How To Light A Drop Ceiling (A Complete Guide)

Drop ceilings are especially common in workplaces, basements, theaters, and schools. It gets made out of a metal grid and “tiles” or “panels” suspended from the structural ceiling. A secondary ceiling, also known as a suspended ceiling, T-bar ceiling, or fake ceiling, covers air ducts or pipes for a clean look in an unfinished room.

So, How To Light A Drop Ceiling?

Drop ceilings, often known as suspended ceilings, add a contemporary architectural element to homes while providing excellent lighting options. Recessed and cove lighting can create layered lighting by adding warm, diffuse ambient light to your room and combining it with wall sconces or lamps. 

The article below will discuss different drop ceiling types, different lighting designs, how light temperature works, and more. Continue reading for the information you need to create the perfect atmosphere.

The Best Lighting Design

First, we must integrate various lighting sources in the area to generate contrast and emphasize color and texture features. Incorporating three unique levels into your lighting scheme is essential. A single light source is insufficient to light a room since it lacks contrast, depth, and the ability to define shapes and show off the paint job. As a result, to finally create the mood for the area, you’ll need a well-thought-out lighting scheme with numerous layers. 

Creating Ambient Lighting in General

Ambient Lighting

The general illumination required for a well-lit room is known as ambient lighting. To get a sense of total brightness, start with ambient lighting. Ambient lighting should be the initial lighting layer in a room, setting the tone and providing a steady and uniform lighting intensity. It’s usually softer and more uniformly distributed.

The general atmosphere your area requires can be achieved using ceiling-mounted or recess lamps that direct light downwards or tucking away crucial strip LED lights. Sconces and floor standing lights cast light upwards along the walls to the ceiling. Pendant lights that reflect light off the ceilings and walls are another option.

Correctly Using Accent Lighting

 Accent Lighting

Accent lighting gives a place more visual interest. Accent lighting, for example, will bring attention to architectural details, wall art, or valuable things. This lighting layer also accentuates design features in your surroundings, creating more distinct shadows and giving each aspect and the room’s overall appearance greater depth.

Task Lighting with a Sharp Focus

The brightness of the task locations where you perform daily tasks gets enhanced by task lighting. Task lighting should also be free of glares and shadows to prevent eye strain. Purpose lighting is light provided for a specific task, such as reading, writing, dining, or preparing food.

It is brighter than ambient light and concentrates on the specific area where the task gets performed. As a result, the most functional component of your lighting scheme will be purpose lighting. Recessed and track lighting, pendant lamps, under-cabinet strip lighting, floor, workstations, table lamps, and bathroom vanity lights are all examples of task lighting.

Recessed Lighting Fixtures

Recessed lighting, commonly known as “can” lighting, consists of a light bulb enclosed within a reflective metal container. According to Armstrong’s lighting website, incandescent recessed lighting emits too much heat to install in most suspended ceilings, but halogen and compact fluorescent bulbs are safe. 

A wooden structure must get placed above the metal grid that holds the ceiling tiles to support the metal canister for the light. Recessed lights feature lenses, or openings, at the end of the canister that must be level with the ceiling tile surface when placed. Canister lights are a decent alternative to fluorescent light panels, but they need more installation time and more lights to fill a room.

Fluorescent Lights

Because they can get placed into the same metal supports that hold the ceiling panels, lightweight fluorescent light fixtures have become the most popular and typical choice for use in drop ceilings. According to Al’s Home Improvement Center, huge rectangular fluorescent fixtures measuring 2-by-2-foot or 2-by-4-foot fit flawlessly into drop ceiling supports. 

Because the ceiling panels come in various sizes, it’s simple to choose a light fixture that will fit perfectly into your drop ceiling supports without any changes.

Surface Mounted Fixtures

Behind a drop ceiling, almost any standard surface-mounted light fixture can get installed. Surface-mounted fixtures are positioned directly on the ceiling’s surface, with no sections recessed into the ceiling like recessed or fluorescent fixtures. This form of lighting includes pendant lamps, track lighting, and primary glass fixtures. 

According to Renovation Headquarters, the fixture must have a support system that includes cables or metal bars and chains tied directly to a ceiling joist. The ceiling joist can support a conventional light fixture.

Drop ceilings are suitable for many remodeling projects, but they do not get designed to handle large loads, such as those of a chandelier, due to the way they get built. Attempting to attach a fixture to a drop ceiling panel would bend or break the board, causing the entire ceiling to separate from its supports. Even heavy fixtures like lit ceiling fans, chandeliers, and track lighting can be added to a room with a drop ceiling with the correct support system.

How To Properly Install Supports For Chandeliers On A Drop Ceiling

Remove the tile from the drop ceiling at the location of the chandelier. Drop a plumb bob from the nearest joist in the ceiling. The plumb bob line should get measured from the panels on either side of the removed panel. Transfer the dimensions to the panel that got removed. With a utility knife, cut a 1-inch round hole in the panel.

Pass the chandelier’s chain and power wire through the panel and a beautiful ceiling round. Glue the ceiling round to the underneath panel.

Install a metal screw hook in the ceiling joist where the plumb bob got installed. Next to the hook, screw a gang box into the joist. From one side, feed the power line that will power the chandelier into the gang box. Connect the chandelier’s power cord to the other side.

Match the power cord and chandelier wires, black to black and white to white. Twist the wire nuts over the ends of the cables until they are tight, then attach the lid to the gang box with screws. The chandelier chain should be hung from the joist’s hook. Remove the panel and replace it in the drop ceiling.

The Best Ideas For Drop Ceiling Lighting

Recessed lights are installed in the ceiling to provide downward-facing lighting. If your Drop ceiling is in an area where you want to work, read, or chat around a table, this is a good alternative. While recessed lighting is uncomplicated and does not interfere with the room’s design, it does give it a contemporary feel. 

