Research that CISCA has conducted research reveals that suspended ceilings reduce a building’s lifetime operating costs through energy and maintenance savings. “The Life Cycle Study: Suspended Ceilings vs. Open Plenum” shows that even though suspended ceilings cost more initially, they can achieve a life-cycle payback in less than 11 months over open plenum (exposed) designs, depending upon the building type and the region.

Suspended ceilings generate a rapid payback because they significantly lower building operating costs by reducing energy consumption and ongoing maintenance costs. Based on 2006-2007 energy rates used in the study, suspended ceilings can lower energy costs by 9 to 17 percent. Maintenance costs are estimated to be at least 10 percent less than open plenum designs.

“The higher initial construction costs of a suspended ceiling are offset by the increased energy savings compared to an open plenum design, often generating a remarkably fast payback,” said Barry Donaldson, Principal, Barry Donaldson & Associates, Croton on Hudson, NY, who conducted the study.

The CISCA Life Cycle Study is the first initiative spearheaded by association’s Industry Marketing Advisory, whose goal was to evaluate the performance of suspended ceilings versus open plenums and quantify the cost benefits.

The CISCA Life Cycle Study, updated in August 2008, has ramifications for architects, designers, construction specifiers, building owners, facilities managers and other building industry professionals who may be looking for ways to reduce energy costs in buildings. The results show that a continuous wall-to-wall suspended ceiling system can help them do that.

“This study is an important step forward for the interior ceiling construction industry,” said CISCA Executive Director Bonny Luck. “According to the data, wall-to-wall ceiling systems save energy, lower maintenance costs and represent a ‘green’ construction advantage.”

Based on the Life Cycle Study’s energy analysis, suspended ceilings may contribute to LEED EA credit #1 on a building project. LEED EA credit #1 requires a 10.5 percent energy reduction to earn one point and a 14 percent reduction for two points. Some buildings could earn credit toward two LEED points just by installing a suspended ceiling system.

The study methodology involved a thorough review of available building construction and energy data. The study looked at two building “prototypes”-a low-rise/mid-rise office building and a single-story retail food store. Construction and operating costs were evaluated for both building types in each of five cities-Charlotte, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Orlando and Phoenix-which represent a broad range of climate zones, labor markets, construction practices/costs and energy rate levels.

The study’s prototype buildings were evaluated using data derived from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Building Owners & Managers Association. Construction characteristics, such as equipment loads, lighting systems and envelope thermal performance, were based on the minimum code criteria described in ASHRAE Standard 90.1. RSMeans’ “Construction Cost Data 2007” supplied the construction and operating cost data-by city and by building type.

The report found that suspended ceilings reduce energy consumption, provide remarkable Simple and Life Cycle Payback schedules and offer excellent sustainable design potential on projects.CISCA has published a Summary Report of “The Life Cycle Study: Suspended Ceilings vs. Open Plenum” in electronic PDF format. A free copy of the summary is available. Call CISCA at 630-584-1919 or CISCA@cisca for a copy.