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Crown Molding: Installing, Cost, Tips & Ideas

We discuss crown molding and focus on crown molding installing, the cost of crown molding, crown molding ideas and tips.

Today we are going to talk about crown molding, how much it costs to fit using a contractor and tips for doing it yourself. First of all, we must get it straight in our heads what exactly are we talking about when we use the term crown moldings. Crown molding is a profiled molding or trim used to bridge the 90° angle between a ceiling and a wall. The profile can be plain or a more complex pattern depending on the style required. In the UK, crown molding goes by the name of ‘coving’ (a uniform profile usually formed around a simple concave quadrant shape) or ‘cornice’ (this is more ornate than coving and is often built up using many different profiles). In this article today we will be using the term ‘crown moldings’ to mean both ‘coving’ and ‘cornice’.

It is basically a way to improve the look of the join between the ceiling and walls within a room. It provides an aesthetically pleasing and graceful transition from the wall to the ceiling rather than relying on the abrupt 90° angle at the intersection. Although mostly used between the ceiling and walls of rooms they can also be fitted at the top of a cupboard or wardrobe, to provide a decorative finish and to block off a small gap which might accumulate dust. The most obvious application is between the tops of fitted kitchen wall cabinets. There is usually about three or four inches gap between the cupboards and the ceiling which is just too small to be able to reach in and clean properly. As an alternative to an awkward dust trap, the crown molding is used to seal the gap completely providing a neat and attractive finish.

What is a crown molding made from?

There are many different materials used to make crown moldings. Some have specific applications and others are just for convenience.

Plaster

Plaster molding looks best when used with high class plaster walls. The molding is made by casting plaster into a specific shaped mould so the different designs can be very detailed and elaborate. There are various advantages and disadvantages to using plaster moldings and these can be listed as follows:

Advantages:

  • Once set, plaster does not shrink or warp.
  • Complex and detailed shaped moldings can be formed.
  • When the moldings are chosen well and installed properly, the room can look extremely ‘up-market’.

Disadvantages:

  • Casting can be expensive.
  • Plaster can crack during installation.
  • Plaster moldings are heavy, which may not always be advisable.
  • Due to the difficulty of working with plaster, this is not a DIY option but must be installed by a professional.
  • To buy this type of molding can cost from $6 to $15 per linear foot depending on size and style. Installation can cost much more.

Solid wood

This type of crown molding provides good value. Hardwoods take stain beautifully and really show off the colour and grain properly. Softwoods are cheaper and easier to cut and sand and work better if you are intending to paint the finished molding. Wood has many different advantages and disadvantages and these can be listed as follows:

Advantages:

  • Can be carved or machined into many beautiful designs.
  • Can be either painted or stained.
  • Can be installed by a professional or as a DIY project.
  • Long-lasting.

Disadvantages:

  • Wood will expand, contract and warp depending on changes in humidity.
  • You need woodworking skills to install, especially with hardwood.
  • Large sections can be very heavy and difficult to fix to ceilings that cannot carry weight.

The average cost of an ‘off-the-shelf’ molding will vary greatly depending on the size, type of wood and the complexity of the profile. Cherry wood moldings range from $4 to $6 per linear foot; maple moldings range from $2 to $5 per linear foot. Poplar (softwood) is probably one of the least expensive choices and ranges from $2 to $3 per linear foot. Don’t forget that installation will add to this cost if you choose the professional installation option.

Medium density fibreboard (MDF)

This choice of material is good for those who want the beauty of wood without the costs.

Advantages:

  • Lightweight.
  • This will not split when cut or nailed.
  • Relatively inexpensive when compared to real wood.

Disadvantages:

  • Difficult to cut correct mitred angles.
  • Can dent easily.
  • Will warp or bow if fitted in a room with excessive moisture such as a kitchen or bathroom.

The cost of MDF crown moldings vary from $1 to $3 per linear foot. Installation as always is an extra cost.

Polyurethane

This man-made material provides a very cheap alternative.

