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Find out how much a wood ceiling costs and what is the hourly price to hire a contractor to do the job of installing a wood ceiling.
Ceilings may not be noticed very often but when they do, they are usually something special to look at. Whereas lots of homes have ceilings made from gypsum board (plasterboard or drywall) painted in the usual colors of white or cream, few people think outside the box and choose to make their ceilings out of wood.
There is a reason why most ceilings are painted white; it is to make the room look taller and less oppressive. The converse is also true, if a ceiling is dark then the overall feeling is of having a low ceiling and claustrophobia.
Wood ceilings, unless they are painted tend to be dark and claustrophobic and if you are going to paint it then you may as well use plasterboard, it is cheaper and easier to fit.
Wood as a cladding material adds texture and interest to ceilings and come in a wide variety of finishes, natural colors as well as a few unnatural ones too.
This article is going to take a look at the various forms of wooden ceiling materials, how to install them, their advantages and disadvantages, the costs to buy and install them, what type of contractor would install a wooden ceiling and how you go about finding a respectable professional.
There are many types of ceiling and these are classified according to their construction or appearance. Some of the classifications are as follows:
Cathedral. This is the name given to any tall ceiling similar to those found in churches or palaces.
Dropped. A dropped ceiling is one whose finished surface is dropped anything from a few inches to a few feet below the structure above it. The purposes of a dropped ceiling are to give:
Concave. This type is curved upwards to a central point. They can either be in the form of a hemisphere or a half-barrel.
Coffered. This type is in the form of a grid of recessed panels mostly in the shape of a square but sometimes in the shape of an octagon.
Natural wood comes in two varieties:
Softwood. The species of tree that produce softwood are the different varieties of evergreen; species such as Douglas fir, spruce, cedar and pine. They are characterized by being fast growing and therefore tend to have open grain, full of knots and resin. They are easily worked and molded and tend to be less expensive than hardwood.
Hardwood. The species of tree that provide hardwood are deciduous, that is they are broad-leafed and lose their leaves in winter. They grow relatively slowly and produce dense grain. The useful properties of hardwoods include their:
There are types of hardwood that grow in temperate climates such as oak, elm and ash or there are hardwood trees that grow in tropical areas such as mahogany, ebony, iroko and balsa (yes, balsa is technically a hardwood!). Many hardwoods can be used as structural timber and will be very strong and extremely long lasting while others are extremely weak and if cut into boards would not be of any use at all. Although only a small selection of hardwood is useful as structural timber, all types of hardwood are very useful for their appearance and can be turned into veneers.
A veneer is basically a very thin shaving from the circumference of a tree. If you can imagine how a pencil sharpener is able to remove the wood from the pencil in a wafer-thin shaving, well that is the same as a veneer. In fact veneers are produced in a similar way to a pencil sharpener except that the pencil is substituted by the tree and the blade reaches along the whole of the length of the trunk. The veneer is then bonded to the surface of cheaper softwoods or used in the production of plywood.
Wood has a texture and a structural dimension that enables many patterns, both simple and complicated to be constructed so that the ordinary drywall ceiling appears tame.
At one time ceilings would probably only be constructed from wood then painted, lime washed or gilded as a decoration. These days we prefer to let the natural beauty of wood stand out to show off the grain and the natural reds, oranges and browns of real wood. The natural surface is usually protected with polyurethane varnish or a similar sealer and protector.
Warmth. Wood ceilings are designed and constructed using the various available tones and shapes to give the impression of warmth.
Different patterns. A great variety of different patterns can be made from standard sizes, shapes and colors. The complexity of patterns is limited only by the ingenuity of the designer.
Acoustics. The advantage (or disadvantage depending on your viewpoint) of using a hard material like wood is that sound tends to echo and amplify when reflected by the wooden surface. The study of architectural acoustics is well understood by designers and they can design a wooden ceiling to suit any acoustic requirement. Poor acoustics in a room can seriously affect the listeners’ health, ability to communicate, safety, ability to learn and their productivity.
This may not be so important in private dwellings but in buildings designed for school, office space and any public entertainment or information service, it can mean a lot.
Wood or veneer? Wood comes in many forms depending on the size, shape and scarcity of the original tree. You can build ceilings from natural wood (although you won’t have the full range of colors and grain patterns available) or you can use engineered sheets (such as plywood, chipboard, MDF and hardboard) that have been faced by an expensive wood veneer.
Natural wood or engineered? As stated earlier you can construct ceilings from natural wood or from engineered wood. Natural wood is a very beautiful material except that it is usually only available in widths of up to a maximum of six inches. This severely limits the number of patterns that can be produced and also affects the structural integrity of the finished ceiling.
Engineered sheets, on the other hand are usually made in sizes of up to eight feet long by four feet wide meaning it is quicker and easier to provide a background for more ornamental patterns produced by fixing narrower mouldings onto the sheet. Engineered wood such as plywood is produced by gluing together a stack of thin veneers with their grain at right angles to each other. Often the face veneer is an ornamental, good quality veneer while the core is made from more structurally stable wood veneers. The resulting sheet is a stable construction material that has the following advantages:
✓ The sheet will not be so easily split when nailed close to the edge.
