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Ceiling Renovation


November 2006

Family Room Ceiling Renovation

My wife and I like brightly lit rooms. Whoever built our house, evidently did not. Over the 8 years we've had our house we've replaced or added light fixtures in several rooms. The family room on the main floor is now at the top of the list.

Here is a before photo:

It really did not have enough light in it. We even went to the radical step of adding a window to the room a few years ago, but it still is fairly dark. With a dark wood floor, tall dark bookcases, a sizeable masonry fireplace, and a location on the NW corner of the house, the room was just too dark. We use it as our homeschooling room, and it really needs better light.

There are rooms above it, so we don't have the "luxury" of an open attic in which to do rewiring. Right now there is just one light fixture, in front of the fireplace, and NOT centered in the room. Even so, at over 11x16, one lonely light in the middle of the room isn't much good.

We considered several things: I've thought about track lighting, but in order to properly light the room, I think we'll end up with 8-12' of track on the ceiling, which seems unsightly. I've thought of adding wall sconces, since I can feed up wires from the (unfinished) basement. However two of the walls are outdoor walls, and fishing through an insulated wall is not easy. I could do wall sconces with cords, but again, I'd prefer to have something built in, for the best looks. And finally, floor lamps, and lamps on end tables were also ruled out, for the space they'd take up.

We certainly did not want to take down the whole ceiling either, as that would be a huge messy job. Also, it is a popcorn ceiling, which I am not fond of. I do not know a way to seamlessly, or easily, patch a popcorn ceiling.

So, when you can't hide it, make it a feature. Flaunt it, even.

We came up with a plan to rip down a large rectangular section of ceiling in the middle of the room. This would cover all the space where we needed to move wiring. Then fill in the hole with smooth drywall, and leave it smooth. Finally a wooden frame would be constructed and put up on the ceiling, covering the transition from the popcorn ceiling to the smooth ceiling.

Here is a plan of what we had in mind. This is a view looking up through the floor (the floor is omitted from the diagram). We were pretty sure that this would work, and look nice.

And So To Work

Here we are cutting out a 4x9 section of ceiling.

Naturally we had an attentive audience.

And here it is mostly gone.

Then with the ceiling down there was the relatively easily job of moving and relocating the wiring. Boy, that is so much easier than trying to fish through drywall and work through these tiny little holes.

I did have one "Aughh!!!" moment when I was drilling some holes through the joist with a 3/4" spade bit and it caught, ripped the drill out of my hand and flew down toward the floor. It was only sort-of in the direction of my kids who were watching from the doorway, but that is enough to give palpatations to any dad. The drill was fine, came nowhere near the kids. But the shaft of the bit had a nice 15-degree bend in it. Couldn't find a gouge in the floor either.


Then we muscled a new piece of drywall into place. The size of the of the hole was deliberately chosen to ease the job as much as possible. It covers over the location of the old light fixture. It covers all the holes left by the mount points for the old track light. It covers everything that we need open in order to move the wires around. It is reasonably nicely centered in the ceiling (more on that later) and it is fillable by ONE sheet of drywall (4x10, trimmed down a bit) so the amount of patching to do is pretty minimal.

My 9yr old wanted to help, and was just tall enough to help with some of the mudding, while standing on a bench of course.

Patched Ceiling:

here are the two new light fixtures. There are three standard light sockets in each of them, and with a 23 watt compact fluorescent in each -- each of which gives the equivalent of a 100 watts of incandescant bulb -- there was a TON of light. It was wonderfull. Of course, I did have to turn them OFF in order to be able to snap a picture...

Here is the frame ready to go. The frame I made was of ash. resawed and planed down to 1/2" thick, by 2-1/2" wide. I stained it fairly dark, to match the bookshelves (oak) and flooring already in the room.

I also pre-assembled the frame. Why would I do that? Well, I wanted to be absolutely certain that it was square. This was rather challenging, working with a long flimsy 4'x9-1/2' frame in my shop. To improve the strength, and make the glue-up smoother, I routed out a roughly 2x2" by 1/8" deep recess behind each miter joint, and glued in a piece of hardboard. At half an inch thick, the trim was too narrow for biscuits, as well as screws. This was a bit awkward, but as the end result is completely hidden against the ceiling, it worked well. MUCH stronger also. I made two test joints from scrap - one was just glue on the miter, and one was glue with the patch. The glue-only joint I easily snapped with my hands. The glue+reinforcing-patch one was rock solid.

Here then, are two photos of the final result, very roughly spliced together. But I trust you get the idea.

And one last one, straight up.

That is all for this project. We're very pleased with the end result. In fact, there is almost too much light in their now. I may downgrade some of the bulbs at some point. I think it was a very creative and original solution.


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