Advantages:

  • This material is affordable.
  • Very easy to install.
  • Can be molded into almost any design.
  • Resistant to warping.
  • Resistant to scratching.
  • Will not rot.

Disadvantages:

  • Easily dented.
  • Difficulty with painting or staining.

The cost of polyurethane molding ranges from $2 to $6 per linear foot. Installation will cost extra if done by a professional.

PVC

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is good to use in rooms where moisture is an issue (kitchens and bathrooms). The moldings are usually hollow so can be used to channel electrical and sound system cables in rooms without moisture.

Disadvantages include the colour (it is only manufactured in white) and it will not easily hold paint. Costs to buy this type of molding range from $1 to $3 per linear foot. Installation is extra.

Polystyrene

This material is easily cut with scissors and is so light it can be installed with adhesive. It is difficult to make moldings with crisp sharp edges so will always look poorer quality than other materials. Usually only used in areas where more traditional materials cannot be used.

The average cost of buying moldings of this material is in the range of $1 to $2 per linear foot. Installation is extra.

Metal

Aluminium, copper and steel moldings are generally used outside but of course can be used inside if required. Indoor applications can range from workshops, garages, offices and commercial kitchens. The moldings are available in a range of different preformed profiles but a metal cutting saw is needed to work with these materials.

The average range of costs goes from $10 to $30 per linear foot, not including installation costs.

What are the best sizes to use?

The purpose of using crown moldings, no matter what they are made from, is to enhance the beauty and architecture of your rooms. It is therefore very important to choose the correct ‘drop-down’ dimensions of the profile, which is the distance from ceiling to bottom edge of the molding. One option for reasons of symmetry, is to use the same height as that of the baseboard (in UK this would be the skirting board). Another option would be to choose the ‘drop’ based on the height of your room.

Height of ceiling above floorMoulding ‘drop’
8ft3 to 5ins
9ft5 to 10ins
10 to 12ft10 to12ins
16ft18 to 25ins

As a general rule, because the cost of moldings over 10ins being so prohibitive, it is best to build up your own moldings combining different shaped profiles.

Repair vs replace

Replacing the crown molding in your home (or even just in one room) can be expensive especially if you are on a budget. The other option is to repair what you already have. You may not even have to repair; it might just need a wash or a new coat of paint in order to make the moldings look like new once again. We are now going to talk about the ways you can revive your crown moldings without going to the extra expense of replacement. Remember too that any repair tips for crown molding will work equally as well for any other trim or molding in the house.

Gaps. Moldings generally look at their best when they are fitted tight against walls and ceiling without any gaps. Small gaps always show and make the molding look unfinished. Unfortunately, ceilings in most houses tend to move slightly with changes in temperature or with changes in load from above so a rigid gap filler will often crack once again as soon as it has dried. The answer is to use a flexible decorator’s caulk. A tube of this is not expensive and will fill any gaps in the mitred corners as well as between moldings, walls and ceiling.

Reviving. Rather than repairing the moldings, you can try a thorough cleaning and a coat of paint or stain, whichever is applicable. This is far less expensive than replacing moldings and if the colour of the new paint is chosen carefully, you can give the room an updated and fashionable look.

Rotten moldings. This usually only happens with exterior moldings, but if you are renovating a badly neglected house then you might find that wet or dry rot has started to affect the internal moldings as well. Dry rot is a fungal infection whereas wet rot is caused by the long-term effects of rain or other water in general. Dry rot is characterised by an odour of mushrooms and the presence of white trailing fibres behind the moldings or wall. Wet rot is just caused by the presence of water which soaks in and eventually deteriorates the material. The result is that the plaster or wood becomes crumbly and disintegrates.

If you have dry rot then the fungus will need professional treatment as the spores reach further than the visible fibres. Wet rot needs the leak that caused the water source fixed before any repairs can take place. If the damage is insignificant then it can be repaired with filler or caulk depending on the material of your moldings. If the damage is more serious, it will need to be cut out and replaced.

