Over Head and On the Brain

Aug. 8, 2001
What to look for in your facility’s next ceiling system

Stained. Sagging. Nicked. Look up - is this what you see?
Establishing the right ceiling system for a retrofit or new construction project may seem difficult. With so much to choose from and consider - design, properties, performance attributes, etc. - you may feel a migraine coming on. Hopefully, the following tips will ease your brain strain.

Acoustical ceiling panels have been progressively shrinking in size - from the 2-foot by 4-foot panels favored previously to the 2-foot by 2-foot panels currently preferred. When retrofitting a ceiling to accommodate this smaller dimension, the suspension system can be outfitted with cross tees that allow for the look of contemporary 2-foot by 2-foot layouts. "Survey the grid," warns Rosa Lee, marketing manager, architect and owner segments at Chicago-based USG Corp. Make sure that the existing suspension system is in good shape before modifying and adding new panels.

If the suspension system requires replacement and the layout of the space is unchanged, existing hanger wire locations can often be reused, cutting installation time.

"You should expect at least 10 years out of your system," says John Mandel, manager of corporate communications at USG Corp. However, some manufacturers offer lifetime warranties.

Be sure to read the fine print. When only one component of a system is purchased (i.e. panels), the length of the warranty often diminishes. Installing new ceiling panels in an existing grid during retrofit could limit the duration of time the panels are covered under warranty.

With so much above the ceiling (sound masking, HVAC plenum, and wire/cable), the removal of ceiling panels for accessibility purposes is inevitable - and frequent. "Most ceiling tiles have direction," Lee says, and can easily be replaced incorrectly. To lessen the chance of this, companies like USG are offering non-directional products that simplify replacement and installation. Investigate whether non-directional panels are right for your application.

In areas where durability is a priority, cast panels are recommended. With a more impact-resistant surface and integral color throughout, they can sustain more abuse. However, because panels will suffer from nicks and smudges during removal and replacement, replacing panels may be necessary occasionally to keep the ceiling in "like-new" condition. Check with the manufacturer to see how long the product you are purchasing will be available.

If indirect lighting is a source of illumination in your facility, the ability of a ceiling panel to reflect that light down, evenly dispersing it over a workstation, should be a primary consideration during ceiling system selection. Higher light reflectance (LR) values can minimize the number of lighting fixtures needed, which will also reduce the number of lamps that require changing - saving both time and money. An LR rating of 0.85 or higher is recommended.

Moisture over time can cause ceiling panels to sag in the middle, creating a pillow-effect. If you live in an area of the country that experiences high humidity or are installing a ceiling system in a moisture-prone area, choose products with this in mind. Many manufacturers incorporate sag-resistant formulas into their products.

Jana J. Madsen (jan[email protected]) is senior associate editor at Buildings.

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