Services & Maintenance: Making Ceilings Count

By Rob Larson
Published in the May 2012 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Economic conditions have impacted the budgets of many organizations, and maintenance budgets within many of those organizations have been affected. As budgets get constrained, facility managers (fms) are viewing their facilities through a lens perhaps never seen before: fewer personnel to do the work in the same amount of square footage. As a result, many fms have had to approach purchasing decisions in ways they had not previously considered.

The decision making process surrounding product choices for budget-conscious fms has also become more sophisticated as products and building materials have evolved. No longer are fms—and the architects and designers who work for them—limited to products that meet only a portion of a facility project’s needs. Often, products are multifaceted and provide added value. Fms are looking for solutions that are affordable, durable, and low maintenance.

Budgetary Considerations

Segmentation and tracking over time of budgetary items into categories (such as utilities, technology, furniture, equipment, services, fixtures, and building materials) can help identify savings opportunities and budget busting culprits. When it comes to budgets for interior building materials, ceilings can be one of the largest and highest impact areas. This is a budget item that, if properly selected, can save money, increase building user satisfaction, and provide a low maintenance solution for fms.

Ceilings not only provide an aesthetic surface between building users and the HVAC equipment and structural components, but they also impact acoustics and lighting conditions. So while it may represent only a fraction of a facilities budget, the right ceiling products can have a positive impact on building users and equipment usage.

Ceiling Selection Criteria

The criteria used to choose the correct ceiling for a space has evolved as much as the products used. There are six relevant criteria to consider:

  • Acoustic control
  • Aesthetics
  • Reflectivity
  • Durability
  • Sustainability
  • Health impact

Acoustic control. This has traditionally been a primary feature of facility ceilings. Today, new products and technologies offer control through sound absorbing partitions, carpeting, furniture, workspace to noise segregation, sound masking technology, and specially designed sound absorbing materials. Given the abundance of acoustic control measures available, acoustic considerations for ceilings have become somewhat less important over the last decade.

Apart from ceilings, generally, three methods are used to achieve sound control: absorption using drapes, carpets, absorptive panels, etc.; blocking using walls, floors, and layout; and covering up through sound masking. While all three of these are recommended to achieve optimal results, covering up by increasing background sound produces the most dramatic improvement in speech privacy—with the least disruption and typically the lowest cost.

Aesthetics. The vast amount of square footage a ceiling occupies means it has an impact on the aesthetics of a space; thus providing the potential to add some architectural flair. Considerations as to where the ceiling will be installed will help determine what type of material should be chosen.

Will it be used in a conference room, library, restaurant or healthcare facility? Does the building type and design call for a ceiling oriented more toward decorative or functional considerations? Does the space have any particular environmental conditions that require resistance to high humidity or corrosion? A qualified architect or designer can help fms to choose products based on these considerations.

Reflectivity. Many ceiling tiles and surfaces offer a reflective rating that may be more conducive than others to increasing occupant comfort. For example, ceilings with a high light reflectance factor reduce eye strain for occupants and also reduce demand for illumination from artificial lighting—which can mean less lighting fixtures.

Durability. As fms are increasingly working under budgetary constraints, many are focusing on choosing more durable, longer lasting ceiling materials. Durability not only applies to the physical attributes of the product and its ability to withstand abuse, but this also extends long-term maintenance benefits like ease of cleaning and product life expectancy.

Sustainability. Long-term performance is a key element in choosing a ceiling. Fms are often looking for products manufactured from recycled materials and/or those that have the ability to be recycled. More organizations are reducing their environmental footprints by choosing sustainable materials.

Health impact. Finally, but not least important, is the ceiling’s potential impact on building users. Do the ceiling products promote healthy air quality by resisting the growth of mold and mildew? Many newer ceiling tiles use an additive to reduce or prohibit mold and mildew growth. A newer class of waterproof ceiling tiles, some manufactured from PVC, are especially effective at eliminating mold and mildew. Left unchecked, mold and mildew problems not only affect personnel who work in the facility, but they also impact the overall performance of the building.

Another health concern is off-gassing. Some products release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air long after they are installed. Some symptoms associated with off-gassing and poor indoor air quality are eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, and nausea. Fms should strive to choose ceiling products that are indoor air quality neutral.

Maximize Positive Impact

Fms are being challenged like never before. They need to be knowledgeable in a variety of areas to be effective in their jobs. From budget planning, process compliance, an awareness of new technology, maintenance and operations management, to telecommunication and security integration and general administrative services, a broad brush approach to solving problems is no longer an option.

When armed with the right knowledge and a willingness to see the bigger picture, fms can properly analyze and define spaces to create an environment that promotes functionality while at the same time providing an atmosphere conducive to the well being of the people who inhabit it.

Larson works in product development for Acoustic Ceiling Products, LLC and has been with the Appleton, WI company for 13 years. Backed by 50 years of contracting experience, ACP’s vinyl and thermoplastic products are designed to blend ingenuity with style.