Our Philippine House Project – Ceiling Support System and Ceilings

Ceiling Support System
Our ceilings will be about 30cm (1′) below the top of our walls and 3.1m (10′) above the finished floors.  We wanted high ceilings because we hope that the hot air will rise above us but also because it makes our modest rooms feel more spacious.  Changing lightbulbs will be a challenge!
Generally Philippine ceilings are marine plywood or one of the cement board products such as Hardiflex.  The price is about the same.  There are plusses and minuses for both.  Termites and rot don’t attack cement board but the cement board is more affected by roof leaks.  Originally we were going to use Hardiflex but we decided to use plywood instead.  Like gypsum board, cement board is a totally uniform material.  Plywood has some texture, some hint of once being a natural product.  We just like the look of plywood ceiling better.
Ceilings can be supported by wooden joists or one of many suspended ceiling systems.  We decided to use 1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ 2.5mm steel angle bar as our main ceiling support system.  This decision was a bit irrational, but not totally.  We have good welders.  Decent wood is expensive.  We paid P375 for 6M lengths of the angle bar.  We painted the steel with epoxy primer but then wood is normally treated with a preservative.
The usual lightweight suspended ceiling systems just seemed too flimsy.  As can be seen in the photo, our ceiling system is strong enough to walk on.  Our roof is high above the ceiling, three meters higher at the center, so the possibility of attic storage is real.  Anyway the angle bar system seemed substantial and affordable so that’s what we’ve done.
First, angle bar is bolted around the perimeter of the room at the ceiling height.  These are bolted to the hollow block wall using 3/8″ lag screws and lead expansion bolts.  A 60cm (2′) x 120cm grid of angle bar is welded to these supports.  The 120cm span is split using 1″ flat bar.  The angle bar crossing the center of the room is heavier (2″ x 2″ x 3mm) to support the heavy Hunter ceiling fan.  Supports using scrap material extend from the ceiling angle bar to the steel roof rafters, further making the ceiling structure strong.
I have to disclose that our engineer has told us that this whole system is ridiculously overbuilt and wasteful, as are so many things in our house.
Each 60 x 120cm plywood panel will have a bevel at the edge.  The holes for recessed pin lighting will be cut before the plywood is installed.  The plywood will be attached to the angle bar using pop rivets recessed into the plywood.  The recesses will be filled and the ceiling painted.  A crown molding will cover the joint between the plywood and the wall.  These are all very standard ceiling details on modest Philippine houses.  We find this grid-pattern ceiling to be attractive.  Fancier Philippine houses go in for all sorts of over-the-top ceiling elaborations, the more complex the better.

We’re building a house in the Philippines.  Here’s how we’ll be installing our ceilings.

Our ceilings will be about 30cm (1′) below the top of our walls and 3.1m (10′) above the finished floors.  We wanted high ceilings because we hope that the hot air will rise above us but also because it makes our modest rooms feel more spacious.  Changing lightbulbs will be a challenge!

Generally Philippine ceilings are marine plywood or one of the cement board products such as Hardiflex.  The price is about the same. There are plusses and minuses for both.  Termites and rot don’t attack cement board but the cement board is said to be more affected by roof leaks.  Originally we decided to use marine plywood.  Cement board is a totally uniform material.  Plywood has some texture, some hint of once being a natural product.  We  like the look of plywood ceiling better but, based on comments we’ve received (see below) on this blog, we’ve decided to use 4.5mm Hardiflex.

Ceilings can be supported by wooden joists or one of many suspended ceiling systems.  We decided to use 1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ 2.5mm steel angle bar as our main ceiling support system.  This decision was a bit irrational, but not totally.  We have good welders.  Decent wood is expensive, more expensive than steel.  We paid P375 for 6M lengths of the angle bar.  We painted the steel with epoxy primer, but then wood is normally treated with a preservative.

The usual lightweight suspended ceiling systems just seemed too flimsy.  As can be seen in the photo, our ceiling system is strong enough to walk on, a real advantage for storage, and repairs and maintenance.  Our roof is high above the ceiling, three meters higher at the center, so the possibility of attic storage is real.  Anyway the angle bar system seemed substantial and affordable so that’s what we’ve done.

First, angle bar is bolted around the perimeter of the room at the ceiling height.  These are bolted to the hollow block wall using 3/8″ lag screws and lead expansion bolts.  A 60cm (2′) x 120cm grid of angle bar is welded to these supports.  The 120cm span is split using 1″ flat bar.  The angle bar crossing the center of the room is heavier (2″ x 2″ x 3mm) to support the heavy Hunter ceiling fan.  Supports using scrap material extend from the ceiling angle bar to the steel roof rafters, further making the ceiling structure strong.

ceiling

Ceiling support structure as seen from one of the bedrooms.

