Expert Advice | Ceilings | Inspire.Discover.Explore

Expert Advice

Expert Advice

Taking a systems approach to ceilings

by Dave Carlson, Category Manager, SIG Interiors

Buildings often require that materials meet specific legislative and practical performance criteria. For instance education, healthcare, commercial, retail hospitality and leisure environments all present unique project requirements that demand careful material selection. Choosing the correct product is not straight forward.

Indeed, this is even more evident when you consider that each environment may need more than one type of system to meet the differing needs of the various areas within the building.

The same considerations apply when installing a suspended ceiling. A large number of performance criteria must be taken into account, such as:

  • Acoustic performance
  • Fire resistance certification
  • Water resistance
  • Mould resistance
  • Air leakage

Other considerations include the product’s environmental impact, availability; ease of installation, and particularly in these challenging economic times, value for money!

In even the smallest of projects, some or all of these criteria will need to be met. It is vitally important to be aware of how the performance of the ceiling can be affected if the individual products making up a suspended ceiling system have not been developed and tested together. This is a strongly advisable consideration when using tile and grid that may be from different manufacturers and, therefore, have not been tested together.

Rob Gardiner, Technical Sales Manager for Armstrong, comments on how Armstrong ensure that their ceiling systems are developed and tested to ensure they meet the performance criteria outlined above:

“Armstrong, whenever it conducts testing or assesses product performance, always tests a complete Armstrong system. These performance attributes depend upon the integration of more than one component. The tile does not work alone, it is the tile, the grid, the clips and accessories that make up the system.

“It is important for Armstrong to have certainty in the ongoing performance of our systems, particularly in relation to the performance claims we make for our products. By using our own products and systems we are always aware of any changes in products that may affect the overall system performance, and can conduct additional testing as required to ensure continued performance is maintained.”

Whilst Rob recognises the importance of a system approach in terms of product selection, he also stresses the importance of how the product is installed:

“How the system is installed may also be critical, particularly in fire resistance tests, and reference to a full test report showing installation details is always recommended in this instance.”

Finally Rob comments on a further very critical point, the effect on the manufacturer’s warranty if the system is not used:

“This system approach is reflected in Armstrong warranties, which are either based on the installation being an Armstrong system, or will have an enhanced value for a complete Armstrong system.”

Lynne Clapham – Specification Manager for OWA Ceilings Systems - also supports the benefits of using a system approach to the installation of suspended ceilings:

“An extremely important issue is fire resistance requirements on some projects. Most manufacturers fire test their ceiling tiles in their own grid. Where the tile and grid have been sourced from different manufacturers, the manufacturer who supplied the tile would not be able to issue a fire test certificate unless the existing grid was identical to the one they used in the fire test. This issue, if ignored, could have potentially deadly consequences.”

Not only is there an obvious impact on the fire resistance performance of the ceiling, but Lynne goes on to explain how other performance criteria may be affected:

“As with fire testing, most manufacturers conduct the acoustic testing of their tiles when they are installed with their own grid. The results that they achieve and quote in relation to a particular ceiling tile may well differ when another manufacturer’s grid is used.”

Lynne also points out the potential effects on the appearance of the ceiling:

“The aesthetics of the completed installation can sometimes be overlooked at the purchasing stage of a project. By using tile and grid manufactured by a single company, you can be sure that the colour of the tiles will match the grid and any associated trim. Sometimes it is only once the ceiling is fully installed that this can become a glaringly obvious problem.”

Finally, Lynne again highlights the warranty issue: “Warranty issues could possibly arise long after a project is completed. When the ceiling tiles and grid have come from the same manufacturer, the process of dealing with any defects will be far less complicated and time consuming, as there will be only one company to track down and liaise with.”

Whilst all the potential issues outlined above are not necessarily applicable or evident on every project, it is clear that the results of not using a system could have major impact on the product performance and warranty. In many instances, taking all of these elements into account, using a ‘system’ makes sound commercial sense, and whilst this may not always be the cheapest option in terms of material costs, it offers peace of mind for the specifier, main contractor, contractor and client in terms of performance and manufacturer support.