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Drywall vs Drop Ceiling | Detailed Cost Comparison

If you are looking for a quick ceiling installation, then drywall and drop ceiling are both good options. They can even seem quite similar. However, there are notable differences, one of which is the cost of the two ceilings.

Your budget almost always plays a huge role in determining the type of ceiling you end up installing, so in this article, I provide you with a detailed cost comparison of drywall and drop ceiling.

DIY installation tools can cost hundreds. Without tools, DIY installation for drywall is $0.5-$0.75 per sq. ft. Drop ceiling is $2-7 per sq. ft. Professionals charge $1-2.25 per sq. ft for drywall. Drop ceiling labor costs are $2-5 per sq. ft.

Differentiating Between Drywall and Drop Ceiling

Drywall ceilings are a form of conventional ceilings. They are characterized by their flat seamless surface, and their installation involves attaching drywall to ceiling joists with drywall screws or nails. 

Drop ceilings otherwise referred to as suspended or false ceilings aren’t attached directly to ceiling joists. Instead, they are installed by attaching ceiling tiles to a grid system that’s suspended 3-8″ from the ceiling joist or old ceiling.

Drywall and drop ceiling

Drop ceilings are often used to conceal ductwork, electrical wires, and sprinkler systems.

Drywall CeilingDrop Ceiling
Installed directly to ceiling joists Suspended about 3-8″ from joists or old ceiling
Cannot be installed over another ceilingCan be installed over another ceiling
Attached to ceiling with screws or nailsAttached to a grid system that’s connected to the walls a few inches from the ceiling
Panels cannot be removed without causing damage to the ceilingThe tiles are moveable and can be removed without causing damage to other ceiling components
Features a plain design Tiles come in different designs and patterns
Can be installed in both tall and short ceilingsNot ideal for low ceilings but are a great option for tall ceilings
Table of differences between drywall ceiling and drop ceiling

Purchasing the Boards

Drywall Ceiling

How much you spend on purchasing the boards would depend on the type of board you intend to use and also the size of the panel. 

Standard drywall is the most common drywall type and is often what is considered while discussing drywall installations. They come in thicknesses of 1/2″, 5/8″, and 3/4″. The price of a single panel typically ranges from $12 to $18, with thicker boards costing more.

Standard drywall might not be ideal for every application, so alternative types of drywall are available and some of them offer additional benefits like soundproofing, moisture resistance, and fire resistance. 

Standard drywall boards are perfect for dry locations, but if you intend to install the board in a moisture-prone room or you require added features like fire resistance, it’s best to spend extra on a board that’s specially designed for your need. 

Specialty drywall boards cost more and you could spend as much as $90 on a board. 

The cost might vary slightly based on the manufacturer and retail outlet you’re purchasing the board from. 

The average cost of drywall is $12-$20 per panel. That’s about $0.40 to $0.65 per square foot. 

Drywall type4×8′4×12′
1/2″ standard drywall  (most budget-friendly)$12-$18$15-$24
5/8″ standard drywall$14-20$18-$27
3/4″ standard drywall$20-$30$25-$35
Blue board drywall (best for smooth and seamless finish)$12-$15$15-$20
Abuse-resistant drywall (best for impact protection)$13-$18$14-$22
Foil-backed board $20-$25$25-$35
Fire-resistant drywall (best for fire protection)$20-$30$25-$40
Paperless drywall$25-$35$30-$40
Purple drywall (best mold and mildew protection)$15-$60$20-$90
Soundproof board (best for sound reduction)$40-$55$55-$90
Table showing the cost of the different types of drywall

Drop Ceiling

Drop ceiling tiles are made from different materials and the tile material as well as other features like the design, size, and the tile manufacturer determine the cost of the tile. 

The most common materials used in making drop ceiling tiles are plastic, fiberboard, wood, and metal.

Drop ceiling tiles come in prices ranging from $1 to $70 per tile 

Fireboard tiles are the least expensive option and wood tiles are the most costly option. Depending on the manufacturer, ceiling tiles are either sold per piece or per box. 

Fiberboard Tiles

Fiberboard tiles are made from mineral fibers and are the most common ceiling tile material on the market. 

Fiberboard tiles offer sound reduction benefits. However, they are prone to moisture stains and aren’t ideal for humid and moisture-prone locations. 

