7th Dec 2022 -

How to Plasterboard a Ceiling the Right Way 

Plasterboarding a ceiling can be a lot trickier than a wall, thanks to the effects of gravity. As a result, fixing using dot and dab adhesive installation methods is not advisable - and plasterboard screws or plasterboard nails are essential fixings.

The key is fixing the plasterboards to the ceiling joists, which form the equivalent support structure for the ceiling as studs do in a stud wall. This can be a bit difficult when you have an existing plasterboard ceiling where you are reapplying your plasterboard - as you will be unable to see it. Of course, sometimes there may be no joists at all - such as in the case of concrete ceilings. 

The process is slightly different for each type of ceiling. It is entirely possible to plasterboard an existing, concrete ceiling or new ceiling by yourself with some special techniques and lifting tools. 

How to Plasterboard an Existing Ceiling

There are several key reasons for plasterboarding over an existing ceiling. You might want to board over existing dry-lining sheets with an extra layer of insulated plasterboard for more warmth. You might also create soundproof ceiling systems by adding a layer of acoustic plasterboard. Putting a board on a board is called ‘overboarding’, but you may also be replacing an existing ceiling.

As we know, it’s all about the joists. So, when you look up at a ceiling - where are they? It’s a difficult question to answer without X-ray specs, but there are a few key tips to keep in mind to help find the joists:

Check the loft

You might have a loft, in which case you can likely easily determine where the joists are by taking a trip up there and measuring the spaces. On the ceiling below, you can simply mark the position of the joists.

Strip the boards

As plasterboard is a relatively low-cost material you could strip off the sheets of the existing ceiling and find the joists that way. As you will be redecorating the ceiling anyway, this is often a viable option.

Use a stud finder

You can use a stud finder on the ceiling to easily locate the joists, similarly to how you would find the studs in a partition wall. Stud finders often use magnets but there are also radar and microwave models.

Once you have found the ceiling joists you can now begin fixing plasterboard sheets to create the surface of the ceiling. The process is straightforward for most competent DIYers if you use the following step-by-step guide:

  1. Cut the boards: To measure a ceiling for plasterboard, simply multiply the length and width to get the square foot or square meter area. You can use a plasterboard knife to cut the boards, but you may also benefit from using a mechanical multi-tool or hand saw that can help to speed up the process.
  2. Position the boards’ corner first: Start in the corner and fix the boards to the joists, you can get easier, faster results with a helper but we will explore how to put up boards on your own too. Fix all boards using your marks as a guide. The edge of the boards should fit halfway across each of the joists.
  3. Fix the boards using plasterboard screws: Screws are the best option for existing ceilings as they are so reliable and sturdy, you can also get very long screws that will penetrate the existing layer of boards. Once all of the boards are fixed into place - the new ceiling surface is ready for decoration.

Plasterboarding is a similar process whether you are doing it on a stud partition wall, an external wall or on a ceiling. Once you have successfully put up the boards, you can use jointing tape to finish the ceiling as you would an ordinary wall - the plasterboard tape provides a smooth, even surface for you to paint.

How to Plasterboard a Concrete Ceiling

If you have a concrete ceiling you would be forgiven for thinking it may be unnecessary to plasterboard. However, suspended ceilings in concrete structures often use plasterboards instead of grids to conceal pipework, ducting, wiring and other building features - also to hold ceiling lights. Most apartment blocks use a concrete ceiling with a plasterboard or chipboard ceiling for wiring just below.

To plasterboard a concrete ceiling the best method is to batten and board the space, similarly to how you might plasterboard a brick external wall. It is more complex, but the great thing about this method is there is no need to find joists.

The following method is how to build a suspended ceiling using timber battens, which will let you secure plasterboard to a concrete wall or ceiling:

Cut the battens

Cut battens to length as the first step. You will need to use timber battens - typically 25 mm thick but maybe more if you want a larger suspended ceiling gap to create airflow. You can also use special acoustic battens that absorb sound vibrations using a soft, pre-bonded laminate. 

