Common Mistakes: Ceilings

May 1, 2007

To get the best ceiling system for your application, consider more than cost and don’t let value engineering change your mind

Surrounded by information and advice, it can be difficult to make a confident decision about which ceiling systems offer exactly what your facility needs. When debating the attributes of each, collect as much information as possible. "[Manufacturers and] interior designers can help facilities managers understand the available products and the system that meets all of their project criteria," says Sue Markham, senior facilities administrator at Pensacola, FL-based Gulf Power Co., a Southern Co.

Compromising long-term performance and flexibility for a low price can be a costly mistake. While budget is a very influential factor in your decision, also consider the following: fire and abuse resistance; sound absorption; sound attenuation; aesthetics; ease of alteration; accessibility to the plenum area; life expectancy; chemical, moisture, and environmental exposure; and code compliance. "For larger projects, we develop a ceiling matrix to help us determine the most important factors to consider for each space," says Markham. "The factors we consider are use of space, budget, design and aesthetics, performance, future availability, and recycled content."

While shopping, remember that some suspended systems (e.g. gypsum wallboard ceilings) are proprietary. Combining ceiling system components from multiple manufacturers can result in a faulty installation. Additionally, Robert Drury, executive director at the Seattle-based Northwest Wall and Ceiling Bureau, warns that a system's fire rating is compromised by mixing and matching components.

If project goals include acoustics, pay close attention to the ceiling system's noise reduction coefficient (NRC), articulation class (AC), and sound transmission class (STC) ratings. Once you find a ceiling that can provide the desired acoustical environment, extra steps should be taken during installation to ensure that the acoustical properties of the ceiling are not reduced by mechanical diffusers, lighting fixtures, etc. "Unless penetrations are properly sealed and covered, they defeat the purpose [of an acoustical ceiling]," says Drury.

Once you've struck a fine balance between needs and costs, stay true to your decision. "Consider some basic criteria prior to talking with the architect, manufacturers, and contractors, and hold firm on your desires. They offer advice, but you are the customer and you know what your building needs are," explains Mark Fowler, project manager, Soltner Group Architects, Seattle. During the plan review or construction phase, don't allow value engineering to result in the selection of a less appropriate ceiling system. "The end result is [that] the same [amount] or more is spent for a compromised ceiling system that was not what the facility really wanted," Fowler explains.

SIMON SAYS: Intl. Building Code requirements for ceiling systems in areas with seismic activity have changed. Make sure you know which seismic design category your ceiling installation must comply with.

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