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Patterned metal ceiling panels

Dear Ms. Builder: At a recent home show, I saw a dining room with an antique-looking metal roof. It was beautiful and I would like one in my own house. Is this still available and can I install it myself - Brenda A.

Dear Brenda: Metal panel ceilings are still available and they are definitely making a comeback. The first one that I saw 40 years ago was in a small family-owned ice cream Parlor in Cincinnati. It is still there and the metal ceiling is as beautiful as ever.

Decorative stamped metal panel ceilings were very popular in the early 1900's. They were commonly used in commercial and retail buildings because of their unique appearance, low maintenance and fire resistance. If painted thoroughly on both sides, these ceilings will literally last forever.

With the resurgence of interest in metal roofs for residential applications, particularly kitchens and dining rooms, there are several sources for the decorative panels. These include: W. F. Norman (800-641-4038), Shanker Industries (516-766-4477 and Chelsea Decorative Metals - (713-721-9200).

Metal ceiling panels are typically available in 2 ft. x 2 ft. squares and 2 ft. x 4 ft. or 8 ft. rectangles. There are many patterns available, some from the original 100-year-old dies and other newer patterns. If you are a creative person, you can make a truly unique ceiling by using various combinations of patterns, cornice and crown moldings, medallions, etc.

Most metal ceiling panels are made of fairly thin steel sheet which is painted. For a more decorative and unique appearance, an experienced painter can use two different colors to highlight the surface texture. Solid copper and brass panels are also available, but they cost about three times as much as the steel. Steel ceiling panels cost about $4 per sq. ft.

It is not difficult to install metal ceiling panels. The key to a good job is taking your time and paying attention to detail. First, you should install 3/4-inch furring strips on the existing ceiling. These are typically nailed up on 12-inch centers perpendicular to the ceiling joists. This method will provide the most level finished ceiling.

Now, prepare the metal panels for installation. It is wise to paint the panels on both sides. Since most are made of steel, they will rust if there is a leak above them and the top is not painted. The pattern in these panels is formed in a die which often has a light film of mill oil. Clean them carefully first with a metal cleaner (as with auto body work).

Each panel manufacturer has specific instructions for installing its panels. For the most authentic antique look, use special tiny conical head nails. Most panel patterns are designed so that the nail heads and holes are hidden as a integral part of the pattern. When installed properly, it is difficult to find the nail locations.

Another installation option is a suspended (dropped) ceiling. The standard size metal panels usually will fit perfectly into a standard suspended ceiling support grid pattern. It is best to leave the existing fiber panels in place over the thin metal panels. These help to keep the metal panels flat and stop the panels from moving (floating) from breezes from windows or when a door closes.

For a very attractive installation, use a suspended grid system especially made for these metal panels. These grid members are very slim and some can even be hidden by the edge of the ceiling panel to create a seamless appearance. Chicago Metallic (410-796-8220) makes these grid systems.

Tools and materials needed: Saw, hammer, sheet metal shears, straight edge, paint brushes, metal cleaner, paint, ceiling panels, nails, heavy leather gloves

Send questions to: Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.