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How to Find Ceiling Joists Under a Popcorn Ceiling

person finding ceiling joist
How to find your Ceiling Joist

If you have a popcorn ceiling, you’ve probably wondered how to find ceiling joists behind the popcorn texture. Whether you need to install a new light fixture or hang something, or even if you’ve decided to cover your popcorn ceiling with wooden planks, you need to learn how to find the ceiling joists.

Believe it or not, it’s actually not that difficult. You can use a stud finder to find ceiling joists under a popcorn ceiling or you can even do it without one. The only difficult thing is that you can’t slide a stud finder across a textured popcorn ceiling like you would with a normal ceiling. The only way to do it is by using a flat surface. In this article, you’ll learn exactly how to find ceiling joists under a popcorn ceiling.

Can You Use a Stud Finder to Find Ceiling Joists?

You can absolutely use a stud finder to find ceiling joists. Here’s how:

The first step is to access the ceiling. Get a small ladder so that you’re comfortable and can easily reach the ceiling with your stud finder.

The next step is to find a flat surface. You want to use something extremely thin as a barrier between the irregular texture on the ceiling and your stud finder. The best thing for this is a thin chunk of cardboard.

With your piece of cardboard, roughly 2 feet by 2 feet, you want to hold it in place using one hand around the area where you’re trying to find a joist. Then take your stud finder and turn it on. Active the deep scan mode.

Keep in mind that you may need to check the manual of the stud finder for specific instructions. Sometimes, different manufacturers have different ways of activating the special deep scan mode, which you definitely need when finding ceiling joists under a popcorn ceiling.

Now that the deep scan is activated, slide your stud finder slowly along the cardboard while keeping everything pressed tightly against the ceiling. You want to stop moving the stud finder when its LED lights active. This means you found the corner of the stud. The best thing to do is place something small like a sewing pin or thumbtack into the popcorn ceiling as a marker.

Now you need to find the other edge of the joist. This is going to be about 1.5 inches away. Slide the stud finder along the cardboard until the LED light shuts off. Use a second sewing pin or thumbtack to mark the other edge. Now you know exactly where the borders of your joist are!

How Do You Find a Stud in a Popcorn Ceiling Without a Stud Finder?

There are a few different ways to find a stud in a popcorn ceiling without a stud finder. If you don’t have a stud finder handy but absolutely need to find a ceiling joist, there are a few clever options for figuring it out.

The first option is to measure from the wall. In most homes, the ceiling joist will be about 16 inches from the wall. This is your ideal place to start. With that in mind, try using a very thin nail and poking it through the popcorn texture to see if you hit something hard.

Your nail will go through the texture and drywall easily if there’s no hard wood on the other side. But when you hit a joist, your nail won’t go any farther because it hits something solid. This is a surefire way of finding a joist, but it should be a last-ditch effort considering you’re literally poking holes in your ceiling.

Another great way to find a stud is to take apart a ceiling light fixture. Anything fixed to the ceiling that you can take off will work. Simply unattach the fixture and then reach your hand into the ceiling and feel around for a joist.

How Do You Find Ceiling Joists?

There are three main ways to find ceiling joists. You can follow the clues along your ceiling to figure out where the joists are running, you can try to listen for them by knocking with your knuckles, or you can use a stud finder.

Using a stud finder is the quickest and easiest option. These work great on painted ceilings because they’re flat, but they aren’t so great with popcorn ceilings or ceilings with texture. You can also use a magnetic stud detector, which works by detecting the nails hammered into your ceiling joists.

Another great way is to listen for the different sounds by tapping on your ceiling with your knuckle. When you rasp along a wall or ceiling, there’s going to be a hollow sound with each knock whenever there’s nothing on the other side of the wall or ceiling. But when you hit a joist or some hard piece of framing, there will be a dull, solid kind of clunk noise. This method takes an expert’s ear.

If you’re feeling particularly clever, you can investigate your ceiling until you find the joists. Keep in mind that lighting fixtures, trim, electrical boxes, and all other features are going to be nailed to a joist in your ceiling. By tracing the light fixtures and other marks on your ceiling, you can usually locate a ceiling joist.

How Do I Find Ceiling Joists Under Lath and Plaster?

Before the 1950s, walls and ceilings were often built using an outdated combination of studs and horizontal wooden beams known as laths. Because modern stud finders work by detecting density changes inside of your wall or ceiling, they don’t really work on lath and plaster. The density inside is simply not consistent enough.

But don’t worry. There are still ways to find ceiling joists under lath and plaster. One of the easiest ways is to locate a light ceiling fixture. These are almost always screwed into joists. Take off the ceiling fixture and reach your hand inside the ceiling – and boom, you’ll find a ceiling joist.

Another way to do it is by using a metal scanner. Scan your ceiling using the metal scanner and wait for the light to glow. You then want to move in one straight direction across your ceiling and look for metal at regular intervals. Once you find metal at regular intervals in a straight line, you’ve found a joist. It really is that easy.

Final Thoughts: Stud Finder Popcorn Ceiling

With a bit of creativity, finding joists in your popcorn ceiling using a stud finder can be very easy. Simply use a thin strip of cardboard with a stud finder that has a deep scan option. Either that or remove lighting fixtures and reach your hand into the ceiling.

 The one thing you don’t want to do when searching for a joist underneath your popcorn ceiling is to hit the ceiling with a hammer. This might work for walls, but it won’t do for a textured ceiling. You’ll probably end up breaking the texture off and choking on the dust.

Resources

How to Hang Tapestries From the Ceiling (sfgate.com)

How to Find Wall Studs in a Lath & Plaster Wall (sfgate.com)

  • Gregory A Seely
  • Gregory A Seely

    Greg is a self taught home renovator and writer for RenoViso. His shares his experiences with Southern Living, Traditional Home and other publications.

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