Low-Maintenance Metal Ceilings Get High Marks

Aug. 1, 2008

Learn how metal ceilings can improve the aesthetics and acoustics of building spaces

Over the past decade, metal ceilings have become an increasingly attractive option for a wide range of building environments due to their aesthetics, sustainability, durability, ease of installation and maintenance, and acoustics.

How Metal Ceilings are Made
Typically made of electro-galvanized steel or aluminum, metal ceilings offer undeniable wow factors with their colors, textures, patterns, shapes, and designs, which are limited only by the imagination. An ultra-realistic wood appearance is even possible when a thin photographic film is applied to large coils of aluminum during the manufacturing process. Perforating the metal and combining it with lighting can make monolithic panels appear semi-transparent.

Varying Applications
"A lot of our clients like [metal ceilings]," says Amanda Kaleps, senior project manager at Culver City, CA-based Wolcott Architecture Interiors, "particularly in places where they're looking for high visual impact, like lobbies and other client-facing spaces. They're decorative and look expensive ... and they appeal to those who want to use sustainable, green products because metals are largely reclaimable."

Appropriate applications include staff lounges and food-service or car-valet areas, which both require frequent cleaning. Areas that are subject to high levels of moisture, such as exteriors or transportation hubs, benefit from aluminum ceilings due to their excellent corrosion protection.

Spaces that require certain sound attenuation or special acoustics can also benefit from metal ceilings. Metal panels can be made as acoustically friendly as mineral fiber panels, according to Brooks Williams, market manager of specialty ceilings for Chicago-based Chicago Metallic Corp., by adhering a nonwoven fleece material or an encapsulated fiber glass batt to the back of metal panels to absorb sound as it travels through the perforations.

Safety and Maintenance
Metal fabrication improves a ceiling's fire-safety rating: Metal is noncombustible and, in the case of metal ceilings with large and numerous perforations, water from overhead sprinklers can pass through. Metal ceilings also tend to be durable due to their ability to withstand frequent cleaning and handling in areas where access to the plenum is necessary. Because these ceilings can stand up to tough outdoor and indoor environments, and frequent cleaning/handling, the resulting service life is impressive: Traditional mineral fiber panels have, on average, a 7- to 10-year lifespan, and minimally perforated metal can last as long as 40 years.

Robert Erbe, project director of project management for Cushman & Wakefield of California Inc., recently installed a metal ceiling in a valet drop-off area to create a dramatic sense of arrival. He also installed them "because metal systems are easy to care for and keep bright, shiny, and clean. Garage exhaust is constant, and these systems provide an elegant finish that lasts."

Building owners and facility managers who are considering metal panels should know that installations of flat, 2- by 2-foot, and plank-style metal panels are similar to working with mineral fiber panels; therefore, specially trained installers are not required, explains Graeme Gee, business manager of specialty ceilings for Chicago-based USG Corp. Existing grids can easily support metal panels.

Because of their looks and ease of maintenance, metal ceilings can be a good way to revamp high-traffic or visually important areas of your building without adding much to your workload. "The bottom line," adds Erbe, "is that metal ceilings can make buildings ‘more class-A.' "

Stephanie J. Oppenheimer, former assistant vice president of communications at BOMA Intl., is principal at Skylite Communications, based in Falls Church, VA.

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