Alternative Ceiling Materials

08/02/2002 |

Metal and Wood Are Causing Many a Head to Look Up

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Armstrong World Industries Inc

Take a look above your head. What do you see? Chances are it’s a mineral fiber acoustical ceiling panel suspended in a metal grid. That’s because this type of ceiling is still the most popular system used in commercial spaces, ranging from office buildings to schools to hospitals.

However, there’s also a revolution going on overhead in the form of an increased use of acoustical ceiling materials other than traditional mineral fiber. And that’s because of a trend toward more dynamic acoustical ceiling visuals, both in public spaces like lobbies and corridors and not-so-public spaces like conference rooms and boardrooms. Two of today’s more common alternatives to mineral fiber are metal and wood.

Metal Ceilings

Metal ceiling systems have long been popular in European commercial design, almost to the point where today just as many metal ceilings are installed as mineral fiber ceilings. One of the main reasons for this is metal’s durability. A metal ceiling panel will usually outlast a mineral fiber panel, especially in areas where access to the plenum is frequent.

Another consideration is aesthetics. Metal ceilings are available in a variety of finishes that can impart a very high-tech or sophisticated look to a space. And, even though it is metal, this type of ceiling can also provide very good acoustical control.

In order to achieve the acoustic benefits, however, the panels must be perforated. The perforations themselves vary in size depending on aesthetic appeal, although today it’s possible to have “ultra-micro-perforated” panels in which the holes are so small they are essentially invisible. Perforated panels are usually supplied with a factory-installed, black, sound-absorbent acoustical fleece liner.

Wood Ceilings

One of the primary reasons wood ceilings continue to increase in popularity is their beauty. Wood is often the richest and most elegant architectural element within a space. Wood ceilings are thus perceived as very upscale and stylish, even when used in conjunction with a standard suspension system and standard light fixtures. Wood ceilings also impart a warmer ambience to a space.

As in the case of metal, wood ceilings are available in a variety of finishes and a broad range of standard sizes and edge details in addition to their custom capabilities. Perforated versions are also offered for better acoustical performance compared to a non-perforated panel.

Most building owners and managers probably believe that specialty ceilings such as metal and wood are difficult to work with. However, they aren’t. They are easily installed in standard grid systems and integrate well with standard light fixtures including high hats.

So, if you’re thinking about a new ceiling, it’s time to break out of the traditional ceiling mold and discover the enormous opportunity that’s overhead. You’ll be surprised how easily you can change the entire look and feel of a space by simply changing the ceiling material.

Joann Davis Brayman is vice president of Marketing for Commercial Ceiling Systems at Lancaster, PA-based Armstrong World Industries Inc. (


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