I have to disclose that our engineer has told us that this whole system is ridiculously overbuilt and wasteful.

Each 60 x 120cm panel will have a bevel at the edge.  The holes for recessed pin lighting will be cut before the Hardiflex is installed.  The Hardiflex will be attached to the angle bar using blind rivets recessed into the Hardiflex.  The recesses will be filled with auto body filler and the ceiling primed and painted.  A crown molding will cover the joint between the Hardiflex and the wall.  These are all very standard ceiling details on modest Philippine houses.  We find this grid-pattern ceiling to be more attractive than a plain flat.  Fancier Philippine houses go in for all sorts of over-the-top ceiling elaborations, the more complex the better.

Riveting Hardiflex panels to steel ceiling structure

Riveting Hardiflex panels to steel ceiling structure

Holes are drilled through the Hardiflex, angle bar (1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ x 2mm) and flat bar and the Hardiflex riveted to the ceiling with 3/16″ blind rivets.  Holes are drilled with Bosch cobalt twist drill bits.  The Hardiflex is abrasive and dulls ordinary bits almost instantly.  The cobalt bits need constant sharpening.  The worker sharpen the bits using a grinding wheel on the 4″ angle grinder.  The workers are installing the rivets with a Craftsmen riveting tool I bought at Sears a decade or two ago and never found too much use for.  It really gets a work out here!

The first ceiling being finished

The first ceiling being finished

The center cutout is for a ceiling fan.  There are four other cutouts in this room for recessed lights.  The rivet heads are recessed and filled with a polyester body filler.  Other finishing is done with the same type of gypsum joint compound used for sheet rock.

Kitchen/Living Room Ceiling

Kitchen/Living Room Ceiling

This shot shows how much of the “attic” will be concealed above the kitchen-living room ceiling.  That kitchen ceiling looks low but is over 10′!  About 5,000 3/16 x 5/32″ x 3/4″ blind rivets will be used in total to attach the Hardiflex to the angle bar ceiling structure.

Completed ceiling, but no crown molding yet

Completed ceiling, but no crown molding yet

Attic wiring

The ceiling as seen from the attic

In this shot you can see conduit for electrical circuits, cable TV, Internet, embedded in the walls and coming up into the attic. You can also make out how the ceiling structure is bolted to the walls using lead expansion anchors and lag screws.  Most of the electrical conduit in the attic is flexible rather than rigid.

Bracket for Hunter ceiling fan bolted to angle bar joists

Bracket for Hunter ceiling fan bolted to angle bar joists

In the above photo you can get an idea of our Hardiflex panel joints.  While we bought a manual Hardiflex tungsten carbide scorer, the recommended tool for cutting the panels, the workers generally used the 4″ Makita angle grinder with a diamond masonry cutting blade to cut and bevel the Hardiflex.  This resulted in huge clouds of dust.

Ceiling fan

Ceiling fan with extension pipe

We installed additional pipe to bring the fan down from the ceiling, as recommended by Hunter.  Hunter sells extension pipes but we used ordinary galvanized water pipe and couplings.  It worked fine.

1 1/2" crown molding

1 1/2" crown molding

You architectural experts out there.  Is this molding installed upside down?  Finishing of ceiling is with one coat of Boysen flat latex and two coats of Boysen gloss latex.

Comments (35)

  1. Bob, why didn’t you use gypsum boards for your ceiling? What’s Hardiflex’s edge over gypsum boards? We’re building a house and we’re now deciding which type of ceiling material to use — gypsum board or Hardiflex. Will appreciate any advice on this. Thanks.

    • Hardiflex is a good choice. Ours has performed flawlessly. The only thing is, that for the workers, it’s not so pleasant. I remember the clouds of dust when they worked with it. Thankfully it no longer contain asbestos.

  2. Alex Banade
    uzbon83@yahoo.com
    27.110.192.253
    Submitted on 2013/06/27 at 12:59 am
    Hi,

    I don’t use Gypsum boards for walls/partition/drywall. For one thing that they are not hard enough to bear the load we put on walls. You can actually kick the wall made of Gypsum and create a hole. But Gypsum boards are best for ceiling. You can use a 9mm or 12mm Gypsum board for ceiling and use metal frames they call ‘metal furring’ which is commercially available in different sizes and thickness and length. Since the regular Gypsum Boards are not moisture resistant, we avoid using them in toilet and bath ceiling or exterior ceiling or any part that are exposed to rain or moist. We use a special gypsum board we call ‘Gypsum Board MR’ or Moisture resistant or better yet use 6mm Fiber-cement boards or Ficem boards. Prices of a Boral Gypsum and Ficem are almost the same. Around 300-350/board for 12mm thk Gypsum. One board is 4ftx8ft or 1.2m x 2.4m.

