Q&A / 

Acoustical Ceiling Tiles

DEAR TIM: I am thinking about using acoustical ceiling tile for an upcoming project. How effective are they at controlling sound? What happens if they become discolored? Can they be washed or painted at a later date? Do you think I might be able to install a suspended ceiling if I enlist the help of my husband? A. N.

DEAR A. N.: As much as I hate to say it, you might do better doing the job yourself. If your husband has a bad attitude going into the job, the results may be less than satisfactory. I have installed many an acoustical ceiling by myself. I say "Go for it!"

If you are on the fence about using this material because of the ceilings you see at the big box merchandise stores and other commercial outlets, you must visit a ceiling tile showroom. Manufacturers have made vast improvements in the style and selection of acoustical tiles. Years ago you had maybe 5 choices. Today there a minimum of 30 different textures and styles available. What's more, the grid systems are available in a multitude of finishes. Most people are unaware that the grid work which supports the tiles is available in a wood grain, polished brass, chrome, and black finish. Most of us see the standard white gridwork.

The sound deadening properties of the tiles depends upon the thickness, density, and volume of the individual panels. Most acoustical ceiling panels are made from spun mineral wool fiber which is bound together with starch. The starch is often mixed with pigmented clay paints. Generally peaking, the greater amount of fibers in the panel the more sound it can absorb.

You have undoubtedly noticed the holes, crevices, and fissures in these tiles. This is what helps control the sound. Sound travels through air and vibrates things. As the air hits the acoustical tiles, it enters the holes and tiny cracks. There it begins to vibrate the acoustical panel. Some acoustical tiles can offer up to an 80 percent noise reduction coefficient. The ones you and I see in retail stores are in the 50 - 60 percent range.

The tiles themselves actually come in three profiles. Your grocery store probably has the simple square edge tiles. Many styles are available with a notched edge which hides the metal grid system to a degree. To further enhance this effect, you can purchase tiles that have a beveled notched edge. These tiles are extremely attractive.

If you do not like the traditional metal grid systems you can purchase interlocking tiles that staple to wood furring strips. The strips are commonly spaced at 12 inch intervals. There is a wide variety of styles and patterns available with these tiles as well.

When purchasing acoustical ceiling tiles you must be careful! Some tiles have no acoustical properties whatsoever. These tiles look very similar in style and pattern to the acoustical tiles. Be sure to check the labeling and product literature to make sure the ones you select will absorb sound.

Acoustical ceiling tiles can sometimes be cleaned. I would first attempt it with a chemical sponge instead of water. Certain new tiles have a washable finish that can be cleaned with a damp sponge. Older tiles are often impossible to clean. They may have to be painted. To retain the sound deadening properties, you must use a thin paint. The holes and fissures must not become clogged with paint. Figure on applying two thin coats to achieve a uniform color. One thick coat of paint may ruin the sound deadening qualities of the tiles.



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