Both from a functional and aesthetic perspective, ceilings play a key role in a building’s interior design. Walls and Roofs explores the current trends.

Are you considering raising the bar on ceiling design and installation? Walls&Roofs takes a look at the latest ceiling design trends and innovations.

Reaching headway: ceiling trends
A broad array of new and improved ceiling products offers designers everything from superior acoustics, recycled content to eased integration with lighting systems and cornicing. Here are a few savvy options and considerations

High versus standard ceilings
Buildings with high ceilings have a certain aesthetic ambience. They add a sense of spaciousness and allow air to circulate through a room. According to, this means nothing unless there is sufficient thermal insulation between the roof and the ceiling to prevent the sun’s heat from making a room uncomfortably hot.

Although high ceilings have clear advantages, The Chicago Tribune writes that current trends are more down to earth – another sign of the times. Although high ceilings open up living spaces, they can also be viewed as “wasted space”. The extra space can be used to add another floor. Also, issues concerning energy inefficiency, sound transmission and a lack of intimacy could sway the pendulum towards choosing lower ceilings.

Stretch ceilings
Stretch ceilings offer several benefits over plain painted ceilings. A properly installed stretch ceiling can improve the acoustic parameters of a room, or even soundproof the room. Other advantages include the fact that stretch ceilings are fire-retardant, water repellent and are made from eco-friendly materials.

Aluminium and steel
The traditional linear metal ceiling has been updated and modified to meet the needs of changing trends and market forces. Multifunctional steel and aluminium ceilings are available in a range of profiles and colours. Options include multi-panel and closed ceilings, while open-gird ceilings can include a choice of cell, lineal grid and metal options. Metal tiles are available in plain or perforated options in either aluminium or steel.

Case study: Suspended ceilings versus open plenums

What are the general economic, environmental and construction-related differences between open plenums and suspended ceilings in building design?

According to, acoustic ceiling panels suspended in a metal suspension system is still the most popular method used in commercial spaces such as office buildings to schools to hospitals. “However, an architectural design trend referred to as the ‘exposed structure’ or ‘open plenum’ is becoming increasingly popular. This is clearly seen in the warehouse look, where overhead heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system and roof deck are fully exposed and form part of the buildings aesthetics.

In a traditional overhead HVAC system, a suspended ceiling is used, in part, to cover unsightly equipment. However, in this case, it is neither needed nor wanted. Generally no provision is made for the absence of the performance benefits that were taken for granted when a suspended acoustical ceiling was used.

A number of studies have been conducted to substantiate the impact of suspended ceilings on performance aspects, such as life cycle costs, energy savings, fire safety, and acoustic environment.

A Study by the United States Ceilings & Interiors Systems Construction Association ((CISCA), with prototype construction by the construction consulting firm of Barry Donaldson & Associates, evaluated life cycle costs by looking at the initial construction costs of suspended ceiling versus open plenum designs. The researchers also looked at the annual operating costs, including HVAC and lighting costs; maintenance costs such as periodic maintenance, repair, and cleaning; as well as the cost of reconfiguration (moves-adds-changes)

The Donaldson study found that for its prototype office space, initial construction cost of a suspended ceiling ranged from 15% to 22% more than for an exposed structure, with no ceiling elements, depending on geographic location.

It also found that, in general, the additional cost of the suspended ceiling, flexible ducts, and cable tray is only partially offset by the additional cost of a return fan, return air ductwork and conduit for the open plenum design.

Moreover, the cost of recess-mounted light fixtures in the suspended ceiling is relatively close to the cost of pendant-mounted light fixtures in the open plenum design. Thus, to justify the additional cost of the suspended ceiling design, it must be offset by better performance and lower operational, such as lower energy costs, easier maintenance, as well as less costly renovation and reconfiguration.

With regard to maintenance costs, the Donaldson study noted that although it is difficult to define different requirements and maintenance costs for a suspended ceiling versus an open plenum design, there may be savings by not having to clean ducts, pipes, and raceways that collect dust; by not having to paint or finish exposed equipment and systems; and by less overhead maintenance activities in general.

Assuming a painted open plenum design, the study’s cost analysis estimates a10% increase in the maintenance cost of cleaning and repainting an open plenum. This finding is corroborated by a similar study conducted by the Atlanta-based cost consultancy firm, Project time and Cost.

Their research notes that the maintenance costs of suspended ceilings are generally known and budgeted. However, that is not currently the case with open plenums because of a lack of real life cost data, although Project time and Cost also estimates them to be approximately 10% higher.

One reason for the higher costs is that all repair and maintenance work is exposed to view and must therefore be aesthetically acceptable. The consultancy firm also note that suspended ceilings prevent dust and small leaks from reaching occupied spaces below, where they can affect desks, computers and merchandise.