You may focus the light in whatever direction you like using directional spotlights. The advantage of employing directional spotlights is that you can easily direct the light to where you are seated if you wish to read. The disadvantage of spotlights is that they can have a detrimental impact on the design of the space since, unlike recessed lighting, they might appear encroaching.

Don’t forget to include skylights. We think it would be beneficial if you explored installing skylights to allow natural light to flood the space throughout the day. If both of the following conditions get met, you can use a skylight. A translucent skylight should be present on your roof, and you will have to create a tunnel for the light to pass through all the roof layers down to the ceiling to illuminate the room.

Here Are Eight Different Types Of Drop/Suspended Ceilings

Suspended ceilings are another layer of ceilings suspended from the structural floor slab above, producing a space between the floor slab’s underside and the drop ceiling’s top. Drop ceilings or false ceilings refer to the distance between a suspended ceiling and the structural floor slab above, which is 3 to 8 inches wide.

Lath and plaster

Lath and plaster

One of the oldest and most traditional types of suspended ceilings is lath and plaster. This permanent construction approach gives a high level of durability and a lengthy life expectancy. It can also have some artistic elements in shapes, features, and other arrangements. However, it is one of the more costly installation options. You can install various light fixtures such as recessed lights, downlights, and pendant lights.  


Plasterboard (also known as drywall) is a typical material used in commercial and residential structures for suspended ceilings. It’s somewhat durable and affordable, and it gives off a flat appearance. Removable panels get installed to gain access to the plenum space. Hanger wires and hat channels get used in the plasterboard ceiling suspension system (instead of furring channels). 

The panels can be screwed to the suspension system using hat channels. For a quicker installation, click-lock or snap-in suspension systems are available. Because these systems may offer multiple configuration possibilities, they can benefit rooms of various shapes and sizes. For example, a timber frame gets used in a more traditional building. In addition, all types of light fixtures can work with plasterboard. 

Free span Ceiling

The planks of a free-span suspended system, like tiles, rest on the edges of a perimeter trim. This method is commonly used in corridors because it is simple to install and maintain. In addition, it is usually demountable and allows good access to the area above. Recessed and downlights work well with this system, but your imagination can go wild with this blank slate.

Tiles or panels

ceiling tile

Ceiling panels, also known as Ceiling tiles, are lightweight products commonly used in demountable systems because they are inexpensive and straightforward. Ceiling tiles get typically made out of mineral fiber, but other materials such as fiberglass, metal, wood, plastic, and so on are also available.

When placed in an aluminum grid, the tiles provide some thermal insulation but get designed to improve the acoustics and appearance of a room. As a result, they get widely used in commercial, residential, and industrial settings. In addition, square LED panels with cool white light work well in this setting for ambient lighting.

Aluminum suspended ceilings

Aluminum suspended ceilings have unique properties to reflect light into the room. Large spaces requiring higher light levels (such as medical facilities or industrial buildings) or small rooms that benefit from appearing more spacious are both suitable applications for these lights (such as compact apartments).

Because of its durability, this material is relatively simple to maintain, and grid suspension systems can get customized to fit rooms of varying shapes and sizes. For example, you can consider bright task light fixtures for these rooms.

How Does Light Affect a Room’s Atmosphere?

light in room

Colors, textures, and geometry all play a part in how you perceive a room. The right light temperature will help you create the mood you want in your room. You’ll need to think about the room’s style and the color temperature it requires. The color temperature of a light bulb, for example, describes the appearance (brightness and atmosphere) of the light it radiates into the room.

The color temperature gets expressed in degrees Kelvin (K) on a 1,000 to 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit scale. The three most common color temperatures are listed below to create different light atmospheres and layers in a room.

Warm WhiteNatural WhiteCool White
Use in the dining room, living room, and bedrooms to create a cozy, warm, calm, inviting, and intimate atmosphere Use this light in the kitchen, entryway, foyers, and neutral spaces in the home to create a friendly, bright, and vibrant atmosphereCool light creates a clean, refreshing brightness, making you feel alert when you are in the bathroom, kitchen, dressing room, and other workspaces

Select the Proper Light Fixture and Bulb for Your Room

To complement the interior design elements you choose, each location in your home should have a variety of lighting fixtures to create layers of light. Consider using table, wall, and standing floor lamps to provide ambient lighting for general illumination. Use a floor or table lamp with direct illumination for purposes like reading, under cabinet lighting for the countertop, and a hanging light to illuminate the dining table, among other things.

All three sources will get used in an intelligent lighting scheme, divided into layers and intensity levels; after evaluating how the room will be utilized, light accordingly. You’ll want a lamp that shines directly on the work surface for reading or studying.

The next piece of advice is to plan out how the furniture will get arranged in the room to place the various lighting properly. If you have a focal point wall in your dining room or living room, you should use spotlights or track lighting to brighten and enhance that region.

Before buying a bulb, determine how much light it produces. If you’re purchasing many bulbs, purchasing one or two of these bulbs to see how the illumination interacts with the environment, especially at night, is strongly recommended before investing more.

Finally, create consistency in your lighting fixtures in a space by using lights made of the same material and color. For example, choose from chrome or black metal sconces and wall lights. You can also use different types of material, such as wood, metal, or linen, but the same shapes, such as flowers or circles, to connect all of the fixtures.


There is a wide variety of drop ceilings and other lighting methods that you can use. Regardless of the style of the drop ceiling, you have in your house; you should now be able to light it properly. It is essential to use more than one kind of light when lighting a room to create the perfect atmosphere. 

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Barry Gray

Hi, I’m Barry. I’ve loved woodworking and bringing things back to life for more years than I care to remember. I hope my passion for tools comes across loud and clear in everything you read here on The Tool Square.