By Nancy Mercolino
While 24- by 48-inch panels and grids may still be acceptable in some areas of your building, Class-A facilities increasingly offer more attractive, higher-performing ceilings in common areas and tenant spaces. With the ceiling being the largest, most visible surface in your building, new design options make metal and wood ceilings - which can increase design options and improve performance - affordable to use in a wide range of panel sizes and shapes.
In addition to good looks, the new metal and wood ceilings have practical benefits. They provide better acoustics that can be tailored to specific needs, easier access to cabling and equipment above ceilings, and outstanding life-cycle value. Made with lightweight aluminum, the panels are easier to handle and reduce the dead load on a building. The panels also provide environmental benefits that help earn LEED credits by improving lighting performance and indoor air quality.
Through the use of building information modeling (BIM), each component of a ceiling can be automatically produced to the size and shape required. This new manufacturing process assures that ceilings can be assembled quickly and can deliver a cleaner, more precise appearance at a price that is competitive with standard ceilings. Each ceiling panel can be custom perforated for acoustical performance and appearance.
A variety of round, square, rectangular, and custom perforation patterns are available; by adjusting the perforation pattern and selecting the right type of acoustical insulation, ceilings can be tuned to deliver speech privacy in an open office or optimum reverberation in an auditorium. The automated equipment used to make these panels also creates openings and special trims to accommodate lighting fixtures, sprinkler systems, air diffusers, and other services that must be integrated into the ceiling.
While perforated metal ceilings have been used for decades, it is now possible to perforate wood ceilings as well. In the past, wood ceilings were heavy and expensive, and offered only limited acoustical performance. Now, thin veneers of real wood can be laminated to aluminum sheet. The composite has all the natural good looks of wood and is lightweight and easy to handle. It can be fabricated and perforated by automated equipment just as easily and quickly as metal can, so acoustics are improved and costs are reduced.
To reduce operating expenses, your ceiling must be durable, simple to handle, and easy to clean. Modern metal and wood systems provide easy access above ceilings to make it easier to maintain equipment or pull new cables. Torsion spring clips allow panels to swing down without the use of special tools. With smooth, durable finishes that are resistant to damage, panels can be cleaned or refinished without loss of visual or acoustical properties - unlike fiber board ceiling panels, which tend to break or crumble when handled and must be replaced when soiled.
Affordable metal or wood ceilings will last for the life of your building, making them one instance in which your "overhead" can improve your bottom line.
Nancy Mercolino is president at Los Angeles-based Ceilings Plus (www.ceilingsplus.com).