Introduction to Tin Ceilings

Tin ceilings were once a popular fixture in North American homes and businesses during the late 1800s to early 1900s. Meant to evoke the ornate and expensive plaster ceilings of Victorian, European homes, tin ceilings were a more affordable and durable alternative. In addition to being affordable, they provided a fireproof barrier, were light, easy to install, and long lasting. Tin ceilings also helped to hide a multitude of sins, including cracked or stained plaster and uneven ceilings. During the Victorian era, tin ceiling tiles were inexpensive thanks to mass production.

Tin ceilings are comprised of squares of tin, typically in 2 feet x 2 feet (61 cm x 61 cm), 6 feet x 2 feet (180 cm x 61 cm) and 6 feet x 3 feet (180 x 91 cm) squares or rectangles. Tin ceiling tiles are also quite thin and are pressed or stamped individually using steel dies. The tile is placed on a bottom die, and a ram is released down onto the square, pressing the pattern into the tin. Available patterns vary greatly, from simple geometrical designs to intricate florals. In keeping with the plastered ceiling look, tin ceilings were typically painted white.

The ceiling is not the only place in the home that tin tiles were used — they were also commonly used as wainscoting, and today, they are used for kitchen and bathroom backsplashes, islands and decorative wall hangings. After tin ceilings fell out of favor some time around the 1930s, when a more streamlined, art deco style became increasingly popular, many were covered up with drop ceilings or removed. Later in the 20th century, when building restoration became popular, many tin ceilings were uncovered and restored, and considered an asset to an old home. Tin ceiling tiles are also used in new construction as a way to give a new home a historic feel.

Tin ceilings can be installed in a number of ways. Today, the tiles may be part of an interlocking system or, they may be installed with a mounting grid, as a part of a dropped ceiling grid, or simply applied with brads and glue. Which is the best system for a particular application will depend on the type of tile you use, where it will be installed, and what type of material it will be installed on top of.

Restoring and replacing old tin ceilings is possible for the average do-it-yourselfer, but since they were often painted with lead paint, you may want to contact a professional for special handling. Additionally, since tin can easily rust and corrode, tiles may need to be repaired or even replaced. Many companies sell new tin ceiling tiles made from old dies or patterns, making it easier for homeowners to closely match antique tin ceiling tiles. In addition to tin, the tiles may be made with copper, brass, plastic, steel, or aluminum alloy which is highly rust resistant. They may also be powder coated in a variety of colors so that you don’t have to paint the intricately stamped tiles yourself. Alternatively, some homeowners prefer not to coat the ceiling tiles, bringing even more attention to their metallic ceiling.

Written by O. Wallace

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