Removing moldings. If your moldings have been badly damaged by either physical knocks or rot then it is best to replace them. If you decide to cut out the rotten parts and fit a replacement it is best to remove a complete length of molding rather than just a small piece. If you remove just a small length you will have the problem of matching up the molding profile exactly at the join. Although a skilled professional can do this it is not easy to do. Instead, by replacing the full length you won’t have to worry about slight differences in profile.

How to fit crown molding yourself?

Fitting crown moldings can be a tricky job if you don’t have any carpentry skills so if this is you then I would advise hiring a professional. If you decide to do the job yourself then you will need some tools. Most serious DIY enthusiasts will already have the required tools, but if not then a quick trip to your local home improvement store will be required.

Hammer. A simple claw hammer is all that is required. If you have a nail gun then all the better.

Tape measure. A retractable tape measure at least 9ft long.

Spirit level. A 1 yd long level (or 1m) is ideal but if not then a small boat level will do.

Mitre saw. Ideally a powered benchtop mitre saw will easily make quick work of the cuts. If you haven’t got one of these then a sharp handsaw and a mitre box will do the job.

Coping saw. This looks like a small hacksaw but has a finer blade. It is used for sawing curves in wood. In this job it will be used to cut along the profile of an internal mitre cut to provide a coped joint.

Drill. An electric drill and suitable bits needed for drilling pilot holes.

Crown molding kits. These are optional but one of these will make the job easier.

Stepladders. Unless you have extremely long arms or legs you will need some way of accessing the ceiling to install the molding. Ideally a platform set at the correct height so you can easily reach the ceiling would be best, but this is DIY so stepladders are the next best thing.

If you want to install crown molding to give a good professional finish then you need to follow the instructions in this step by step guide.

Choose your molding

You are going to the trouble of installing crown molding to make your home look more attractive. Doesn’t it therefore make sense to choose a molding profile that is in keeping with the style of the room or in keeping with the style you want to create. Don’t go overboard when choosing the profile. The molding should not draw the eye to the exclusion of everything else; rather it should be viewed as a part of the whole room. Elsewhere in this article we have discussed the different materials that crown molding can be made from. You must choose the appropriate material as well as the appropriate profile to make sure the finished job looks good. The choice ultimately comes down to:

  • What you want the finished effect to look like.
  • How much money you have to spend.
Measure the job

Before you go out and buy the crown molding, make a rough sketch of your room complete with dimensions. If possible buy the lengths long enough to span right across each wall. If you don’t then you will have to ‘scarf’ the lengths to extend them. Although this is quite easy for a professional to do, the amateur might find the process a bit of a problem. Inspect each length before you buy it and make sure there aren’t any splits or cracks in inconvenient places. Look for ‘milling’ marks (marks remaining after the machining process has been done. These can be difficult to sand smooth).

Remove the furniture

Remove as much furniture as you can from within the room. Crown moldings can be quite long and manoeuvring long lengths while trying to avoid furniture is a nuisance. Give yourself as much room as possible in which to work.

Work area

Set yourself up with a working area. A mitre saw or even just a mitre block and hand saw will need a raised platform which is level and easily moved. You want somewhere to which you can clamp your molding to avoid miscuts. A Black and Decker Workmate is ideal for this as you can adjust its height, easily fix things to it and move it around the room if needed. Set up two stepladders one at each end of the wall otherwise you will be forever dragging your single set of steps back and forth to each end of the wall. Cover carpeted floors with dust sheets and hardwood floors with cardboard or hardboard. You don’t want to be worried about damaging an expensive floor every time you put a tool down.

Cut corners

No I don’t mean taking a short-cut. I mean learn how to cut the molding so you make a good internal and external corner joint. Cutting a good corner joint is not as easy as it looks but with some practice you will soon be producing tight and accurate corners. A good tip is to practice using offcuts.

Usually the corners in a room are all 90°. If they are not then I would suggest not doing this as a DIY project. For now, let us assume they are. External corners are termed mitred joints (or mitered joints) and involve cutting the ends of two pieces of wood at 45° so they meet at a point. You would think that an internal joint is formed by cutting the mitres using the opposite angle. You can do this but you won’t end up having a very good joint. In practice you use what is called a coped joint.

