Decorative or Functional Ceilings: Choose One or Pay Dearly

Feb. 19, 2007
Facility managers on a budget must identify which priority is more important before deciding on a ceiling tile: decoration or function

By Tim Tu

We want the best of both worlds, and we want it as inexpensively as possible.

Few customers are willing to pay for a ceiling solution that both enhances interior design and serves a specific benefit at the highest level. Facility managers on a budget must identify which priority is more important before deciding on a ceiling tile: decoration or function.

Building Conditions Dictate Selection
Age, construction, traffic, history, and facility use are major factors in deciding which types of ceilings can and cannot be used. Choose a ceiling that either provides the desired appearance or accommodates the activities of the occupants. For example, a pool area requires panels that are very resistant to moisture and chlorine fumes, even though these panels tend to have hard surfaces that do not absorb sound.

Mindfulness Maintenance Matters
While present-day trends lean toward maintenance-free building materials to reduce upkeep costs and provide the greatest return on investment, ceiling tiles aren’t always selected with this in mind. A simple quality test of how well a ceiling tile may hold up over time is how easy it is to handle. If corners are easily damaged and the tile flakes when cut, service life may be short in any humid area or where there are overhead pipes or air-conditioning ducts.

Your criteria may need to account for benefits such as paintability and ease of cleaning. Sweating pipes and leaky roofs spot many types of tile, and many tiles are an incubator for bacteria and mold when they get wet. Renovation, while not inexpensive, may be less expensive than replacing a ceiling system, so the tiles chosen should be paintable. Where cleanliness is of paramount importance (such as in food preparation or medical facilities), ceiling tiles must be extremely resistant to mold, mildew, and bacteria growth. Be sure that the tile chosen for such installation has been tested using ASTM D3273 standards and has received a perfect score. Tiles that can be scrubbed and disinfected on the face and back should receive serious consideration.

Peace of Mind Includes Piece of Budget
Ceilings are important not only to the overall impression of the facility (and, by extension, of the company that it houses), but also to indoor air quality. Mold and mildew growing in moist ceiling tiles have been shown to contribute to asthmatic symptoms and sick building syndrome. Stained and spotted tiles are unsightly and may create a bad impression (organizations that are cavalier with maintenance may be unprofessional in other areas as well). For these reasons, replacement budgets and new-construction specifications should be thought out to include ceiling tiles that are easy to maintain and well suited to their environment. The payoffs are lower operating costs and a healthier, more-attractive building.

Tim Tu is national distribution sales manager at Parkland Plastics (, Middlebury, IN.

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