to pound the existing 2’ tee up just a little bit so the cover will snap over the tee. The 4’ vinyl covers aren’t notched out like the mains so this little trick was required.

covers5We begin installing the cover and it goes pretty well until we get to the cross tee. Again, we had the same problem as with the wall angle covers where the intersecting tee was a problem.

Installing the 2’ vinyl cover was a problem as well. We placed the cover up to the grid and guess what we find…It’s too long. We had to cut a ¼” off every 2’ cover in the entire room.

As we install it we struggle a little bit and then discover that if we tap on the cover with a rubber mallet, it goes on pretty easily.

Step 5 Thoughts on installation of vinyl grid covers

It was a major struggle to install most of the vinyl grid covers and even when using the butt end of the screwdriver it was very tedious and slow, and not a very safe option.  We would not recommend this method.

covers6Anywhere we installed covers on rusty tees, the covers also got very dirty which means we had to spray and wipe down the entire grid system.

Well, three guys and 3 hours later, we finally got to the place where we were installing the new ceiling tile.

We remove the old tile and simply replaced it with a new one. We complete the tile installation in about an hour.

Step 6 Cost comparison of a vinyl grid cover installation vs. installing brand new drop ceiling grid

The ceiling that we install vinyl grid covers on was approximately 350 sq. ft.

The cost for a vinyl grid cover kit for this room was about $250. A new metal grid system would have cost about $260. There is a savings of $10 in favor of the vinyl grid covers.

What I don’t understand is how these little plastic pieces can cost as much as all the metal in a suspended ceiling. Go figure.

The ceiling tiles chosen by the customer cost about $300 and work with either system so it’s a tie as far as material costs go for ceiling tile.

The only real savings here, if any, over a metal grid installation would have to be on the labor so let’s look at the labor costs.

We used professional labor as a standard for this comparison.

covers7VINYL GRID INSTALLATION:

  • It took three guys 4 hours to install the vinyl covers, remove and replace the tile and clean the grid. That’s a total of 12 man hours to install the vinyl grid covers and the ceiling tile.

METAL GRID INSTALLATION:

  • With three guys it would have took 1 hour to demo the existing grid, wire up the lights and get rid of the old material.
  • It would have taken two guys 1 hour to install the new metal grid and three guys 1 hour to install the tile. Note: As we took down the old tiles we did noticed that there was insulation up above the ceiling.
  • We estimate that the insulation would have taken three guys 1 hour to re-install.
  • That would be a total of 11 man hours to install a new metal grid system and tiles.

Step 7 Summary of the drop ceiling vinyl grid cover installation

What does all this mean? It probably would have been faster if we would have torn the entire drop ceiling down and re-installed it. It would have looked better too.

Before

Before


After

After


The clear advantage to the vinyl covers was that we didn’t have the mess of demolition and we didn’t have to deal with the insulation.

So what is our opinion of installing vinyl covers over existing drop ceiling grid?

(1)          Vinyl cover installation is not for beginners.

(2)          Installing vinyl covers are not a cheap alternative to metal unless you do it yourself.

(3)          It would have been about the same price if this customer had requested a new ceiling.

(4)         Vinyl covers are simply a temporary fix you’ll be tearing it down at some point anyway.

(5)          The ceiling loses its sharp, clean look.

There clearly was an improvement to the ceiling if you look at the before and after pictures, which indicates to us that vinyl grid covers are an alternative to replacing the entire metal grid system.

For someone who’s on a very tight budget it would be the best choice but you would have to install it yourself to see any cost benefit.

The ease of installation is not easy, as even professionals have difficulty installing these covers. Our opinion is that if you can afford a little more…go with a new grid system because once the plastic covers start looking bad you’ll have to replace the entire system anyway.

To watch the actual vinyl grid cover installation, check out the video.

Good luck installing suspended ceilings! –Tim

*No Claim is made to the exclusive right to use “CEILINGS” apart from the mark as shown.