One of the molding lengths is cut square and the other piece has an internal mitre angle cut. Now reach for your coping saw and cut along the profile made where the angle has been cut. If you use the coping saw accurately then when the coped end is pushed against the profile of the other molding length, it will appear to look like the internal joint has been mitre cut as well. Practice these well otherwise you might waste a lot of molding.

Measure the wall

Standing in the doorway, look at the opposite wall. That will be the first wall to be fitted. Take your tape measure and measure the length of the wall between the neighbouring two walls. Always remember the important phrase “Measure twice, cut once”. So that means you measure it again. To be safe just jot the measurement down on a convenient notepad. You won’t forget it now.

Cut the first piece

The first piece to be fitted will have two 90° cuts, one at either end. Remember the rule “measure twice, cut once”, you don’t want to waste your molding if you can help it.

Fix the length

With a pencil, mark on the wall where the drywall upright studs are located. This will be where you nail the molding to. Hold the molding tight up against the ceiling, checking the bottom edge is level (use the spirit level). If it makes it easier you can always make a couple of pencil marks on the wall. Nail the length of molding to the wall, ensuring the nail penetrates the drywall studs.

Measure the next piece

This length needs an internal corner to join with the first piece and then perhaps an external corner at its other end. First the internal corner:

  • Prepare your mitre saw to cut an internal 45° angle.
  • Cut the angle.
  • Pick up your coping saw and cut along the contours made where the profile joins the angle cut.
  • Offer the length of molding up against the ceiling. Slide it so the coped end fits over the profile of the first piece.
  • Mark the other end of the molding where it runs past the wall’s external corner.
  • Cut the external 45° angle.
  • Put some wood glue on the internal coped cut.
  • Make sure the molding is level and nail it to the drywall studs.
Cut the third piece

Now this is where most people get confused and make a mistake. The external angle cut on this end needs to be a mirror image of the previous external cut. As you set up the moulding onto the saw table, try to imagine that the saw table is the ceiling and you are looking at the joint cut from upside down. I know this is tricky but if you can get it right, you are doing well.

Check the fit

Check that the two external 45° cuts fit together properly to create a sharp 90° angle. If it doesn’t then you might have to readjust the cut until it is correct.

Cut the other end

Cut the other end of the molding length to the correct angle. If the corner is an internal, then cut the end straight across. If the corner is external then cut the 45° angle.

Fit the external corner

Cover the two cut ends with wood glue and join them together. Check the molding is level and nail it to the drywall studs.

Continue

Carry on around the room until you arrive back at the other end of the first molding length.

As you work around the room measuring, marking, cutting and fixing, it may be easier if you have another pair of hands you can call on to help hold things. If you haven’t anyone to call then it is a good idea to construct what is known as a ‘dead man’. This is constructed from two pieces of wood fixed together in the shape of a capital ‘T’.

The short cross piece should be about 2 to 3 ft long and the long tail piece should be about 1 ft longer than the height of the ceiling. Wedge the cross piece under the lower edge of the molding so it pushes against the ceiling. You can adjust the ‘dead man’ to make sure the molding is horizontal and tight to the ceiling. You now have a handy tool that can support the molding in the correct position while you nail it in place.

If you are having problems with cutting the internal and external mitre angles, don’t dismay. If they are almost correct then you can fill any small gaps with caulk, putty or coloured filler depending on whether the molding is being painted or stained. If you find you are using a lot of filler, then don’t worry, just make sure it is the type you can paint over, but try not to use too much filler on external corners.

If you take your time, measure twice and cut once then there is no reason why you cannot make a good job of this, so have a go.

Video Resources

Find a contractor to install the molding

If you decide that installing your own crown molding is just a bit too difficult for you, then join the many millions of people who also think the same. If you need someone to do the job there are quite a few professionals who would be able to do it for you. Out of all of them, probably the best would be a carpenter. The only exception to this would be when using plaster molding on a plaster wall. In that case I would definitely use a skilled plasterer as they would have the skills and knowledge required for working with plaster.