Fiberboard tiles typically cost between $1 to $7 per tile

fiberboard drop ceiling tiles

Plastic Tiles 

Plastic tiles have a versatile design that mimics the appearance of plaster. 

Unlike fiberboard, plastic tiles are moisture resistant and aren’t as likely to get moisture stains.  

They are easy to install and cost between $5 to $9 per tile.

Metal/Tin Tiles 

Metal tiles are arguably the most attractive type of drop ceiling tiles. They come in various designs and finishes that add valuable aesthetic nuance to the ceiling. They are difficult to install, though, and are, thus, often used as accents. 

Tin tiles are extremely durable and are pricier than fiberboard and plastic tiles. The cost of a single metal ceiling tile ranges between $12 and $20. 

Wood Tiles

Wood tiles add a rustic feel to a room. They come in numerous designs that add elegance and warmth to a space. 

Wood is prone to rotting and warping, so wooden tiles aren’t ideal for humid locations. 

The type of wood used would influence the price of the tile, but you should expect to pay between $10 to $70 per tile

Tile typeAverage cost per tile
Table showing the cost of the different types of drop ceiling tiles

Cost Comparison

The cost of the board would depend on its type and size. On average, drywall costs between $12 to $20 per panel while drop ceilings tiles cost between $4 to $30 per tile. 

This converts to an average of about $0.40 to $0.65 per square foot for drywall and between $0.70-$4 per square foot for drop ceilings. 

Additional Materials Required

Drywall Ceiling

Drywall panels aren’t adhesive and require additional materials to install the board securely to the ceiling.

How much you spend on installation materials would depend on the size of the space you are working on. 


The materials required for the installation include tape, mud, and drywall screws. 


Tape is used to join adjacent sheets of drywall. Tapes come in rolls ranging from 60 feet to 500 feet. 

You can either use paper tape or fiberglass tape. Paper tape typically costs $2 per 250-foot roll while fiberglass tapes cost about $12.5 for the same length.

IPG Paper Drywall Joint Tape, Seams Real Easy, 2.06" x 250 ft, (Single Roll),2052,White
  • Paper Drywall Joint Tape designed for seaming drywall joints
  • Exceptional wet strength, resists stretching, wrinkling and other distortions
  • Designed for use with joint compound for reinforcing joints and corners and gypsum drywall interiors
  • Special cross fiber papers offer tensile strength both with and across the paper grain
NEZUIBAN Drywall Joint Tape, Fiberglass Mesh Tape for Drywall Repair,1.97“×150 Ft Self-Adhesive Drywall Mesh Tape for Sheetrock Crack Repair
  • ✔【Fiberglass Mesh Tape】Fiberglass mesh is made of high quality and high density glass fiber. Corrosion resistant, high temperature resistant, toughness
  • ✔【Multipurpose Function】Drywall tape is used to quickly repair cracks, fill holes and patching commonly found in plaster and small hole drywall installation, also can be used in cement joints...
  • ✔【Strong Adhesion】 Sheetrock tape with strong adhesion, easy to use, no need to pre-apply seam sealer, can be repositioned, suitable for those difficult jobs
  • ✔【Applicable Scope】Drywall Mesh Patch widely used for joining plasterboard, repairing cracks and sealing small holes in the seams, strengthening and finishing the joints of indoor drywall...

Last update on 2024-03-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

To measure how much tape you need, multiply the perimeter of each drywall sheet by the number of drywall boards you need for your project. A 4×8’ drywall sheet has a perimeter of 16 feet, while a 4×12’ sheet has a perimeter of 20 feet.

So, if you are installing 40 4×8’ sheets you would need 640 feet of tape. 

Joint Compound (Mud)

The cost of drywall mud would depend on the brand and the quantity. 

As a general rule, estimate 0.053 pounds of joint compound (amazon link) per square foot of drywall. So, if you are putting up 1000 square feet of drywall, you would need 53 pounds of mud, which is priced at about $10.5. 

Drywall screws

Drywall screws are used to attach drywall to ceiling joists. The ideal length for drywall installation is 1-5/8″ for 1/2 or 5/8″ thick drywall. 