✓ The sheet is structurally stable and resists expansion and contraction when exposed to variations in temperature and humidity.
✓ The sheet has a strength that is consistent in all dimensions.
✓ Warping under damp conditions is less of a problem.
By the square foot. Most professional ceiling installation companies will charge you by the square foot as a base charge with extra amounts added on depending on the complexity of the detail.
Minimum charge. Many companies will also have a minimum charge to cover them if the customer only asks for a small room such as bathroom or hallway to be done.
Lower prices for larger jobs. They may also charge more per square foot if you just want one ceiling installed than if you wanted more done at the same time. This is not only an incentive provided to the customer by the contractor to make it more attractive to have more work done, it also reflects the lower prices that the contractor will pay for buying materials in bulk.
Homeowners who decide on low to mid-range finishes for their wooden ceilings enjoy a lower cost for their project.
Those who decide on higher-end ceiling sealants, waxes and other finishes will usually pay more for their finished project, but will always have better quality and more durable results.
Polyurethane varnish is the most used sealant and finishes for wooden ceilings. Polyurethane is sold in both water-based and oil-based varieties, which can be used to seal anything made from wood (some people even use it diluted with the appropriate solvent to seal stone and brick) so you will have a matching theme throughout the room from not only the ceiling but also baseboards and moldings, the stairs, floors, and many more items within the home.
Water-based polyurethane provides a clear gloss or satin finish that draws out the natural colors and grains of the wood used in the ceiling. You only need to allow the sealant about two hours to dry between each coat. Most projects require at least four coats of polyurethane for the wood to be fully protected. This means that a ceiling can usually be completed in one day. Water-based polyurethane has little odor and does not give off the VOCs that oil-based sealants do.
It is more comfortable to work with, especially if your work area is difficult to ventilate, such as an attic or staircase, someplace without nearby windows. Paintbrushes and other tools that have been used with water-based polyurethane can be cleaned with just dishwashing detergent and warm water, making clean-up fast and simple. However, water-based polyurethane is more expensive to buy than oil-based polyurethane and this will add to the cost of the project.
Oil-based polyurethane, when used on wood gives a warm amber colour. When using this type of varnish on wood, you will only need about two or three coats to give the protection needed. This means less time spent applying the varnish as well as fewer purchases to make than with water-based polyurethane. Unfortunately each coat will need at least five hours to dry, depending on the amount of ventilation you have, before you can apply the next coat.
When you have finally applied the recommended number of coats you will need to wait at least 12 hours from time of application of the last coat for the surface to harden completely before using or even touching the finished surface. Oil-based polyurethane varnish gives off a strong odor and you need good ventilation when you are applying the coats and when they are drying. The odor will also be noticeable for a few days after you have finished varnishing your ceiling. You need to buy some mineral spirits (white spirits or turpentine in the UK) or other types of recommended paint thinner to clean your paintbrushes and other equipment after using oil-based polyurethane.
The solvents you use to clean the polyurethane from the brushes will also have a volatile odor and you will need to wear appropriate protective gloves to prevent the solvent from coming into contact with your skin.
Not only does a professionally installed and finished wooden ceiling have an aesthetic attraction, it will also increase the resale value of your home. Installing and refinishing wooden ceilings is an investment for you to enjoy while you are living in the house but also for future occupants so you will get a return on your investment when you try to sell your home in the future.
The costs to produce a wooden ceiling will depend on a number of different factors:
The type of wood. Not only are we talking about whether we use natural wood or engineered wood, we are also talking about whether the wood is softwood, hardwood or hardwood veneer. Subdivisions of these categories include the species of tree, some trees being more expensive than others.
The size of the ceiling. Obviously a large area to cover will need more materials and more labor to install the materials.
The height of the ceiling. Professionals whose job it is to construct the ceiling will need an access platform to reach the ceiling level. The higher the ceiling, the more scaffolding will be required.
How intricate is the design? If the ceiling is just a plain surface of softwood tongue and groove boards or sheets of veneered plywood then the installation will be fairly straightforward. If however the design requires a pattern to be made with different colored or shaped woods the cost will go up.
Additional services. If the ceilings are being refinished then it makes sense to have the baseboards, floors, door frames and other wood components of the home refinished as well. This will add to the cost of the project.