    For walls and partitions, we use 6mm Ficem boards. Ficem boards are like sheets of concrete. And you can use metal studs and tracks for framing. You can buy these materials from your local hardware.

    That’s all.

  3. Hi Bob, using hardieflex boards for ceilings means that you need the 4.5mm thickness to allow for countersinking the screws, thus enabling space to cover with plaster. This size is quite heavy. 12 mm gysum board is easier to install and the self tapper screws can be tightened into the panel easily.
    The local hardware framing system is indeed flimsy as you say, but it does the trick of holding the boards up and it is NON RUST . With the humid air Bob, I can see in a few years you may have staining by using steel angle despite the epoxy primer.
    We are experimenting using the “C’ channel 2 x1 (ceiling furlins) that is a bright chromium looking metal guide. I shall flatten one side and use this edge to drill and 8mm “hang” from the roof . Rivet 2 pieces of the c channel together back to back and put 24 inch strips of 9mm gypsum board to “rest” on the lip of the c channel. This way we do not use any screws. the c channels can be cut in half and masonry nailed (1 in) for the room edges for the gysum board to rest on. My next job is o fasten the strips together to prevent the boards opening up and dropping down!!!. Another c channel above the boards will be cut and pushed into the long strips at right angles to hold the main purlins together. The c channel will be exposed to the room and we can prime with flat white to blend in with the gypsum boards. Does this make sense…sorry…. We have done a small bathroom already and the effect is very appealing. The bright steel furlings are 89 pesos a 6 meter strip ..bargain.. must think of other items to make from them haha

    • Peter,

      Yikes! I hope you are wrong about the angle bar rusting and staining the Hardiflex. While primed steel outside does show some rust, I don’t see any sign of rust yet in the attic steel work. Are you using waterproof gypsum board? In the US we call it green board and it’s used in high humidity locations such as bathrooms. I can’t imagine using regular gypsum board in the Philippines but maybe it’s OK.

      Bob

  4. Ed Gambes
    gambesed@yahoo.com
    Submitted on 2012/09/02 at 4:55 pm
    Hi Bob,

    Did any of the ceiling joints crack in your house with the roof heat? They say that it is better to use marine epoxy than polyester body filer to avoid cracks.

    I’m wondering how yours did 2 years or more after construction.

    Thanks,

    Ed

    REPLY

    Excellent question Ed.

    Fortunately, we have not seen a bit of cracking in the ceiling joint filler so the polyester gets a thumbs up from us.

    Bob

  5. Nice house Bob, I’ve been reading your Blog and find it interesting and well written.

    and Yes, your crown moulding is upside-down but, it doesn’t matter, your house looks really GOOD despite your “misadventures”, hehe… Keep up the Very Good Work!!!

  6. Hi bob, I been following your blog since the beginning of your house construction. Great job. I am just wondering about the ceiling. In your living room, is there any design at all or is it flat plain. How much does ceiling construction cost you. materials and labor. Thanks a lot, hope you guys are enjoying your life in Philippines.

    • The ceiling material comes in 4×8 panels but we used a 2×4 panel system to give a bit more visual interest. See http://myphilippinelife.com/our-philippine-house-project-ceiling-support-system/ceiling_done/

      As far as cost is concerned, I just can’t give a good answer. The 4×8 by 4.5mm Hardiflex panel cost P413 each but then there are the angle bar support system, the rivets, the extensive labor of installing, joint filling and painting. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

      • I have seen fiber glass panels that I think are 4′ x 6′ and cost about the same as hardiflex(?). Water and bugs should not bother it and it must be easy on drills, but I don’t know if it might need more support to avoid sagging. Do you have any thoughts on fiber glass ceiling panels?

        P.S. As a matter of full disclosure: I got a B on a bird house in 7th grade shop back in 1955 Illinois. I thought Black and Decker were a comedy team, but I’m learning under the goad of necessity

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  9. Your ceiling support structure looks a work of art but must be taking ages to complete. I did a similar framework but welded steel purlins to the frame as fixing battens. Its a milder steel which allowed us to attach Hardiflex sheets (full size sheets, not cut) with self tapping screws using electric drill with screwdriver attachment. No pre-drilling is necessary and if for some reason a sheet has to be removed its a simple process of using a studfinder to locate the screws and reversing the fixing procedure.
    My Hardiflex sheets were taped at the joints , filled and painted.( You can purchase here Hardiflex with a rebated edge for taping).
    After three years no cracking or opening of the seams is evident.I suspect the milder steel is more forgiving allowing for temperature expansion contraction thus no cracks…yet.