#8 Self Drilling Drywall Plastic Anchors with Screws - No Pre Drill Hole Preparation Required - 75 Lbs

To determine how many screws you need, divide the square footage you intend to cover with drywall by 300. So, a 1000-square-feet drywall ceiling would require 3 pounds of screws. Drywall screws typically cost $8 for one pound and between $16-$30 for 5 pounds. 

Drop Ceiling

The second component of a drop ceiling installation is a metal grid system. The grid is usually installed a few inches from the ceiling and serves as mounting hardware for the tiles. 

The cost of installing the grid would depend on the size of the room and the manufacturer’s pricing. 

The materials required for installing the mounting grid include:

  • Main runners 
  • Cross tees
  • L-shaped perimeter molding
  • 16-gauge wire
  • Drywall screws
  • Eyebolt

The cost of purchasing the grid rails costs between $1.50 to $2.25 per square foot and installation accessories cost about $0.75-$1.15 per square foot. This brings the price to $2.25 to $3.4 per square foot. 

You can either buy the materials individually, or you can purchase a ceiling grid kit. A ceiling kit for a 64-square-foot ceiling costs between $100-$150. 

Adding decorative components to the rails would add to your installation cost. Decorative rail covers cost $0.45 to $0.60 per linear foot, while plastic tape costs between $0.25 to $0.50. 

Cost Comparison

Drywall boards make up most of the material cost and installation materials typically cost about $0.10 to $0.40 per square foot. With drop ceilings, expect to spend about $0.75 to $2 per square foot on the grid system. 

DIY Installation

Drywall Ceiling

In addition to the cost of materials, you might have to spend on tools required for the installation if you choose to go the DIY route. How much extra you spend would depend on the availability of the required tools.

Tools Average costLow-cost option (amazon link) High-end option (amazon link)
Impact drill (cordless)$80M Mokeneye 20V Brushless Impact Driver Kit DeWalt 20V Max* XR Brushless Impact driver Kit
Chalk line$25Irwin Strait-Line Chalk LineTajima Chalk-Rite Dura III
Hammer$15YYJINGYOU Claw hammer HammerEstwing E3-11 12-Ounce Drywall Hammer
Drywall screw setter bit $9DEWALT DW2014 Drywall Screw Setter Bit TipUSG Sheetrock ‘The Dimpler’ Drywall Screw Setter Bit
Drywall saw$13The Hillman Group Drywall ScrewVelocity Drywall Screws
Taping knife$15Bates Taping KnifeHOGARD 24″ Pro Taping Knife
Utility knife$10CRAFTSMAN Utility Knife BladeSlice 10558 Smart-Retract Safety Box Cutter
Tape measure $9Crescent Lufkin Hi-Viz® Power Return Tape MeasureStanley 33-735 Fatmax Tape Rule
Stud finder$20CRAFTSMAN Stud Finder, 3/4-Inch DepthBosch Digital Multi-Scanner GMS120
Step ladder$45Rubbermaid RMS-2 2-Step Steel Step StoolMMAXZ Interior Ladder 4 Steps Black Height 139 cm Engineering Ladder
Table of tools required for drywall installation

You might also have to rent a drywall lift (about $40 per day) if you opt to do the installation alone. 

Basic drywall materials cost about $0.5 to $1 per square foot. So, if you have the necessary tools and have some time to spare, installing a drywall ceiling yourself is a great way to cut down on installation expenses.

How long you spend on the project would depend on factors like the size of your ceiling, your expertise level, and the scope of the project. Installing a sheet of drywall typically takes between 10-15 minutes for two experienced DIYers.

It’s recommended that you have someone assist with the project but if you are doing the installation alone, you should be looking at spending between 15 minutes to 1 hour to install a sheet of drywall, depending on your level of expertise. 

Most installers charge an average of $50 per hour so if you are working on a 200-square-foot room, you would be saving about $100-$200. 

Drop Ceiling

Drop ceiling materials make up the bulk of the installation expenses. On average, the cost of materials, minus tools and installation is about $2 to $7 per square foot.  

Most experts can cover 30 to 40 square feet in one hour. This translates to about 5-7 hours to install a drop ceiling in a 200-square-foot room. But that’s only possible because of their level of experience and DIYers might spend double the time to cover the same space.

