Popcorn finishes were, for the longest time, one of the most popular ceiling finishes. Not only did people like the stippled aesthetic, but it also had numerous other benefits to do with sound diffusion, thanks to its uneven surface.
But as time passed and trends moved on, many people are looking to replace their popcorn ceiling with something a little more contemporary.
So in this article, we’re going to share with you six cheap ways you can cover your popcorn ceiling. All these methods are non-destructive and easy to install, so no matter your budget, there will be something here for you.
Why you should cover your popcorn ceiling
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The actual act of removing the popcorn ceiling is a pretty straightforward affair. All you need is a scraper, some elbow grease, and a little bit of time. So if it’s so easy, why bother going to all the trouble of covering it up?
There are two main reasons. Firstly is that popcorn ceilings were first introduced in the 1930s at a time when asbestos was still being used in construction. It wasn’t until the 70’s that we would see its use banned. And as such, if your home is quite old, there’s the possibility that asbestos has been used.
This is extremely dangerous when inhaled, and you only possible way to remove a popcorn ceiling that uses asbestos is to have it professionally removed, which costs quite a lot of money. So, covering the ceiling is a far cheaper option for those on a budget.
The second reason is that you may want to preserve the original ceiling. Maybe you feel you might want to bring the popcorn to look back in the future and don’t want to destroy it completely, or perhaps it will harm the resale value of the home if you irreversibly remove it.
Whatever your reason, let’s look at 6 of the best, cheapest ways to cover up your popcorn ceiling.
How to cover your popcorn ceiling
The main idea behind covering the ceiling instead of stripping the finish down is that it’s an additive process that generally involves applying or building an additional layer underneath the original ceiling to cover it.
The benefit is that most of these methods can be reversed if you change your mind later. There are many different materials and finishes you can use for this depending on your aesthetic preference, budget, and the tools/skills you have available.
So let’s look at our top methods for covering your popcorn ceiling!
1. Use a drop ceiling
You probably remember this kind of ceiling from when you were a child at school or if you’ve ever worked in an office. It essentially consists of a grid-like support structure that has (usually foam) tiles placed in it. It’s cheap, effective, reversible, and easy to install.
There’s a multitude of other benefits, too where you can replace certain tiles with translucent perspex tiles to allow light to shine through, and it’s possible to run cabling and network-related items through there, and they will remain nice and hidden, making it exceptionally practical if you have a home office.
And it doesn’t have to look like an office either. There are many different ceiling tile styles to match your design preference.
The main downside of this ceiling type is that it’s suspended below the original ceiling, essentially reducing the total height of the room. So if your room already has low ceilings, installing a drop ceiling might make it too small and cramped for comfort.
If you wish to use more stylized and premium tiles for your room, the price can also increase dramatically, potentially becoming one of the most expensive ceiling types on this list. So be sure to research the design thoroughly and cost you want beforehand.
A good general cost you can plan for is about $300-400 for a standard 64-square foot room, depending on ceiling tile type, of course.
The installation process will require you to install L-shaped brackets around the edge of the room which supports a grid-like beam structure. You will also need additional support across the structure in the form of hooks and wire every 4 feet. Then the tiles can be dropped into the supporting grid structure.
Try to plan if you need any tiles trimmed down (this can quickly be done at home with a simple saw) and if you need any translucent tiles to allow light to come through.
2. The Skim Coat cover-up
While this one is much harder to reverse than the drop ceiling, it is probably the fastest and cheapest way to cover a popcorn ceiling. It also has the lowest barrier to entry requiring almost no additional tools, just a bit of manual labor for a few hours of free time.
So what is a skin coat? It’s essentially a method of painting over the previous popcorn ceiling using a coat of diluted joint compound that essentially fills up all the grooves between the popcorn, resulting in a smooth finish that looks brand new. This is also great for covering up any damage or small holes.
This new smooth finish can then be painted over, and no one would ever know there was a popcorn ceiling there in the first place.
