There’s a feeling in the finishes and interiors sector that the humble ceiling might just be beginning to get its well-deserved moment in the spotlight. Jenny Gibson looks into some of the trends and innovations driving this.

Pg13 image“We’re definitely seeing some exciting trends in ceilings at the moment,” said Jeremy Sumeray, senior segment manager for sustainability at Armstrong Ceilings. “Designers and architects want to be more expressive with their ceiling designs; they’re looking to create statement ceilings, particularly within foyers and entrances to hotels and shopping centres.”

There’s a general agreement among ceiling product and system manufacturers that traditional white squares are making way for innovative textures and a multitude of colours. “End clients are looking for variety – and the designers are going all out to impress them. It’s an easier sell for the architect when the idea of a design is to stand out, rather than blend into the background,” commented Knauf AMF Ceiling’s commercial director, Peter Symons. The Heradesign range from Knauf AMF  uses wood-wool based ceiling tiles that have a naturally textured surface and are available in a range of sizes and edge details that can be specified in almost any colour.

If we’re talking about hot topics in ceilings, then very high on the list, if not at the very top, is acoustics, with the eagerly awaited update to the Building Bulletin 93 (BB93) finally making an appearance in December last year. BB93 sets out acoustic design standards for schools, and the update focuses on internal noise levels, sound insulation and control of reverberation.

“The key change is flexibility in design,” explained Mr Symons, who has a background in this field as an acoustician. “Where the original guidance document only provided one, quite limiting, set of recommendations the updated BB93 provides two: one set for new build projects and one set for refurbishment.”

It’s no coincidence that ceiling contractors are seeing an uplift in acoustic products in their clients’ specifications. Grant Stevens, director at Aspect Ceilings and Partitions in Berkshire, backs that up.  “We offer all types of suspended ceilings but we’ve definitely noticed that acoustic rafts and baffles are featuring heavily in specifications in recent months,” he commented. “Metal tiles are also becoming more popular, and more expensive ceiling systems are creeping back into projects. On the whole, we’ve been getting busier in the year.”

Stuart Adams, managing director at Great Yarmouth Ceilings, is also seeing a surge in acoustic jobs and has just completed a two-month installation of acoustic baffles for Kier Lowestoft at Waveney District Council and Suffolk County Council’s new joint office complex.

The increased popularity of acoustic solutions for the commercial and education sectors in line with modern design criteria is a welcome shift, according to Andrew Jackson, group marketing director at SAS International. He explained: “The vital role acoustic treatments play in providing enhanced occupant comfort for workers should not be underestimated, especially in an ever-increasing dense workspace. Employee satisfaction is key to staff retention, and neglecting to manage the acoustics in open plan office spaces can have a negative effect on occupant comfort and productivity.”

And the importance of acoustics in a school environment can be the difference between a child being able to hear what the teacher is saying, or not. Mr Symons added: “The updated BB93 provides clearer guidance on getting acoustics right. It’s all about achieving the right balance: the teacher’s voice needs to be projected to the back of the classroom but the background noise and sound reverberation need to be kept to a minimum. For every second of every day that a child is learning in a classroom with the right acoustics, there’s a real benefit to their education.”

So with the interest in more complex ceiling systems on the rise and regular changes to building specifications the norm, how does a specialist contractor keep on top of it all? Mr Stevens puts it into perspective. “As new products and systems are released almost every week, contractors can’t be expected to know all the ins and outs of every single system. We find that many are variations on a theme, but when it comes to needing information for  pricing purposes or to resolve a technical issue when installing on-site, we make sure we refer to the installation guide for the specific system on the manufacturer’s website,” he said.

This need for on-demand digital content hasn’t gone un-noticed by the manufacturers in what was always, until very recently, a traditional sector. Mr Sumeray highlighted: “The use of technology for information is definitely one of the biggest changes we’ve seen at Armstrong in the last 12 months. Historically, the construction site wasn’t a place for digital technology, but now you go on-site and everyone has a tablet.”

By providing on-demand installation videos, manuals and product specification documents, manufacturers are now giving flexibility to the contractor for how they wish to source their system-specific information. Short and concise installation videos can prove very useful for unusual systems such as corridor systems or for concealed grids that require more detailed installation instructions.

Having access to technical information on fixings is a must as choosing the right one in the ceiling sector is essential. Use the wrong type or incorrectly install the fixing and the ceiling can come down with disastrous consequences. As it can if too heavy a load is applied or if an insufficient number of fixings is used. It’s an area where the contractors will often consult the manufacturer on a project by project and system by system basis. “Experience does go a long way when it comes to fixings, but we will consult with our fixing supplier to ascertain the correct fixing or to work through the best solution for the job,” said Mr Stevens.

The selection and installation of the correct fixing is such a critical topic that FIS, formerly AIS FPDC, produced a dedicated Best Practice Guide, in association with the Construction Fixings Association. Knauf AMF directs contractors to this guide, which contains a comprehensive fixings selector, when the topic of fixings comes up. “Fixings, particularly for suspended ceilings, is such a highly technical area that we either refer people to the guide, or recommend they speak directly to one of the main fixings manufacturers.”

Metal is another substrate that’s increasing in popularity. Cipriani Drywall Metal Systems has recently introduced its Teetanium and Teebuild grid suspension system. Its stainless steel clip provides an audible click as the system fits together, and gives greater stability and ease of removal, making the system fully reusable. Marcus Coates, UK director of Cipriani Profilati, commented: “For the production of Teetanium grid, we’ve patented the use of a brand new material in our field. It has both strength and high resistance, and provides unique features and unequalled mechanical properties.”

Armstrong is also seeing interest levels rise in metal ceilings, particularly for its CoolZone metal ceiling tiles that incorporate phase change material. “These ceilings absorb heat during the day, keeping the room pleasantly cool and delaying the onset of air conditioning by four or five hours in an average office. Adding thermal mass in the form of phase change material can help designs comply with requirements to reduce energy consumption in buildings and we’re starting to see the interest pick up in the UK,” concluded Mr Sumeray.

Ceilings are definitely coming in a variety of shapes, sizes, textures, colours and materials at the moment, and they’re being viewed by  clients as integral to the overall design concept.

‘Walls have ears’ as the saying goes. Maybe if ceilings have ears too, they’d quite like what they’re hearing.