Handyman installing white drop ceiling tiles

For DIY installation, the overall cost of the project would depend on the type of materials you are using for your project and the availability of the tools required for the installation. 

If you have to purchase multiple tools, you could end up spending hundreds of dollars, which might not be worth it if you take the hassle and the amount of time spent on the project into consideration.

However, if you are covering a large area, going the DIY route might be worth it even if you have to purchase all the items on the list below. 

ToolsAverage costLow-cost option (amazon link)High-end option (amazon link)
Chalk line$25Irwin Strait-Line Chalk LineTajima Chalk-Rite Dura III
Hammer$15YYJINGYOU Claw hammer HammerEstwing E3-11 12-Ounce Drywall Hammer
Carpet knife$10CRAFTSMAN Utility Knife BladeSlice 10558 Smart-Retract Safety Box Cutter
Clamps$15WORKPRO W032006WE Steel Spring ClampDRAGONITE Heavy Duty C Clamp
Tape measure$9Crescent Lufkin Hi-Viz® Power Return Tape MeasureStanley 33-735 Fatmax Tape Rule
Laser level$35Semlos Multipurpose Line Laser LevelerJohnson Level & Tool 40-6240 Laser Precision Level
Drywall circle gauge$15Utoolmart Bimetal 20mm/0.79″ Hole Saw Drill BitInstallMates Multi Size Hole Cutter with Dust Bowl
Cordless drill$80M Mokeneye 20V Brushless Impact Driver Kit DeWalt 20V Max* XR Brushless Impact driver Kit
Tin snips$12Performance Tool W2043 Center Cut Aviation Tin SnipMidwest Tool and Cutlery Aviation Snip
Step ladder$45Rubbermaid RMS-2 2-Step Steel Step StoolMMAXZ Interior Ladder 4 Steps Black Height 139 cm Engineering Ladder
Table of tools required for drop ceiling installation

Cost Comparison

How much you spend on installing drywall or drop ceilings yourself would depend on the availability of the necessary tools and the type of materials you are using. 

If you are spending on materials alone, drywall installation should cost an average of $0.5 to $0.75 per square foot and you should expect to pay between $2 to $7 per square foot for drop ceiling installation. 

Professional Installation

Drywall Ceiling

The average cost of hiring a professional to install a drywall ceiling is about $1 to $2.25 per square foot. 

This doesn’t include the cost of materials and you might be looking at spending an average of $1.5 to $3.3 per square foot for both labor and materials. 

You can hire a general contractor, handyman, or drywall contractor/company to install your ceiling. Hiring a handyman costs less than a general contractor or drywall contractor. So, if you are trying to save cost you can reach out to a skilled handyman, preferably one with positive reviews and references. 

Man wearing gloves installing a drywall ceiling

Depending on who you hire, installing a drywall ceiling typically costs between $40 to $100. 

How much you spend would depend on certain features, including

  • The size of the project. 
  • The scope of the project. 
  • Are you removing an old ceiling? Ceiling removal usually costs an additional $1 to $3 per square foot. 
  • Your region and current labor rates.
  • The design (do you intend to texture the drywall or not)? 
  • The installation rate of the contractor or company. 

Drop Ceiling

Drop ceiling installation costs defer from one state to the next. For instance, contractors in locations like California typically charge more than those in Texas.

Materials make up the bulk of the installation expenses and labor cost typically ranges from $2 to $5 per square foot. 

Features like insulation panels add $2 per square foot to the installation cost while decorative rail covers add $1 per linear foot. 

Hiring a professional is a great way to ensure that the ceiling comes out looking good, especially if you aren’t confident in your DIY capabilities.

The exact amount you spend to install a drop ceiling would depend on factors like the complexity of the project, the size of the space, your location, and the type of material you use. 

You can either hire the services of a handyman or a ceiling contractor to help with the installation of your drop ceilings. Hiring a contractor costs more and on average, licensed contractors charge between $70 to $135 per hour while handymen charge about $40 to $80 per hour. 

The labor cost doesn’t include the cost of materials, so you should put that into consideration while planning for the project. 

Cost Comparison

On average, professionals charge between $1 to $2.25 per square to install a drywall ceiling while the labor cost for drop ceilings ranges from $2 to $5 per square foot. 


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