So we need to find a carpenter. Don’t just go for any quality carpenter as the trade covers a very wide range of skills, some being less finished than others. There are some carpentry tasks that would not matter if a mitred joint did not look particularly pretty. You want a carpenter who is used to working on visible and finished joints.

Ask around your friends and neighbours for someone who might fit the requirements. Ask at a few building supplies merchants stores. Tradesmen always leave a few business cards on the counter.

When you have a list of about three or four possible candidates, start by getting in touch and asking them some questions.

Experience. Ask if they have ever done any renovation work on old houses. Renovation can be very different to adding moulding in new properties. For one thing the corners are very rarely 90°, and another is that ceilings are rarely smooth and horizontal. You need someone who can adapt and use their initiative if they come up against a problem and find the building has settled with age.

Molding style. Let the carpenter visit your home and look at other moldings and trims inside your house. You want someone who is sensitive to the style you are trying to achieve and who can match up the new molding to an existing one. Ask their advice on which is the best style and material to go for and which would most closely match what is already there. If you are just renovating one room then the obvious answer is to choose the same style as is already fitted into an adjacent room. If you are installing into the whole floor or whole house then you want someone who can recognise the architectural style of your home and choose an appropriate molding profile. You may even need a custom made molding, built up by using a combination of different profiles.

Blending new with old. A good carpenter will be able to see what the original molding profile was and know what is commercially available now. It may look just as good if you are able to blend new profiles with old.

Ask advice. You obviously want all the rooms in your house to look attractive. There are some rooms however that may look wrong if you incorporated a molding profile into the room’s décor. The obvious ones to avoid are kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. The kitchen may already have a profiled molding around the top of the wall cabinets. Unless your bathroom is a reproduction period style, most bathrooms look better with clean, sharp lines using ceramic tiles and glass. Bedrooms are a private room and not usually used in entertaining. If you are on a budget then the best rooms in which to install moldings are the entertaining rooms; dining room, library and living room.

Cleaning up. Fitting crown moldings can be a messy job, especially if you choose polystyrene or plaster moldings. The last thing you want to do is to vacuum the plaster dust after you get home from work. Make sure that the carpenter you choose will clean up as he goes along.

One stop shop. Often fitting crown moldings requires more than one trade’s skillset. See if the carpenter is able to touch up plaster, caulk and paint as well as install the moldings.

Kitchen cabinet crown molding

As stated previously crown molding can be used to fill the gap between the top edge of a fitted kitchen cabinet and the ceiling. These usually come as part of the kitchen and are matched to the kitchen unit colour. Like a ‘room crown molding’ is fitted to the wall, these moldings are fitted to the cabinet and pushed up tight against the ceiling.

The methods of cutting the internal coped joints and the external mitre joints are the same as when cutting the room crown moldings. A hot glue gun comes in really handy when fitting this molding as it often requires a temporary fix while you permanently fix the moldings with screws through the top of the cabinet.

Costs

There are many factors affecting the costs. The most significant of these are the exact room perimeter measurements together with about 10% extra on each length to allow for wastage, material choice, and whether you intend hiring a professional or doing the job yourself. There will also be an additional factor depending on whether you are installing new moldings or whether you are replacing an existing one. If so then you will have to factor in the cost of its removal and disposal.

Generally the cost of labour to install crown moldings can range between $2 to $6 per linear foot depending on the complexity of the job, the condition of your ceiling and walls and the average labour rates in your area. Some professionals may decide to charge you on an hourly rate. The average cost of labour to install new crown moldings for an average sized room are shown below. Remember that the actual cost will depend on complexity of job, height of room and the average labour rates in your area.