The costs to repair your existing ceiling or install a new ceiling will vary depending on the type of wood or veneered plywood you use. It will also vary significantly depending on the complexity of design and whether you intend to introduce wooden moldings to form the design.
|Average cost to install specialist designs and finishing work|
|To fit tongue and groove ceiling||$2 to $5 per square foot|
|To fit coffered ceiling||$20 to $30 per square foot|
|To fit beamed ceiling||$1,000 to $3,000|
|To fit vaulted ceiling||$18,000 to $30,000|
|To stain and varnish ceiling||$3 to $4 per square foot|
|Average costs to install a wooden ceiling|
|Typical range||$900 to $2,500|
More often than not, most ceiling repairs and installations are straightforward and can be attempted by a keen DIY homeowner. To repair or give the wood a new coat of polyurethane will be much cheaper if you do it yourself. For anything more complex you should hire a contractor to install a new wooden ceiling with a complex design, remodel or repair one or work on a ceiling that is higher than the average distance. It is impossible to say exactly which ceilings are better to do as a DIY project than hire a professional; it all depends on your personal level of expertise and your own skills and weaknesses. For example, if you have basic DIY knowledge, it is quite possible to easily install tongue and groove softwood boards on your own and save many hundreds of dollars in labor costs.
However, for any other type of ceiling design and material, it would be better to contact a general contractor or a skilled and licensed carpenter. Most contractors will use a team of about two or three persons to install a new ceiling and depending on what needs to be done you might also need an electrician, HVAC technician and a roofer to finish the complete project.
Although it is possible to install the wooden ceiling as a DIY project, there are many advantages to using qualified and licensed professionals:
✓ The professional will be experienced and trained and will have the necessary certification to be able to do the job.
✓ The contractor will have all the tools needed to complete the work and more importantly he will know the best ways to use the tools.
✓ A professional will be able to install or repair your wooden ceiling in an efficient manner and be able to complete the work as quickly as possible.
✓ The contractor will know how to go about doing the required work without making undue mess and will know how to clear up properly afterwards.
✓ There will always be problems and difficulties when installing a new ceiling and a professional will already know the best way to overcome these problems. Problems that you didn’t even know would occur.
✓ The reputable contractor will provide warranties and guarantees for his labour and the quality of the materials.
✓ Usually a problem takes place that was not expected. A skilled professional knows how to put things right and minimise any damage that might have occurred.
✓ Sometimes an existing ceiling isn’t level. This may cause problems when installing a wooden ceiling over the old one. A professional will know how to fix this so that the new ceiling looks perfectly level.
✓ The reputable contractor will have the appropriate insurance to cover any damage to your home and any injuries or death to you, your family or anyone else affected by the project.
✓ The contractor will have insurance to cover any claims caused by injury to himself or the contractor’s team.
✓ Your insurance company will not cause problems if any claims are made regarding your ceiling because a qualified professional has done the work.
So, you have decided to not do the work yourself, you have decided to use a contractor for installing your new wooden ceiling. You are entrusting part of your home to the hands of a complete stranger and you will need to have some reassurance that the work will be carried out in accordance with industry best practice and in a safe and efficient manner. How do you go about finding someone who will do all this?
Whatever happens, don’t be afraid to ask the contractor about his work history, that is how many other jobs like yours has he completed satisfactorily and more importantly has he any photographs or any references he can show you. If the contractor is good at his job then he will already have a portfolio with pictures of his previous work and he will have a list of satisfied customers. Get in touch with them and find out how professional the contractor really is.
The scope of work. Make sure he knows what he has to do and get an estimate specifying the scope as well as the types of materials he will use.
Specifications. You need to know the specifications of the wood and all other materials to be used. This is so that the contractor cannot substitute cheaper materials without your knowledge.
Deadlines. Make sure you tell him when you would like the work completed. Remember that you cannot be too strict about dates because he may already have work to which he is committed.
How about payment? You need to know how much the work will cost you and when the contractor will require payment. Don’t be surprised if you are asked for a deposit, it is a way of getting a commitment from you to the whole job and it also helps with the contractor’s cash flow. Just don’t pay the total cost up-front or you might find that the contractor disappears with your money.
What about changes to the contract? No matter how well planned a project starts off as, there will always come a time when something happens that could not have been reasonably foreseen by anyone. Maybe when the contractor got up close to the ceiling and tried to install the wood he found that there was a damp patch on the plasterboard. This could not have been foreseen by the contractor and obviously will need to be repaired before the new ceiling is installed. You will have to agree with the contractor how additions to the contract are going to be handled. Usually what happens is for the contractor to discuss the work with you and charge an hourly rate on top of the original quotation. Discuss and negotiate the hourly rate so that you are both reasonably happy with the final figure.
Insurance. Make sure the professional has all the insurance needed to ensure that anything untoward that might happen will be suitably recompensed by his insurance company. Insurance includes:
Warranties. The contractor should offer warranties in case of his work proving to be faulty in any way. You will also need guarantees that the materials used are suitable for the job.
Certification. The contractor should be able to show you not only copies of his training certificates but also a copy of his contractor’s license issued by the local authority. You must be able to check the validity of all the documentation before you agree to the work being started.
Often ceilings are not even noticed when you walk into someone’s house. Why not make yours something of which you are proud? Treat yourself to a wooden ceiling.
It doesn’t really matter which materials you use as long as you can afford it, you like the color, grain pattern and you like the design if any.
You can even install your new ceiling by yourself if you have the skills, but if not then don’t worry, there are always plenty of specialized contractors out there who want to do the job for you. Why not get in touch with them now and start the ball rolling.
Thank you for reading.