Dear James: I want to add ceiling lighting and a ceiling fan to my living room, but there is no wiring up there. I would like to add decorative box beams and run the wiring through them. How can I do this? -- Andy M.
Dear Andy: This is an excellent idea for adding lighting and a fan to a room without access to existing wiring. Even if you did not need access to electrical wiring, adding box beams can be an excellent addition to any room and significantly change its character.
It is important to have at least standard-height ceilings when installing box beams. The beams do not have to be extremely deep to hide the wiring, but if they are too shallow, they will not look right. A depth of 4 to 5 inches is the minimum to ensure functionality and an acceptable appearance.
Measure the dimensions of your room to determine the spacing for the box beams on the ceiling. Check for any protrusions from the walls for windows frames, fireplace mantels, doors, etc., which will interfere with the box beams reaching the walls.
If it looks as though this will be a problem, it is best to build dropped soffits along those walls. Frame and finish the soffits with drywall to the same depth as the box beams for a professional look. These soffits may be excellent locations for recessed lighting along those walls.
Before actually building and finishing these soffits, determine the layout and spacing of the box beams on the ceiling. The most eye-pleasing box beam spacing is forming perfect squares. Obviously, this may not be possible with all room shapes. You may be able to extend the size of the soffits slightly more than needed to allow for square beam-spacing.
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A general rule of thumb is to make rectangular spacing at a 1 to 1.62 ratio. This is pleasing to the eye and is definitely a rectangle by design. If you space the beams just slightly off of true square so they fit the existing ceiling, it will look as though you just did not measure properly.
An easy-to-build size for the box beam is about 6 inches wide and 4 inches deep using standard lumber. The first step is to make the backer support, which is attached to the ceiling. It is hidden inside the beam when it is complete. Start out with a 2-by-6-inch piece of lumber, and rip it down to 4 1/2 inches on a table saw. Attach these securely to the ceiling.
The vertical sides of the box beam can be made from 1-by-4-inch pieces of lumber and the horizontal bottom from 1-by-6-inch piece of lumber. You can determine the type of finishing lumber to use based on the decor you desire and whether you are going to paint or stain the lumber.
You have several options for fitting the sides and bottom together. This will depend upon the style you want and your woodworking skills. One attractive joint design requires a 1/2-inch rabbet cut along the edges of the side pieces. This allows the bottom 1-by-6-inch piece to be slightly recessed. This is also a strong joint.
Another option is just attaching the 1-by-6 to the flat bottoms of the sides. This will leave an attractive offset. Finish the sides against the ceiling with cove molding to hide gaps.