Planking Our Former Sunroom’s Ceiling

When we decided we wanted to do a wood planked ceiling in our sunroom, I think I kind of just envision walking into Home Depot, strolling down the beadboard ceiling aisle, and loading up our cart. Piece of cake. Easy as pie. Insert third dessert related idiom here.

Well, turns out there are lots of options for achieving the beadboard look. Historically, beadboard was made up of individual tongue-and-groove planks – kinda like a hardwood floor. Except between each board is a little ridge or indentation, aka the “bead.” Just look at this assortment of choices…

There are also lots of panel options. You know, those full 4ft x 8ft sheets of the beadboard pattern? We considered this option first because it seemed to be the most affordable (often less than $1 per square foot), but ultimately decided against it. Partly because installing these huge panels on our high ceiling seemed somewhat daunting (although Rhoda’s tutorial with the rented drywall lift made it seem less so, but we’d need to rent a truck to get them home and also had to factor in the cost of renting a drywall lift, which might counteract the savings). Mainly we skipped them because using panels meant there would be seams where one sheet meets another one – and, although you can cover those up with trim, we decided that on our sloped ceiling it just wasn’t the look we were going for.

The next option we considered most seriously were these vinyl planks. Vinyl is a tempting option in an outdoor space because it won’t rot or warp from exposure to moisture. I read some message boards where people complained that these looked “too plastic-y” but the deal killer for us was actually the price. These were about $1.79 per square foot, so they were nearly twice as expensive as the panels (which would essentially double our project cost right off the bat).

Knowing we wanted a more authentic plank look (versus a panel) and that we didn’t think the cost & look of vinyl were ideal for us, we eventually narrowed all of our choices to these: individual tongue-and-groove wood planks. Both Lowe’s and Home Depot sold similar options (neither of which are online unfortunately). The Lowe’s option came in under that $1 per square foot mark, so the price was right. And we were also excited to be getting a more traditional look – both without any fake seams and with some real wood grain in the mix. The final cost for 20 six-packs of 6″ tongue-and-groove planks worked out to be $297 (at $0.94 per square foot). Admittedly it was a bit more than we pictured ourselves spending on this part of the project (we originally guessed that we could come in under $250) but we ultimately just want a result that we’re happy with for the long haul.

 

Unlike the large beadboard panels, we could fit these in our car and install them without buying any additional equipment like a scaffold or a drywall lift – but just like the other options, this choice also had its downsides. For one, installation would be more tedious since each board is only 6″ wide, meaning all 40 rows would need to be installed piece-by-piece. And wood is also susceptible to moisture issues (warping, rotting) if it’s not properly protected and maintained. Thankfully our entire sunroom’s exterior is wood, which has held up well for decades – so we had confidence that our new sunroom ceiling would stand the test of time if we prepped it properly. Which meant that before any planks could be installed, we needed to prime and paint both sides of them… one by one. Even though the backs won’t show we primed and painted them anyways so the whole board would be protected and sealed in.

 

Pictured above was my first painting station, which didn’t work out so hot because the plastic drop cloth kept sticking to the backside of the boards. So eventually I figured out a method that worked: drop cloths on the ground and some nylon rope tied between two trees. I could get 10-12 planks done at a time (getting two done with one swipe of the paint sprayer – spraying their backside and then flipping them right over to do the front).

 

This process alone took about four days worth of two hour sessions, since we had 120 boards to do – front and back, primer and paint. We only had room for about 45 of them in our makeshift drying station in the garage (that way they didn’t get rain / dirt / leaves on them while curing) so I primed and painted one group, then installed them, then primed and painted the next, and installed those. Factor all the various paint sprayer cleanings into that, and let’s just say it wasn’t my favorite project in the world. But I knew once we got them up on the ceiling it would all be worth it. At least that’s what I kept telling myself.

 

The primer we used was good ol’ Kilz Premium and the paint was Benjamin Moore’s Regal Select Exterior in the low lustre finish (we just told the guys at the paint desk what we were doing and they said that would work well). The color was called “In Your Eyes.” It’s a nice, pure light blue. We didn’t want the color to be too bold (we worried it would reflect into the living room window and make the whole room blue if it was too dark) and we also didn’t want it to clash next the the brick exterior of our house. We also wanted to make sure it read as blue, and not gray or green in some lighting situations.

 

Now, before I get into the installation part of this project – a note about insulation. After a few commenters confirmed our instincts to re-insulate the ceiling to help keep some of the summer heat from getting through, we decided to go for it. The sun beats down on this roof all day, so even though the doorways have been opened up for some nice cross-breezes, apparently insulation can keep open rooms cooler by absorbing that constant sunlight shining down from above. So we mostly used the leftover insulation that was in the ceiling before (remember we removed it here?) despite how ugly it was. It was still relatively new and would do the job just fine – although we did have to buy one new roll to fill some gaps.

