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Redo Your Ceiling With Tongue-And-Groove Planks Or Shiplap

Miranda Crace7-Minute Read
May 06, 2021

We’ve all been cooped up in our homes lately, and if you’ve spent any of that isolation time wondering which DIY project to take on next, your ceiling – whether it’s plain, white drywall that’s lacking texture, or worse, a very dated popcorn ceiling – may suddenly seem like a prime candidate for a makeover.

If you want to transform your ceiling into a dramatic focal point for your interior space, we’re here to help you start planning and budgeting for this medium-difficulty project.

Tongue-And-Groove Ceilings Are Having A Moment

Popularized on shows like “Fixer Upper” and “Property Brothers,” tongue-and-groove planks are becoming the go-to for covering old or damaged interior walls and ceilings, and to redo porch spaces.

Also called shiplap – technically, a type of tongue-and-groove plank – designers use these boards to provide texture, create lines that draw the eye vertically or horizontally and inject an element of woody warmth into rooms of more neutral palettes. Tongue-and-groove ceilings are perfect for modern farmhouses and coastal cottage styles of home.

Drywall Is Hard To Install And Harder To Fix

If you’ve ever tried to install or patch drywall, you know how hard it is to make the seam between boards invisible. If your ceiling sports the scars of a previous misguided DIY attempt at repair, you might be better off deciding to cover it with planks instead of hiring a professional to redo it.

Because, let’s face it: If you want your drywall ceiling to be smooth, and its seams invisible, you’re going to have to hire a professional drywall installer.

Tongue-And-Groove Installation Is (Relatively) Easy

You’ll need some carpentry skills, but if you can measure, cut wood and use a caulk and nail gun, you should be able to handle this job, if you keep things simple. You’ll also need a table and a miter saw for finishing the ends of the boards.

That said, bear in mind that boards don’t always fit together as effortlessly as some video demonstrations might have you believe. Sometimes boards are warped or damaged. It can be tricky to fully insert the tongue into the groove for the tight fit needed to keep the boards in a straight line.

If you choose to use what’s commonly referred to as shiplap, you may find installation easier. Instead of fitting together in a tongue-and-groove, the boards simply rest on one another.

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Install A Tongue-And-Groove Ceiling In 4 Steps

Breaking it down into steps can give you a better idea of the scope of this project.

Step 1: Measure, Choose And Finish Your Boards

Proper planning will help you achieve the look you want for your home.

Start With The Finish In Mind

Yes, it’s counterintuitive, but once you figure out how much board you need, you’ll want to start with your finish. It’s much easier to paint or stain boards before they’re affixed to the ceiling, and then simply touch up after installation as needed. If you’re planning on painting the boards, you can go with a pine, which will save you money over more expensive types of wood – but you’ll need to plan on priming and applying two coats of paint to cover it sufficiently.

Finished boards aren’t susceptible to the shrink-and-expand cycle of unfinished boards as weather changes from hot and humid to cold and dry. If you choose to use a particular wood for its distinctive grain, like cedar, you should consider finishing it with a polyurethane or transparent stain to protect it from changes in humidity without significantly diminishing the grain. 

Consider Vertical Vs. Horizontal Orientation

Think about what you’d like to achieve by using tongue-and-groove panels. The lines created by the planks can draw the eye up or out, and will alter your perception of the room’s lines. If you’re planning on covering a vaulted ceiling, for example, and you want to emphasize its height, you’ll probably want the board lines to point upward. If your ceiling is sloped, think about whether you want to emphasize the height or the width of the room.

Choose Your Materials: Shiplap Vs. Tongue-And-Groove

Consider the look you’re going for. If you want a more rustic feel and want the nails to show, you should choose shiplap. Shiplap rests, one board on top of another, and is nailed through the front of the board.

With traditional tongue-and-groove boards, the nail goes in through the tongue, and the next board’s groove conceals the nail head, producing a more refined finish that some people prefer. Because the nailing work must be done precisely, working with tongue-and-groove boards requires a higher level of skill than shiplap does.

Measure And Diagram The Area

Especially if you’re a first-timer, you’ll want to carefully measure and diagram the layout of the room. It’ll help you think about things like corners and lights, and the cuts you’ll have to make in your boards. Take time to consider the type of pattern you’d like to create. Tongue-and-groove lends itself well to efficient planning because shorter cuts and odds and ends can be utilized to create interesting patterns.

Step 2: Attach The Battens

If you plan to install tongue-and groove-boards over drywall or plaster, you should consider installing 1x2 battens over the current ceiling. The battens act as crossbars to which the planks can be attached. This will give you a sturdier foundation for attaching your boards, first with adhesive and then nails. A frame can also help cover uneven ceilings, a common problem in older homes.

Step 3: Get Started, Working With The Tongue Side Facing You

You’ll need to nail the board in place with brad or 2-inch finishing nails. If you’re using a tongue-and-groove board, you’ll want the tongue facing you so that you aren’t trying to nail it blindly.

First, you’ll want to apply your adhesive to the battens. Next, you’ll fit the first plank against the edge of the wall. Work your way across the area until you reach the end of it, at which point you’ll probably need to cut a plank lengthwise to fit it against the final edge.

When you come to a cut-out area, you’ll need a jigsaw to cut the shape. The easiest way to do this is to outline the shape on the back of the board before cutting.

Step 4: Finishing Touches

Once your planks are in place, you’ll probably want to consider some type of crown molding for the transition between the wall and the ceiling. Molding adds an architectural detail that can make a big difference in the room’s appearance for a small amount of money.

Finally, be sure to touch up any spots where the finish is damaged during installation.

Costs Of Installing A Tongue-And-Groove Ceiling

It’s hard to say unless you’re comparing apples to apples, but it all depends on the look you’re trying to achieve. Direct, general comparisons among preprocessed products are difficult because so much depends on the use, look and quality you’re going for.

Expect to pay more for tongue-and-groove if you’re picking the wood and then having it processed into your preferred style.

In general, tongue-and-groove costs more because the processing of the boards is more labor-intensive. A shiplap board need only be run through a planer, while creating tongues and grooves that fit tightly requires more time and skill.

Interior projects are considered cosmetic and don’t tend to have the same impact on home resale value as other home improvement projects, but a stylish home with modern decor will sell faster and sometimes for more when compared to a more dated counterpart.

Paying For Labor Will More Than Double The Price Of Installing Wood Panels

If you feel like this isn’t a project you’re comfortable doing yourself, you can certainly hire a carpenter to do the work for you. You’ll pay for the materials, of course, and then you’ll have to figure in the carpenter’s hourly rate.

According to Homeadvisor.com, the average cost of hiring a carpenter in the U.S. is $35 per hour, with actual costs ranging from $15 per hour to $150 per hour, depending on where you live. 

The Bottom Line: Don’t Overlook The Ceiling When You Want To Add Style To Your Home

Our ceilings are historically some of the most overlooked surfaces in our homes, but there’s no reason you can’t rectify that with some relatively easy DIY projects to add some style above. Looking for more DIY tips for your home? We’ve got plenty to choose from.

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    Miranda Crace

    The Rocket Homes blog is here to bring you all you need to know about buying, selling and making the most of your home. Whether you’re thinking about becoming a homeowner, selling your current home or looking to keep your place in tip-top shape, our writers and freelancers bring their experience and expertise to meet you right where you are.