To apply this, you can use a diluted joint compound or a ready mix drywall compound. This can then be applied with a paint roller, sprayer, or brush, depending on what you have around. This then gets smoothed out with a trowel or knife to give it a nice flat and pristine finish.
People also sometimes give it a final sand at the very end or between coats if you apply it multiple times to give it as smooth of a finish as possible. We recommend at least two coats for as nice a finish as possible.
Once this is dry, you are free to paint it how you want! Your total cost for this method will seldom exceed $100, making it one of the most cost-effective.
The only downside is that it’s tougher to reverse if you want to go back to a popcorn finish. You will likely just have to strip the ceiling back and apply a new popcorn finish to it. And the fact that it can be quite a messy process be sure to cover anything you don’t want to get covered by the mixture up well beforehand!
3. Wood planks (tongue and groove)
Many people love the look of natural wood-finished ceilings, with people often paying a significant amount for ceilings with natural beams on display. So using wood ceiling planks is a fantastic alternative to give you that natural and rustic look.
The main benefits of this method are its ease of installation, requiring no specialized equipment, just a small amount of planning and cutting beforehand. Although tongue and groove ceiling planks are a little more expensive, they also create a beautiful, seamless, secure finish.
Plus, you can pick from a vast amount of wood tile finishes and even stain/paint them yourself to further customize the look. Many people like to also extend the planks down onto the walls and even floors, which can give it the look of a music studio.
The wood planks can be applied to the ceiling easily using no more nails, which are dense enough to sink into the popcorn ceiling grooves, meaning you don’t need to sand the ceiling flat and remove the popcorn finish beforehand.
The cost of this ceiling type can vary greatly depending on which wood plank type you wish to use. But do keep in mind many cheaper finishes can crack and warp over time, so we believe it’s worth investing in as high-quality planks as you can afford for the best longevity.
4. The drywall cover-up
If you want a non-destructive way to restore your ceiling to a nice and neutral default that you can customize as needed, then simply covering the ceiling with drywall might be the right method.
The best thing about this method is that you can do anything you want with it, drill into it for mounts, cut holes out for unique lighting fixtures, fans, or other setups, and your natural ceiling is still sitting nicely underneath for when you wish to revert to the original look.
It’s still relatively inexpensive too. But it does require a lot of manual labor when cutting the boards, mounting them, filling in the gaps, installing lighting, and then finishing the whole thing. This task is usually much more manageable when handled by two people as the labor demand can become quite a lot if your room is large.
But the ultra-customizable nature and reversibility of the drywall cover-up make this a highly recommended method.
5. Direct-mounted ceiling tiles
Unlike the drop ceiling, where a frame is essentially built underneath the pre-existing ceiling in which tiles are mounted, you can purchase more stylized tiles designed just to be mounted (screwed) directly into the ceiling joist.
You can buy convenient kits containing everything you need for a complete installation.
There’s a wide variety of designs and looks available, so no matter your intended decor style, we’re sure there will be something for you. These installation kits generally cost about $400 for a 140-square-foot room, making it one of the more expensive options. But the ease of installation is well worth the additional cost.
This is also a superior method if you already have a low ceiling and don’t have the available height for a drop ceiling. They are only a few cm thick and directly mounted over the pre-existing popcorn ceiling, meaning no additional filling or flattening is needed.
6. Fabric covering
While this method won’t be for everyone, it does offer the single most inexpensive, easily installed, and quickly removed way of covering up a popcorn ceiling.
It’s a simple DIY method that can be done with minimal use of tools and prior decorating experience.
All you need to do is shop for a sheet of fabric with a design/material you like and purchase enough to cover the entirety of the ceiling.
This can then be cut and sewn together, mounted around the edge of the room, and fed onto the light fixture in the center. If you don’t have a center light fixture, you can also use a ceiling medallion for an easy method to feed the fabric to the middle and hide the edges.
Of course, the price can vary depending on the size of the room and the quality of fabric you want to use, but either way, this should work out considerably cheaper than many of the other methods listed.