    • Hi Simon,

      Yes, like many things in our house they were done in a eccentric way, the result of my learning as I went. We wanted the pattern of smaller panels with visible v-grooves as part of our design. That too took more time. I just don’t like the look of unbroken expanses of plaster board but that’s just a personal prejudice. Our old house in NY had plaster over riven wooden lath. It had real character. Our apartment had the small panel design so we just imitated that. I’ll bet there are at least 5,000 blind rivets. We also riveted the 1/2″ plywood used for our soffits.

      I hope ours holds up as well as yours!

      Regards,

      Bob

  10. Bob, good you decided on Hardiflex. I like the job your workers are doing. They do it slowly but steadily, right?

  11. I like Yannic’s use of HardiFlex, taping the joints, and filling them in. The filler looks like automotive type dent filler? Bondo?

    Greg

  12. Hi Bob.

    I see many worry about security. !! i dont see how hardiflex can improve that really, because the plywood is a lot more difficult to brake in pieces, and using rivets or screws make them sustainable against pressure from above. just the rivets has heads that can hold the plates.

    Water, moisture, mold and dew. with that wide roof overhang, and a good solid roof lioke yours i dont see how water stains, nor condensation can build mold, just one thing, using aircon, will cool down surfaces under the sorroundings, and that can start condensation in the roof plates.

    But with the room height you have, and the cold air staying low in the room, it will still be hot under the ceilings, so its a question about keeping an eye on it and eventually insulate over the ceiling.

    Dont foget the moisture membrane.
    (always to the HOT side)

    best regards
    John

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  14. I think that the Filipino intruder will be looking for an easier way into your house Bob than getting through into the roof. It would only be possible if he knows you are away for a period of time, then he has the opportunity.
    Some flashing lights in the rooms will scare them off, small lights that only shine during the night. There is a dummy camera for sale in the hardware malls that you can modify to fit two heavy duty 1.5 volt batteries (clamp to a torch). This will flash a red light mounted on a dummy camera 24/7 for at least 6months.
    Another thingy is an electronic insect repellent that sits in the mains plug and emits varying ultrasonic sounds that the insects don’t like. the small unit flashes a green and red lamp to signify that the emission is working, however it glows very well in the dark.
    We kept the kids away from our place on the beach by warning them against snakes!! funny watching them run!
    The is also a twin beam infra red detector that is active during the dark hours but with insects and cats about they can be more of a trouble than not having anything…..but you could use a small alarm module instead of the powerful lamps, in this way no one would hear the sound but your intruders.

  15. have no other idea about keeping the burglers out but since you invested a lot of “unnecessary” stuff into your house it wouldn’t matter to add some more mesh, right. So I agree to Andrew once more…

    In my case, we will be trying to always have someone in the house at least the maid to keep burglers out, don’t know if that will work out…

    Here some pictures of my workers closing the nail holes of the Hardiflex boards with filler.

    http://www.philpics.exphil.de/bohol/project/Bohol-1455.jpg

    here they put a net band on the Hardiflex board joint and then the filler, kind of quality job…

    http://www.philpics.exphil.de/bohol/project/Bohol-1475.jpg

    here is how it looks later on, they also do some sanding work on the filler

    http://www.philpics.exphil.de/bohol/project/Bohol-1476.jpg

    more pictures of my house construction here:

    http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=de&sl=de&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.philippinenportal.com%2Findex.php%3Fshowtopic%3D9304%26hl%3D

  16. I Agree with Andrew! I would use some type of mesh to keep the…….

    Burglars

    Birds

    Snakes

    Geckos

    and what have you out!

    Greg

  17. I can see your issue concerning security, Bob. Maybe you could screw, and or tack weld some general purpose galvanised mesh inside above the soffits? So if someone tries to push up on the soffit (eaves), it’ll be limited by the mesh.

    Andrew

  18. With Hardieflex you still need to keep it dry because it will produce a water-stain. I had it happen to me and it was worse because there was 5inch fibreglass matting over the top for insulation that soaked a small water leak up.
    To suspend the ceiling I have an idea to make up concrete lintels/beams and put these accross the rooms. We can get the timber effect with stiff brush whilst green. Laying the hadieflex panels over these and having the old fashioned dark brown and white effect. This would make a strong ceiling and a useful floor in the attic …at least for storage.

