Saturday, October 5, 2013

PVC Drop Ceiling Spacers

The basement, often the last frontier in home improvement, presents unique challenges for interior finishing.  Walls need to take into account the moisture condensating potential of both the exterior walls and floor.  Flooring needs should be considered in the context of radon, flooding potential and durability.  And, ceilings present their own issues.

Many of us look to suspended ceilings for our DIY basement needs.  It's easier to install than drywall and provides future access to plumbing, vents and wiring should the need arise - though that need may in reality be very seldom.  But ceiling panels have some issues I don't care for.  Many products are paper or paper composites with a variety of binding, coating and strengthening chemicals included.  They can be fragile, have an odor, absorb cigarette smoke and discolor when water, either from leaks or condensation on pipes, drips down and seeps through the absorbent material.

So, for my basement ceiling, I'm taking a little bit different approach.  I'm going to treat it the same way I would cabinet construction by using an inexpensive but beautiful birch veneer 1/4" plywood.  2 foot squares are available from most lumber yards.  I've been slowly acquiring what I need from Lowes as they only stock 7 - 8 sheets at a time, and you have to pick through to find those sheets with the best veneer quality.  Many times the veneer is missing the centers of knot holes and either it was filled and sanded at the factory or not.  In either case, it's not as appealing as undisturbed birch wood grain.   When coated with a clear polyurethane, birch, like maple, takes on a luster and depth that is reminiscent of Tiger-eye polished stone, though much more subdued. You can also get some nice variation in the wood grain tone, from a cedar red to a maple white.

I'll put together an article on the final installation of my wood ceiling and work involved later, but wanted to give some attention now to my solution for clearing some drain and water pipes in one section of the basement ceiling that posed a problem for my installation.

In most of the finished area, I have what you see below going on.  3" furring attached directly to the joists to provide a grid to secure the panels to later.

Typical furring strip installation

But in a small 6'-9" x 11' 8" area, I have a 2" PVC drain coming down from the kitchen sink and dishwasher which has to run perpendicular to, and beneath, the floor joists.   I needed a way to get my grid uniformly beneath this obstruction while still providing a level, sturdy mounting point for my birch plywood panels.

After some thought, I settled on 1" PVC pipe spacers.  I cut them from 8' stock to a uniform length using a couple of blocks of wood on my miter saw as a jig to ensure length and alignment were consistent.

Then I hunted down some 5" deck screws which would be long enough to go through the 1/2" furring strip, up the center of the segment of pipe, and at least 3/4" into the joist.  The spaces also help square and align the furring as the screw pulls the strips flush against the bottom end and top end with the joist.  And it's amazingly strong.

Drain pipe visible at far end.

Looking across 3 furring strips

The strength of the PVC sections under compression between the strips and joist makes the spacer act like a 1" column in terms of lateral and upward stress.  The screws are long enough to provide a serious amount of hold and I can do a pull-up on one strip!

I still have a ways to go.  You can just make out in the top image of two above the drain pipe.  My furring strips are 8' long so I have to yet span the remaining distance.  The strips also end short of the next joist, so I'll be employing some blocking to provide a place to fasten the hanging ends.

I like this solution from a cost and durability perspective.  I could have cut wooden spacers, but then I would have needed to drill some very straight holes through them as well.  The PVC being already hollow is a very forgiving and easy to use spacer in that regard, not to mention lighter-weight, and was easy to cut by hand and clean up the plastic burs with a pocket knife.  Made lots of plastic chips to shop-vac up, but I'm covered there.