Upper-Cab Moulding and Irregular Ceilings

Pros share perspectives and ideas on dealing with out-of-level ceilings. August 29, 2005

I am wondering about any of you that install a lot of crown molding. We do a lot of cabinets that end up going to the ceiling and finishing off at the top with crown molding. The problem is that many of the ceilings run up and down. Obviously we cannot bend the molding to make it match the ceiling, but I hate leaving the gaps that have to be caulked. Last week we did one that the ceiling was out 1/2" in four feet. Just wondering what the rest of you do when confronted with this problem?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor P:
It has always been my first position to note that the integrity of the installation relates first to the quality of the cabinetry and to you as the installer. Ceiling pitch is always a problem - coming out of the gate I would identify the low spots in the ceiling, relate that to the client and/or contractor and either give the contractor the responsibility to float the ceiling to that point or let the client know that the finish to the ceiling will never be perfect and will have to be caulked.

It is possible to adjust your miters at each joint, but that will substantially lengthen your install time and substantially increase your frustration. I vote for starting out with a 1/2" shadow line at the low point and let the ceiling be what it is. Reduce your stress, maintain your reveal lines - and put the responsibility where it belongs - on the contractor's shoulders.

From contributor M:
We always use at least a two-piece crown when running into ceiling. The under crown has a detailed bottom edge and at least 1" of flat above for the crown to ride up and down on as you follow ceiling line. Build to the low spots and let crown ride up into high spots.

From contributor L:
I work in 18th century houses where the ceilings have 3-4" bows in the ceilings. Nothing is square, flat, straight or true. The floors are out of level 2" over 12' Try installing cabinets in that situation.

My answer for way out ceilings is to scribe a flat piece of stock to the ceiling so that the bottom edge is level. Then all your cabinets get referenced from that line. You paint the scribed board the same color as the ceiling and it disappears into it, especially if the cabinets contrast the ceiling. I think leaving a reveal is not proper and just taking the easy way out. A reveal is acceptable if you have tall ceilings and the cabinet tops are inches or feet from the ceiling.

From the original questioner:
I have to agree with Contributor L. We do a lot of remodeling of kitchens where there is no contractor to float the ceiling. I have tried the flat board at the ceiling and shimming it up and down and then caulking it and painting it the color of the ceiling. I was just looking to see if anyone had a quicker or more efficient way to do it. In new houses it doesn't seem to be as much of a problem, but we do a lot of remodel kitchens etc.

From contributor D:
I just remodeled my own kitchen and I have to say that when I chose to buy the house I had to sacrifice the age of the house for the location. I could say that I am not doing cabinet installation at all, but the way I had to deal with it was that because my cabinets has face frame construction.

I installed a piece of 1 1/2" by 3/4" at the top of the doors so it looks flush with the doors and on that piece I nailed the crown. I have to say that on a run of 8' the difference is about 1/2" to 5/8". In my opinion it blends a lot better than adding something to the ceiling, just for the simple fact that you have to look closely to see how the crown rides up or down on that strip of same color wood.

From contributor B:
From our contract:
"Customer shall have all necessary preliminary work such as drywall, taping, rough plumbing and rough electrical completed so that installation may proceed uninterrupted. No other trades shall be permitted to work in the area during installation. Cabinets will be installed plumb and level. Floors out of level greater than shall be corrected by customer prior to installation. Ceilings are to be level."

Customer understands from the gate that if he wants cabinets to run to the ceiling, he pays someone to make them level. By the way, we never install cabinets out of level for any reason.

From contributor M:
A 4" Makita power planer can be your best friend when scribing crown to ceiling. It is quick and most noticeable gaps can be prevented.

From contributor J:
I always use a two-piece crown. It works well and I have never had any complaints. The contract solution would be very hard to enforce and at least in my experience would lead to sticky situations between the homeowner, contractor and you. Do you really think a GC is going to run out and cut you a check the minute you finish if you made him float the ceiling, even if it is in you contract?

From contributor B:
To contributor J: We use a two-piece crown and it does work well, but I don't scribe, flex, or tilt crown moulding. I don't make the contractor do anything, ever. The homeowner does that and when was the last time a contractor ran out and cut you a check the moment you finished? The contractors I work for tell the homeowner the truth from the gate as well: they will have to pay for the ceiling to be level if they want to run the cabinets to the ceiling. This is not rocket science. Just good upfront communication with all parties involved.