No matter which way you cut it, the outlook for the metal ceiling systems in the commercial market will be solid for 2011. Whether it’s retrofit for existing commercial buildings or in the limited new construction opportunities in the education, transportation, or healthcare segments, metal ceiling systems will play a bigger role than in years past.

The retrofit of existing office space in particular will be a big growth area for metal ceiling product use. It is a well-known fact that with the abundance of existing commercial office space in many major metropolitan areas that fewer new office buildings will break ground. Tenants are staying in place longer or moving to new locations, which leads to an increased demand for improvements to existing office space. A quick, yet dramatic way to revitalize and add punch to existing space would be to utilize the existing suspension and conceal it with new suspension grid, metal ceiling, or acoustical ceiling clouds. The array of curving, linear, flat metal, perimeter treatment, and even open plenum designs can transform a tired space from “Mad Men”-era 1960s to cutting edge 21st century.

The pace of new construction of education, transportation, and healthcare facilities will slow somewhat even as the use of metal ceiling systems grows in these segments. According to Chicago Metallic’s Technical Service Manager Peter Jahn, two trends that have gained popularity in these settings are an open plenum design and the incorporation of acoustic “hot spots.”

“The open plenum ceiling design has become very popular and so too has the number of ceiling products for these types of environments,” he says.

Jahn explains that an open plenum design conveys the illusion of a ceiling while maintaining openness to mechanical, electrical, and lighting equipment. Metal ceiling designs for these spaces include small- and large-scale open cell design, hanging baffles that create rows of undulating color, and open grid designs that can accept lay-in welded wire panels.

The acoustic hot spot concept involves creating a “cloud” to minimize high-frequency noise while diffusing lower-frequency sounds. To accomplish this, designers position acoustic panels above the area where the sound needs to be controlled. Acoustical panels can be materials such as inorganic perlite, enhanced gypsum, or fiberglass, or perforated metal panels backed with an acoustical batt to increase the sound absorption of the ceiling.

“We often refer to these as ‘hot spots’ that can be created by architects or designers as an acoustic cloud or canopy,” says Jahn. “These hot spots can contribute to the privacy needed in environments where it is essential, such as in hospitals.”

In an education setting, acoustic concerns are always at the top of the list for designers who wish to contribute to the indoor environmental quality of learning institutions. Studies have shown that good acoustics are essential, especially in the K-12 setting. Again, a wide selection of metal ceiling systems offers decorative and highly functional solutions to help maximize comfort and interpersonal communication.

Why So Popular?

A number of other features of metal ceiling systems are contributing to their growing popularity in newly designed facilities:

High Recycled Content: The demand for a green building approach is greater than ever and it is critical that designers choose products that incorporate the use of high recycled content material, as well as other sustainable characteristics. Steel ceiling panels may contain a minimum 25 percent post-consumer recycled content, while most aluminum panels are manufactured with as much as 100 percent post-consumer recycled content. When metal ceiling panels-with a life span that can reach 30 to 40 years-are ready for disposal, all are 100-percent recyclable, as are the metal suspension grid systems that support them. These factors may all contribute to LEED certification credits.

Healthy Option: When installed, metal ceiling panels do not absorb water as other mineral-fiber ceiling panels can. Absorbed water can lead to the growth of unwanted mold and mildew. In some regions, where high humidity is a fact of life, excess moisture can lead to sagging in mineral-fiber panels. This can be a real problem in facilities such as hospitals, transportation facilities, or sports arenas. In some sports facilities where the air conditioning is turned off or lowered significantly for extended periods of time, this could spell disaster for some organic ceiling tiles. The low-maintenance feature of metal ceilings systems, which enables them to be easily and thoroughly cleaned, is another benefit appreciated by designers for both retrofit and new construction applications.

Seismic Considerations: Uniform Building Codes were designed to identify areas where the potential for seismic activity is high. However, good seismic design should be considered in all zones. Some metal ceiling suspension grid systems manufacturers offer special perimeter clips which let installers use 1-inch molding and no stabilizer bars during installation, while providing verification to building inspectors that the clip has been installed at required intervals. The clip negates the need for the less desirable 2-inch wall angle required by code and replaces it with 15/16-inch angle to create a more sleek ceiling design.

Installer-Friendly Systems: The best manufacturers developing architectural building products keep both the architect/designer and the installing contractor in mind during the R&D process. The ideal is a manufacturer that provides products that have the aesthetics and performance characteristics of metal ceilings systems, along with the ease of installation of a suspension grid system. Extra product features, such as a torsion-spring that engages in a special slot in the T-bar grid, can be a small enhancement that can have a big impact, speeding and simplifying installation of ceiling panels.

It's the Aesthetics

The virtually limitless aesthetic possibilities of metal ceiling and ceiling panel systems are perhaps the number one reason why designers are choosing them for commercial construction projects. In the hospital environment, for example, wider open spaces such as corridors can be easily transformed with metal panel systems that span the entire space without the need for hanger wires and a grid system running down the center of space.

To create an environment that promotes healing, new or retrofitted healthcare facilities are choosing ceiling systems that can incorporate sky scenes or photographic images in specialty areas to produce a calming effect among patients. In other instances, designers are creating accent areas around nurses’ stations with dropped aluminum soffits and curved ceilings to direct attention to its role as the focus of each ward.

Metal ceiling systems can work independently or together to achieve a practical, functional, and aesthetic solution to any design requirement. Ceilings can be transformed into soaring spaces, forests, clouds, and shapes that follow the form of the design. When made of aluminum alloys, metal ceilings can feature metallic tones, brushed, anodized, reflective, and primed and painted-in solid and perforated panels. Steel ceiling panels can be painted in virtually any color or custom matched. Some panels now feature a new type of paint finish that replicates the color and grains of wood, such as oak, cherry, teak, and maple.

The aesthetics of metal ceiling systems can range from the simple to the sublime and the performance of the products makes it among the most sustainable choices available to a building designer. Its installer-friendly features have likewise made it a favorite among acoustical subcontractors. There is no wonder why it will continue to grow as an important building component in the current commercial construction market