And then we learned we should NOT have insulated the roof in this case. Oops. We were able to remove it later (more on that in a moment) so please ignore the presence of insulation in these next few shots…

 

Installing the planks was giving me hardwood floor deja vu. From that process, I know that setting your first board straight against your wall is a crucial step to ensure your whole project isn’t crooked. So I cut a few spacers out of scrap wood to place along the front wall to keep my first row even.

 

We hung our planks in this direction (running parallel with the long wall) so that we could attach them directly to the joists (every 16 inches). That way they’ll be nice and sturdy (nailing them in at such close increments will hopefully keep them from sagging or warping down the line). That wall is about 20 feet long, so it took about 2.5 boards to complete each row.

 

Also borrowing from our hardwood flooring experience, we wanted to stagger the breaks between boards from one row to the next. This makes things more secure since there’s not one area of weakness for each row that lines up, and also looks nice since the boards don’t all break at the same place. So if we started one row with a full board, we started the next row with a partial scrap so they weren’t ending on the same joist.

 

Sherry helped me by doing a lot of the cutting while I did the nailing – and the other thing we did to make the seams less visible is to cut everything using a scarf joint. By cutting every end on matching 45° angles, the boards will overlap each other a bit and will be more likely to stay together and look more seamless in the long run.

 

You can see it a bit closer here, as we’re installing one board next to another. You’ll notice we also cut everything so that all of our seams coincided with a ceiling joist. This meant we could nail both ends of a seam into the joist, further discouraging the ends from bowing away from the ceiling.

 

All of that cutting was definitely a bit of a time suck, so it was nice to have an extra set of hands for some help with that. And luckily the rest of the install went pretty much like clock work. The tongues and grooves helped each board slide on the ceiling pretty nicely, though it sometimes took some light encouragement with a rubber mallet.

Follow that with a shot from the nail gun into each of the joists (with some wood glue along the joists before installing the plank) and we were in business.

 

It took us a good 5 hours to get our first set of 45 boards hung (over the course of a few days), so it definitely was a slow-going project. And I’ll admit the idea of hoisting a few 4ft x 8ft panels up there was starting to sound pretty appealing. But at least the breakneckback speed meant that we were able to catch our little insulation error before it was too late (instead of having to remove the entire ceiling, we could pull everything out since the beadboard hadn’t progressed too far to block anything from our reach).

The issue we learned (first from a commenter, and then later confirmed by the framing expert who helped us remove the drop ceiling) is that insulation traps heat (duh) and needs airflow in order to sweat that heat out. Since our insulation would’ve been installed smack dab between the roof and the beadboard ceiling, there’d be no air flow. Not only could that mean built-up moisture that could threaten our beadboard, but the hot insulation could actually result in a roof that doesn’t even meet its expected lifetime due to all that trapped heat burning it up prematurely. So we’re very grateful to have learned the error of our ways so that we could correct it before it meant tearing out our new ceiling. And we figure with the cross breezes we get paired with the two fans that we’ll be installing, this little shady retreat from the deck will be nice and cool by comparison – even without the insulation.

After another round of priming and painting, we could get to work installing our second set of planks. At this point I pretty much had my rhythm down and I think it only took me four hours (big difference, I know – but this was without Sherry manning the saw so I was a lone ranger for this part). I probably could’ve chugged along a bit faster if I didn’t have curveballs like jigsawing around the two fan fixture boxes, but those weren’t too bad in the end.

When I had that batch up, it actually started to look like a ceiling.

My final day of ceiling installation went pretty quickly since I only had a small sliver of space to finish. The height was becoming a bit challenging and my neck and shoulders were basically numb from working above my head for so many days in a row, but I was somewhat excited for a new challenge: adding a row of vents across the top to help introduce a bit of air flow up there – which was also recommended by our framing guy during our remove-the-insulation conversation.

At last, all of the ceiling boards were in. I guess technically it’s not a “beadboard” ceiling since our planks don’t have the bead design engraved into them – they just lock together to create that look. We’re glad we went with a simpler 6″ plank because, given its size, we think a smaller bead detail might have looked a bit too busy up there.

Sadly our ceiling work is not quite done – but we’re in the home stretch. We just have to add trim around the edges, which will need to be caulked and painted. Plus, I want to go back and try to fill the many, many nail holes in the boards themselves before painting over the whole thing one last time for that protected-against-the-elements result (we figure one more coat over all the planks, now that they’re pieced together, will help keep moisture out of the seams).

Progress feels good. It’s almost like having the feeling in my arms again.

Here’s what our to do list is looking like now:

I think this puts us at more than halfway done, but we still have floor-tiling to check off before we’re really coasting towards the finish line. Did anyone else spend the last week priming and painting a whole lot of stuff? We also tackled Clara’s walls, ceiling, and closet, so it was quite possibly the most painting we’ve ever done in a week’s time. Plus Sherry conquered another area of blue trim, so we’ll be back with those details in a day or two.

 

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