Why Choose a Commercial Ceiling?

Commercial, dropped or suspended ceilings are very much a part of corporate offices worldwide and rightly so as they have earned their place due to variety of reasons.

There are plenty of advantages of having these artificial ceilings installed; they add to the aesthetics besides having a host of features and functionalities.

Modern commercial ceilings were initially created for hiding building infrastructure like piping, wiring and ductwork (these were aesthetically inclined, more than anything else). This is normally achieved by creating a plenum space above the dropped ceiling, which also allows access for repairs and inspection.

Over the years, there has been a lot of development in the design, uses, sizes, colors and kind of materials used for commercial ceilings; and there has also been a marked decrease in the overall cost of fitting these ceilings. What’s more, their use is not limited to aesthetics anymore; there are plenty of other advantages of using commercial ceilings.

We can best describe the need to use commercial ceilings through the design objectives it helps achieve and the functional advantages it offers.

Design Objectives

It can be classified broadly in the following categories: – Aesthetics, Acoustics, Environmental factors, and integration with the building’s infrastructure and lastly costs, both the construction and long term operational costs.

• Aesthetics

Ceilings are an important aesthetic element of building architecture even though most people might not even look at them. There are some amazing buildings around the world which sport some extraordinarily designed ceilings, and which help achieve numerous designing objectives.

Apart from hiding ductwork, cables and piping, commercial ceilings have also become the de facto standard for installing standard fire safety equipment. Sprinkler systems are also concealed under this ceiling and still provide full suppression quality. The purpose of having water sprinkler systems is to provide the first level of cover during fire breakouts, aiding in dousing the flames. Commercial ceilings provide aesthetic quality by covering these sprinkler systems without hampering their overall purpose.

• Acoustics

An early objective of dropped ceilings was acoustic balance and control. A noisy room can over stimulate occupants, while an exceptionally quiet interior may seem dull and uninviting.

The acoustic performance of suspended ceilings has improved dramatically over the years, with enhanced sound absorption and attenuation which is normally achieved by adding insulation known as Sound Attenuation Batts (SAB’s), more commonly referred to as “sound batts”, above the panels to help deaden sounds and keep adjacent rooms quieter.

• Environmental factors

Factors like indoor environmental quality which could include VOC emissions, lighting and the thermal control system, use of daylight for natural illumination, optimization of outdoor view and ventilation can all be positively affected through commercial ceilings.

Another reason why such ceilings must be used is their sustainability features like use of recyclable/renewable materials, reduced resources needed for the construction of tiles used in these ceilings and energy efficiency related to indoor lighting.

• Integration with Infrastructure

Integration with mechanical, plumbing and electrical part of the infrastructure is all important with suspended ceilings since most of these systems are by definition above the ceiling and are concealed in the suspended ceiling. These decisions will also affect aesthetics as well as access and maintenance.

• Cost

Suspended ceilings have better Return on Investment as compared to Open Ceilings.

Advantages of Commercial Ceilings

• Fire safety

Fire Safety

Fire safety regulations have been very stringent over the last few years and this has affected choices made by engineers and contractors in commercial buildings. The material used in commercial ceilings like ceiling tiles are made from mineral fibers, plastic, tin, composite or fire rated wood panels to meet fire standards. These materials vary in terms of safety ratings and have to be altered to meet fire safety standards.

• Easy Modifications

The biggest advantage of these ceilings is their ease of modification. They allow instant access to the plenum, which can be used for repairs and maintenance.

Wiring and piping installed behind traditional wallboard or plaster ceilings could be cumbersome to get access to; but with suspended ceilings, it’s easy to dismantle and assemble the whole or part of it and as such repairs or maintenance are easy.

Also, if you are relocating your office, you can dismantle your commercial ceiling and assemble it again in your new office space, thus elongating its lifecycle.

• Ease of Installation

Ease of Installation

It’s very easy to install a Drop Ceiling as a Do-it-yourself project with some household tools.

• Moisture and Sag Resistant

Moisture and Sag Resistant

Suspended ceilings are resistant to mold, mildew, sagging and bacteria and can be used in damp environments like bathrooms too, without any issues.

• Eco Friendly

Most commercial ceilings are made up of materials like aluminum, which are up to 98% recycled; thus they are a great choice for both the consumer and the industry. This promotes sustainability and improves carbon footprint.

• Professional Looking Appearance

Professional Looking Appearance

The wide range of suspended ceilings that are available can fit in and match any interior environment and give it a professional touch; this is imperative as your clients/customers want to see an office that has a clean and uncluttered design, which gives an indication of an efficient corporate culture. They don’t want air conditions, pipes and other unconcealed materials staring at them.