Fit the battens

You need to use strong masonry screws and a power drill to attach the battens to the concrete ceiling. Much like a wall, ceilings that use plasterboard need to be filled with battens 400 mm to 600 mm apart. Due to the effects of gravity - 400 mm is probably the best option.

Fit the boards

You can next fit the boards as you would do into the ceiling joists. Although you need masonry screws for the battens themselves - you can use plasterboard screws or plasterboard nails to secure the plasterboards to the battens of a concrete ceiling. It is now ready to finish.

As plasterboarding a concrete ceiling is usually a means to camouflage various parts, it is typically done as one of the final stages of decorating - once all utilities are put in place. However, you can also cut a hole into a board to install an optional access panel - to help with any rewiring or maintenance down the line.

How to Plasterboard a New Ceiling

Whether you are building an extension on your home or want to create a new mezzanine level in a bigger space, it is quite simple to plasterboard a new ceiling. Again, new ceilings have the luxury of visible joists, which makes this type of plasterboard ceiling a much simpler one to complete.

After the timber for the ceiling structure is installed plasterboarding can be installed by using the following simple steps:

  1. Cut the boards: Cutting the boards is easily done with a Stanley knife on new ceilings, but again larger ceiling spaces can benefit from the use of a more powerful hand tool - that can make it much faster and easier to cut.
  2. Fit the boards: From the corner of the room start to gradually fill out and fix the boards onto the ceiling joists. New ceilings can make use of either plasterboard screws or nails to fix the boards in place.
  3. Finish: Joint taping in a new ceiling is essential for a smooth surface so be sure to skim each area with a jointing compound to cover up all the fixings and any seams within the ceiling system - the surface is now ready to paint. 

Most people will not struggle when plasterboarding a new ceiling with a helper as the process is similar to that of a new partition wall - albeit with the effects of gravity complicating things somewhat. However, this should not be too much of an issue and you can theoretically install a plasterboard ceiling on your own.

How to Plasterboard a Ceiling on Your Own

It is always easier to install a plasterboard ceiling with someone helping you to lift it. But you can plasterboard a ceiling on your own by using a prop method, which people also call a ‘dead man prop’. To do so you can follow these simple steps:

  1. Cut a couple of pieces of timber, 1 to about 50 mm longer than the ceiling height and the other to 600 mm - a bit wider than the joists or battens.
  2. Screw the smaller piece into the end of the longer piece - creating a T-shape. For large boards, you may need more than one prop.
  3. Put the board up to the ceiling and when you have it in position remove one hand to place the prop underneath. Simply rest the prop against the wall near where you will be standing - so it is in easy reach to move.  

You can also buy plasterboard support rods and even plasterboard lifters, which take all of the strain out of lifting the plasterboard at height. You can often hire these from DIY stores if you have a project that you want to complete by yourself.

Tips When Plasterboarding a Ceiling

When you are looking to install plasterboards on either a wall or ceiling there are some tips for a better, safer outcome:

  • Use a dust mask: This is especially important when you are sawing timber or cutting your plasterboard with a multi-tool or mechanical saw.
  • Get quality materials: Sometimes suppliers will not have everything you need, so be sure to select quality merchants for the best boards.
  • Measure twice, cut once: You cannot ‘un-cut a plasterboard or a piece of timber, so make sure that all of your measurements are double-checked.
  • Wear safety goggles: Eye protection is essential for working on ceilings as particles of wood, the dust of gypsum and other bits can fall into your eyes. 

Whether you are using fire-resistance, acoustic or simply insulated boards it is a good idea to keep the above in mind when plasterboarding all ceilings and walls.

In Summary

Many people wonder how to plasterboard a ceiling the best way and it depends on the type of ceiling you want to put up. Plasterboard ceilings rely on ceiling joists or ceiling battens for their support. You can put up plasterboard ceilings of any kind with the same essential principles as a plasterboard wall, although there are differences in wall preparation and the fixings you use. 

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