Cost to install crown moulding
Low end$250
High end$3,000
Typical range$600 to $1,600
National average$1,100

Don’t forget that if your moldings are just tired and worn out or are in need of repair then they will not need completely replacing. If this is the case, then the cost of repair will depend on the type of molding and material, the ease with which the old molding can be removed and the type of finishing after the repair work has been done. As with all repair work, it is unusual for a contractor to offer a firm quotation as he will not know for certain what is needed until he actually starts removing the old molding or trim. As such it is usual for the contractor to charge on an hourly basis and give you a ‘ballpark estimate’ of the expected job cost.

Typical prices for a molding repair job would be as follows. The figures are based on an assumption that approximately 50% of the moldings must be replaced.

Cost to repair crown moulding
Low end$100
High end$1,900
Typical range$270 to $950
National average$600

The following table brings all the different material costs into one easy to read place.

Moulding materialPrice per linear foot
Polystyrene foam$1 to $2
MDF$1 to $3
Softwood & common hardwoods$2 to $6
Exotic hardwood$10 to $45
Plaster$6 to $15
Polyurethane$2 to $6
PVC$1 to $3
Metal$10 to $30
Materials needed to install crown moulding
Finishing nails$3 to $5 per pound
MouldingSee prices in previous tablePurchase about 10% more than measurements require.
Caulk$3 to $8 per tubeDecorator’s acrylic caulk
Wood putty$3 to $6 per tubeNeutral, paintable
Premade corner pieces$9 to $25 eachThese are optional but provide a good looking accurate corner joint
Crown moulding kit$75 to $120Optional but will make the job a lot easier.

Are there any cheaper alternatives?

Some large and complex profiled moldings can be extremely expensive to buy and you may not always be able to get the profile you actually want. Not only this but if you are trying to match up new moldings with existing period profiles, it can be a nightmare. The answer to this problem is to build up your own moldings using a length of baseboard (skirting board) as your starting position and adding various profiles to it from the wide range of trim and molding profiles available commercially.

Safety

If you are letting a professional do the job then the safety requirements should be left to them. All you have to do is ensure they are a certified contractor and that they hold the correct license and insurance cover for the type of work for which you are hiring them. All reputable certified contractors will already know what safety codes and regulations are applicable and which protective safety equipment they should wear.

If you are doing the work as a DIY project then you may not be aware of some of the safety considerations you should take into account when installing crown moldings.

If you are working with plaster, always wear a dust mask, safety spectacles and protective gloves. New plaster is very alkaline and can cause caustic burns to your eyes and mucus membranes in your nose and mouth. Do not allow new plaster to come into contact with your skin and wear protective coveralls wherever possible.

When using a ladder to access areas above your normal reach, ensure the ladder’s feet are level and seated firmly on the ground. Make sure any locking clips are engaged to prevent the ladder from slipping. Stepladders do not need to be fixed at the top and bottom but straight ladders do. If you are standing near the top of the ladder, do not reach out sideways as the ladder may topple over.

Be careful when using electric saws as they can cut fingers as easily as they can cut wood.

Be aware of the location of the power cable when using an electric saw.

Do not use electric power tools near water.

When using a power saw or a power drill always wear a dust mask and safety spectacles.

If you are using a pneumatic or electrically powered nail gun, be careful. Nail guns can be as deadly as a weapon.

When nailing into a wall or drilling holes, always ensure there are no electrical cables or pipes hidden in the wall.

Do not allow children or pets near the working area.

To finish

Today we have talked about crown moldings and what they are. We have discussed the different materials used to make the moldings and advantages and disadvantages of using each type. We talked about the points for and against repairing moldings as opposed to replacing them, and we discussed what factors could make you want to repair existing moldings.

We then moved on to the step by step instructions for installing crown muldings and the tools needed to do the work. We then followed that with instructions on how to find a suitable contractor who would be skilled enough to produce a good job.

We talked about the costs of installing new moldings as well as typical costs to repair existing ones.

We realised that antique moldings may not always be available to repair existing profiles so the ability to build custom profiles would be very useful.

We finally discussed and highlighted a few safety considerations that are always worth thinking about.

I hope this article has been useful and you will be able to install your own crown moldings with renewed confidence.

Thank you for listening.

 

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