Crown Molding | Types and Installation

By Camille Berry

Some of the most beautiful elements of a room are most noticeable when they’re absent. Crown (or ceiling) molding adds a sense of solidity to your home and can increase its resale value. The beauty of crown molding is that it’s relatively easy to install—a simple DIY project you can complete over a weekend.

Choosing your crown molding

Here are the most common types of crown molding, along with their pros and cons.

$ = least expensive

$$$$ = most expensive

Wood ($$$)

This original crown molding material has been used for hundreds of years, and for good reason. Natural finished wood adds real warmth and sumptuousness to a room, but it’s quite expensive and, if you live in a humid region, it may contract and expand with the temperature. Cutting wood also requires a bit more skill than other materials, so it’s best installed by someone who has already tried their hand at carpentry.

Wood crown molding

MDF ($)

Medium density fiberboard (MDF) is an affordable alternative to wood. You can buy it veneered or stained, and if you’re not keen on the natural wood finish, just paint it yourself. If your existing wall trim is painted, consider going with MDF as it’ll be much easier to paint. Softer than wood, MDF is more prone to denting, so be sure to handle with care.

Plaster ($$$)

The benefit of using plaster molding is that it can be cast into virtually any design you can think of, from rich floral patterns to Baroque or Rococo motifs. The downside is that it can be pricey, as molds are made to order. Plaster is also quite heavy, so installation will require a pro or at least two amateurs.

Polyurethane ($)

Like MDF, this is another low-cost option and can last for many years with the added bonus of being bug-proof. Say goodbye to termites, woodworm, or pesky beetles. Polyurethane is a good dupe for plaster—you can get similar casts but at a fraction of the cost. However, like MDF, it does dent easily, so be mindful when you’re putting up polyurethane molding.

Left Plaster crown molding

Right Polyurethane crown molding

PVC ($)

Made from plastic (polyvinyl chloride), PVC is an excellent choice for rooms exposed to humidity, like bathrooms and kitchens. PVC does have its limitations, though—it only comes in simple motifs and painting it is an absolute must. But at an average of $1–$3 per foot, who minds doing a little painting?

PVC crown molding

Preparing to install your crown molding

Before hitting the store, you’ll want to take accurate measurements of the rooms you’re going to treat. Draw a quick sketch and jot down the length of each wall. When you go into your local home and garden retailer, ask for single, long pieces of molding tailored and cut to each wall length. Otherwise, get the longest pieces you’re able to find.

Begin with unpainted molding. All painting, if necessary, should be done after the molding is installed.

Materials

  • Tape measure
  • Painter's tape
  • Crown molding
  • Coping saw
  • Miter saw
  • Level
  • Nail gun or hammer
  • Finishing nails
  • Caulk gun
  • Paintable caulk
  • Ladder

How to install crown molding

  1. Use chalk to mark the wall where the bottom of edge your molding will sit (chalk is much easier to remove than pencil).
  2. Cut the ends of your molding to fit into the corners using your miter saw.  Set the saw to a 45-degree angle and place your molding completely flush against the saw’s fence. You may want to give this a few practice runs on scrap pieces before committing to a cut on one of your main moldings.
  3. If you’re still not satisfied with the state of your corners, pre-made corner blocks are a great last resort. They not only hide imperfections, but can give your molding an added decorative flair.
  4. Cope the joint using a coping saw. Coping is a handy technique where you shape the ends of your molding so that each fits together perfectly. This curved cut will give you an ultra-tight fit that won’t leave gaps between sections of your crown molding. You’ll use this technique if you’re fitting smaller pieces together along a single length of wall or when installing molding in the corners of your room. Once you’ve completed the cut, fit the pieces together to make sure they’re seamless.
  5. Now you’re ready to put the molding up. Really shove it into the corners so it’s nice and snug, and then nail it into place with the finishing nails. If you still have gaps, this is where your handy caulk gun will come to the rescue. Load it with paintable caulk (latex is better than silicone) and fill the holes.

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