  19. Bob, I really have to agree to Andrew’s post. Please consider using Hardiflex instead of Plywood. You have such a great house already, don’t ruin it by using plywood for the ceiling. LOL

    Keep on posting…

    • Thanks so much for this feedback on Hardiflex v. plywood ceilings. I did not divulge that one of the reasons I was preferring plywood was that our soffits are the biggest security weakness in our house. We will have security screen doors which can remain open 24/7 and quite heavy security bars on the windows. In fact these window security bars make the perfect ladder to reach the soffit. My construction crew used them all the time as ladders and to support bamboo scaffolding. Anyway, I thought plywood, possibly a bit heavier plywood on the soffits could improve security compared to more brittle Hardiflex. One soffit panel removed, give access to every room in the house. The heavy angle bar supporting the ceiling, and the high ceilings, makes it easy to get around up there. Comments?

      Bob
      http://

  20. This is an excellent and informative site, Bob. I really look forward to your house building updates, too!

    Could I just suggest one thing concerning the use of plywood for the ceilings? When we built our first house near Bacolod a number of years ago, we used plywood (marine). The carpenters love the stuff…easy to work with. After a while during the wet season, I honestly regretted not going with Hardiflex. Mould started to grow under the eaves, then it spread to the ceiling inside the house…it was everywhere! I couldn’t get rid of it. An American living nearby was using Hardiflex and he had absolutely no problems with mould. The other issue I found with plywood was trying to find consistent quality sheets. I went from lumber yard to lumber yard trying to find sheets without defects.

    Anyway, I think you’re getting a top notch job done on your place. Well done!

  21. Hi Bob.

    Nice to see how your attacking the overhead ceiling. I have been a bit excited to see how its done when using iron frames. I understand the idea with the plywood boards, but rivets?? Isnt it possible to buy metal self-drilling self-cutting screws there and use a battery screw maschine?? Are you going to put insulation above the ceiling plates to prevent heat from the roof region to heat up, and create heat radiation to the room under?? Here we use 300 mm YES Three hundred Millimeter, but that is to keep heat inside, but 100 mm in you case would be an apropriate layer to prevent heat from above i think. What is your plans. ??
    Its really taking form there now, rooms start to show as rooms and you can see how it goes and how it can be used.
    Congratulation.

    Regards
    John

    • Hi John,

      I was thinking about using pop rivets because the heads are very low profile compared to a screw head, making finishing and painting easier. Also the rivets are very popular and available here. This is unlike battery powered tools. I showed my workers a Hitachi battery drill I brought with me and they were amazed — had never seen one before!

      We put our insulation under the roof rather than above the room ceilings to try to keep the attic itself cool. It probably would be good to insulate the ceilings of the rooms which will have air conditioning — two bedrooms, but our real interest is NOT using air conditioning.

      Regards,

      Bob

  22. Bob, When its all done can I just buy your home? (-: I know it will be a quality built product. Ron

    • Ron,

      Thanks for the support but Carol is so anxious to move into her new house that she’d get out her bolo at any impediment to her moving in, including the two of us!

      Bob

  23. From Peter:

    Hardiflex is the modern stuff for housebuilding and our ceilings were fitted by suspending the boards from steel tringers from Steel in the roof and concrete on the first floor. I remarked on the strength when the guys were fitting them and he suspended himself from two of the stringers …… convinced me!

  24. From Peter,

    The Philippines has some really arty ceilings very ornate and eye catching but I admired the one in Max’s restaurant where there was just a drop down border of about 1 meter wide surrounding the centre. The lighting was behind the border and it lit up the centre very well. I’ve done the same effect in our kitchen by installing fluorescent tubes behind kitchen cabinets, but Max’s was super, maybe I’ll find some one who can do it for me over the lounge.
    The usual electrician’s job in new houses seems to be putting “Pin” lights in each corner of every room…..cost me a fortune in lamps and we’ve not used them very much. We prefer to have wall lights and building your own house gives you the opportunity to provide them very easily. The choice however is quite limited; most of the wall lamps we find are for gardens!

  25. Thanks a lot Bob, actually you were the one who gave me good ideas LOL.

    For the ceiling I would really recommend to use the Hardiflex cement boards and not marine plywood, plywood will shrink and enlarge.

    Here is a link to a translated version of my page for all who can not understand German. Unfortunately the translation is not really accurate but better then in German.

    http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=de&sl=de&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.philippinenportal.com%2Findex.php%3Fshowtopic%3D9304%26hl%3D

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