It’s no secret that I love decorating ceilings. So I’m always looking for ways to add interest to it that are easy to install. Which is where learning how to install styrofoam faux tin ceiling tiles comes into play. They instantly upgrade any ceiling, take only a few hours to install, and don’t create any mess. And they even cover popcorn ceilings!
In the “old days”, ceilings in banks, schools, and other institutions were covered with painted, patterned tin, often to hide imperfections in the plaster.
Today, faux tin ceiling tiles accomplish the same thing, look great, and are very easy to put up.
Keep reading to see our instructions on how to install faux tin ceiling tiles.
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After seeing the architectural interest and beauty that real tin ceiling tiles added to Victorian homes, I wanted to try them myself but I didn’t want the hassle of actually using tin.
It is hard to cut, a little tricky to install and has sharp edges.
So…what kind of tiles to install? Keep reading to find out.
What Kind Of Tiles To Install?
Ceiling tiles today are not your 1970’s ceiling tiles!
They are available in a variety of patterns (from traditional to contemporary), and in a lot of different materials—tin, aluminum, plastic, and polystyrene to name a few.
They are also fire-rated (so not the same fire hazard as there used to be with the old-school tiles).
I chose to use the Styrofoam 20” square tiles.
They are economical, light weight, easy to cut (no tin snips required!) and only require some glue for installation.
Since they are flexible, they also adhere easily to surfaces with irregularities, including popcorn ceilings (which I needed to cover the popcorn on the kitchen ceiling).
I recommend painting the popcorn first to make sure that there are no crumbling bits. The ceiling above had a popcorn ceiling that had previously been spray-painted, and the tiles stuck without any issues.
Don’t worry if your styrofoam tiles seem “flimsy” when you get them. They are usually pretty thin, but that’s what makes them really easy to work with (and once they are installed, you really can’t tell).
We used a metallic paint on the tiles to make them look like tin, and you cannot tell from the ground that they are styrofoam!
The pattern of the tiles draws the eye upward in the room, and adds that architectural interest to the “fifth” wall that I was looking for. And it completely covers the ugly popcorn ceiling!
What You Need To Install Faux Tin Ceiling Tiles
- Styrofoam tiles*, in the pattern of your choice. At an added cost, you can purchase the tiles pre-painted, in a variety of colors. I prefer to paint my own (and get the color exactly the way I want it)
- Latex Paint Note: do not use spray paint or oil-based paint on styrofoam. It will pit the surface.
- Liquid Nails*
- Paint tray and roller. I find a foam roller works well.
- Measuring Tape
- Chalk Line*
- Geometry Compass*
- Straight Edge
- Utility knife
- Putty Knife
- Caulking Gun
How to Install Faux Tin Ceiling Tiles
Okay, now that you’ve got the supplies, we’re on to learning how to install faux tin ceiling tiles.
This video gives you a good overview of the process…although we work around the light fixtures rather than taking them down…it’s easier 🙂
Here are our step-by-step instructions for how to install styrofoam faux tin ceiling tiles.
Step 1 | Paint The Tiles
It is easier to paint the tiles before gluing them to the ceiling.
Lay them out in a single layer. Then paint them using latex paint. Oil paint (like most spray paints) will eat through the styrofoam, so make sure it is latex.
They will likely need two coats to cover the white of the styrofoam.
You can also get creative by layering colors to create more depth.
In the picture above, I first rolled on a latex lilac colored paint. After it dried, I applied a coat of silver metallic latex with a foam roller.
Step 2 | Find The Center Of The Ceiling
Establishing the center of the ceiling will make sure that the tiles are evenly spaced between the walls.
You can either install the tiles straight or on the diagonal.
How you find the center of the ceiling will depend on which way you want them to go.
For Straight Installations
Measure the length of one of the walls at the ceiling and divide the number in half to determine where the half-way point is.
Use a pencil to mark that center point on opposite sides of the ceiling.
Use the chalk line to create a line joining those two points together. It is easier to do this if you have a second person…each of you can hold an end of the chalk line at either end of the ceiling and snap it to create the line. However, to do it solo, you just need to tack the end of the chalk line at one end of the ceiling and pull it across to the other side.
Repeat the same steps going in the other direction (create a line joining the other two walls at the center point).
You should end up with a cross that meets where the center of the ceiling is.
For Diagonal Installations
You can also install the tiles diagonally (like the ceiling above) instead of straight on between the walls. It’s actually a little easier to find the center.
Just use the chalk line to make a line from one corner of the room to the opposite corner.
Then repeat between the other two corners.
You’ll end up with an X on the ceiling.
The rest of the installation follows the same steps as above, except that you will probably only be able to follow along one of the lines since the lines in the middle will not meet at a right angle (unless your room is perfectly square).
Step 3 | Glue The Tiles To The Ceiling
Use liquid nails in a caulk gun to put glue on the back of the first tile.
Don’t skimp on the glue. I put generous gobs on each corner, the middle and here and there with a flexible putty knife.
Position the first tile in the right angle created where the two lines cross in the center of the room. After lining it up with the chalk lines, gently press the tile onto the ceiling.
Continue gluing up tiles lining them up along the chalk lines and right next to each other.
Make sure the edges and corners line up or the lines will be crooked when you get finished.
Repeat these steps with the next row of tiles, again making sure the edges and corners line up.
Keep going until you get to the edge of the ceiling. See the Step 5 instructions below for how to cut the last row of tiles (if necessary).
Step 4 | Cut Around Light Fixtures
If you have ceiling light fixtures, you’ll need to cut the tiles around them.
First, loosen the cover from the top of the light fixture.
Then measure the size of the hole, as well as the distance from the fixture to the next tile.
Use the measurements you took to determine where the hole needs to be cut in the ceiling tile.
Then use a geometry compass to mark the circle for the light fixture hole.
It’s better to make a little too small than too big. You can always trim more off later.
Cut the circle with a utility knife.
Then make a slit from the hole to the edge of the tile.
Place the tile on the ceiling around the ceiling fixture to make sure it fits properly.
Glue the tile to the ceiling.
Replace the light fixture cover.
Step 5 | Cut The Edge Tiles
When you reach the walls, the tiles will need to be cut to size.
Measure from the side of the last installed tile to the wall
Transfer these measurements to the new tile.
Place a straight edge at these marks, and holding it firmly in place, cut the tile cleanly with the utility knife.
Before putting any glue on, hold the tile up in its location to make sure it fits (and make any necessary adjustments)
Then glue it in.
The Finished Ceiling
Installation rarely takes longer than a day (depending on the size of the room of course) and the only cleanup involves putting the tools away.
In case you’re wondering, that gold lacy design around the light fixture is a DIY project, too. Find out how to make a lace ceiling medallion.
Now that you know how to install faux tin ceiling tiles, hopefully you’re inspired to upgrade the ceiling in your house!
More Ceiling Decorating Ideas You Might Like
- 10 unique ways to decorate the ceiling
- How to make a low ceiling look higher
- How to cover popcorn ceilings (5 easy ways)
- Why you should paint your walls and ceiling the same color
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This post was originally published on February 22, 2015 but was updated with new content on October 4, 2022.