Environmental impact
There is extensive evidence that suspended ceilings can help reduce a building’s environmental impact. This is in addition to providing acoustic benefits that can improve indoor environmental quality. A study by the United States (US) Ceilings & Interior Systems Construction Association compared an area’s energy use with a suspended ceiling and an open plenum. Researchers found that installing a suspended ceiling saved between 9% and 17% percent of energy costs.

The sound barrier
One of the major design trends in recent years is the contemporary, New York-style loft look, where ceilings have become redundant. Moreover, eliminating ceilings seemed to me the perfect counterpart for green design. But doing without ceilings meant compromising on some key benefits, such as acoustics.

Over the years, study-after study-that has measured employees’ satisfaction with their workplace environment has continued to point to noise as a major cause of reduced effectiveness, higher stress and lower job satisfaction levels. According to a 2005 survey by the Centre for the Built Environment at the University of California-Berkeley and at the International Centre for Indoor Environment and Energy at the University of Denmark, respondents in private offices gave positive numbers when ranking their satisfaction of noise level and sound privacy.

Conversely, respondents in cubicles and open offices gave negative scores. In fact, more than half of cubicle-dwellers said that poor acoustics interfered with their ability to work. As a result, some level of acoustical treatment, advises.

Exposed structure designs that use no ceiling and that reveal the building service elements can cause acoustic problems because sound reflecting off the deck above can result in excessive reverberation.

Any large space usually needs some form of sound absorption to control overall noise levels. In addition, if the exposed deck is less than 5m high, reflections between open-plan cubicles can cause distractions for the occupants. Many noise issues related to exposed structure designs can be addressed by using acoustical canopies, clouds, blades or baffles.

Modern acoustic ceiling systems provide versatile design and aesthetic options.

  • Metal ceilings: Metal can be perforated, allowing sound to travel through it, rather than reverberating. An acoustical treatment can also be applied to the back of the tile.
  • Wood: Also gaining popularity is the use of wood materials within ceilings. This is particularly noticeable in public areas such as health care facilities. This application is more inviting than a white, hard, sterile surface. As with metal, wooden ceilings can be perforated so that they absorb sound.
  • Natural gypsum: New-generation ceilings incorporate the unique environmental properties of natural gypsum for a balanced solution to acoustic challenges.
  • Many high-performance acoustic ceilings are highly light reflective. A ceiling with a 90% light reflectance reflects 90%of the light from its surface back into the room. That means fewer light fixtures are needed.

Key considerations

  • Ceiling boards are perforated and designed to absorb sound when used in conjunction with airspace behind the ceiling.
  • Increased levels of sound absorption can be achieved by including insulation over the back of the ceiling.
  • The standard face widths of the grid system are 25mm and 35mm. It is recommended that when specifying revealed edged tiles, check to ensure the correct grid for that site.

Safe and soundproof
Originally introduced during the 1920s as an alternative to plaster ceilings, acoustic ceiling systems have continued to evolve – both aesthetically and in performance. As a result, they have remained one of the most widely used commercial applications. Added advantages include low life cycle costs, extra fire safety margin, and enhanced acoustic environment.

Roof tiles
Air-cleaning ceiling tiles
Indoor air quality plays an indispensible role in commercial buildings. From a health perspective, a key aim is to reduce or eliminate the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and formaldehyde in a space. However, while it is possible to reduce the amount of formaldehyde in a facility, some still occurs naturally. In addition, it is a component in some cleaning solutions. To counter this, new-generation of ceiling tiles incorporates an additive that absorbs formaldehyde from the air and retains them.
Vinyl-faced tiles
These tiles have a vinyl finish bonded on the board and are designed to enhance even the most demanding interior environment. They are ideal for a “lay-in” exposed grid suspended ceiling system.

Reducing transition points
Another shift is the focus on reducing transition points, so that the elements within a space flow. To achieve that effect, manufacturers have developed ceiling systems that incorporate other elements, like lighting and sprinklers, as well as systems in which the walls seamlessly transition to the ceilings.

Breaking the mould
View walls and roofs in a different light with stylish cornicing, perfectly suited for both contemporary and more traditional interiors. Once used to blur the divide between walls and ceilings, cornices have now become attractive, eye-catching details. Clean-lined, heat-moulded cornices are easy to install and lightweight.

Talking budget
Compared to the mechanical, electrical and plumbing scopes, ceilings do not add much to the overall cost of a building. Yet they can have significant impact on the building environment. As such it makes sense to look for products that fit the scope of the project and work effectively.

Generally, regular gypsum board ceilings that are skimmed and painted are the most cost-savvy option. Tongue-and-groove boards (usually knotty pine) are also popular options, although they tend to be more pricy. Paint and ceiling finishes will also affect the final price tag.

Full acknowledgement and thanks are given to,,, and for providing the information to write this article.