• Insulation with Energy Efficiency

Lowering the height of the ceiling by installing a suspended ceiling in the office provides exceptional insulation, which in turn lowers energy bills as there is less space to heat. If the office is in a location that faces harsh winters, commercial ceilings make a great deal of sense. A case in point is the use of commercial ceiling systems in Anchorage, which are a part and parcel of most offices in this city.

Also, such ceilings improve lighting and give a sense of more room.

This article covers the design objectives and advantages of commercial ceilings and has tried to make persuasive points as to why commercial ceilings must be an integral part of your office/store structure. If you think there are more reasons why such ceilings must be used, please share them with us in the comments section.

(Image credits: http://www.cpsinteriors.com/news/the-benefits-of-suspended-ceilings/)

How to Design a Fire-Resistant House?

For most people, building a home is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It demands a huge investment and therefore they want to get it absolutely right. People take all possible measures to protect their houses and install equipment like fire alarms, burglar alarms or more safety equipment, buy insurance and make sure that the best possible construction material is used to protect their houses against natural and man-made disasters.

If you are planning on building your dream house, it’s important you hire the right contractors for the job, the kind who have truckloads of experience in not only building great homes but also fireproofing them. It’s not very difficult to search for contractors with fireproofing expertise. If you are looking for such contractors in Alaska, a simple Google search of the term “Fireproofing Contractors Alaska” will give you a whole list of companies that are experts in fireproofing homes.

But, as a home owner you must also be aware of what goes in the making of a fireproof home. This knowledge is important because it allows you to make sure the contractor has covered all bases and made sure your house and its structure are well-protected in case of a major fire.

One important aspect you must consider is that fireproofing just makes the structures resistant to fire and doesn’t actually guarantee complete protection. In case of fire, the damage will be minimal and the structure will withstand high temperatures.

The starting point for designing a fire resistant home can be the guidelines provided by National Institute of Standards and Technology, US Department of Commerce which can be found here.

Moreover, there are a few techniques which can be used for different sections of the house that will harden your house against fire:

Roof – The roof is vulnerable to wildfires; if it is made up of wood or any substance which is prone to catching fire quickly, it should be re-roofed with materials such as composites, metal or tile.

Roof

Ideally, roofs should be made of fire resistant materials. You don’t want flying embers from wildfires to trigger an internal/external fire in your home; this is why you need to stop them from catching by blocking any free space (however minuscule) between the roof decking.

Vents – Home vents create openings for flying embers. It’s very important to cover all vent openings with metal mesh. The use of fiberglass or plastic mesh should be avoided because they have a propensity to melt and burn. Also, the vents in eaves or cornices should be protected with baffles to block embers.

Eaves and Soffits – The materials used for protection of eaves and soffits should be ignition-resistant and non-combustible.

Windows – Burning embers enter the house very easily through windows, particularly single panel and large windows which are more vulnerable. The wildfire can cause windows to break even before the home ignites and as such, installing dual-pane windows with one pane of tempered glass will reduce the chance of breakage in a fire.

Home Window

Another method to avoid fire spreading through windows can be to keep a check on the size and number of windows facing large areas of vegetation.

Here is an example of what can be considered unsafe window design as per fireproofing standards.

Walls – Wood products are the most combustible and fire prone materials. Boards, panels and shingles are common siding materials in the house. It’s therefore important that the walls of your house are made of ignition resistant building materials like stucco, fiber cement, fire retardants, treated wood or other approved materials.

Decks – It is a good practice to make sure that the decks do not have any combustible items under them and any surface built around the building is made with sufficient ignition resistant and fire proofing material approved by relevant authorities.

Rain Gutters – Regular screening or enclosing rain gutters to prevent accumulation of plant debris will prevent chances of fire too.

Patio Cover – Ignition resistant materials can also be used for patio coverings to safeguard them against fire.

Chimney – Covering chimneys and stovepipe outlets with a non-combustible screen and using metal screen material with openings can help prevent embers from escaping and igniting a fire.

Garage – Having tools like a fire extinguisher handy in the garage will be good preparation for dealing with a fire outbreak, if any. A weather stripping installation around and under the garage door will also prevent embers from blowing in. Proper storage of all combustible and flammable liquids away from ignition sources is a good and safe option to practice.

Fences – Using a non-ignition and noncombustible material to build a fence will further enhance safety against fires.

Driveways and Access Roads – Driveways should be built and maintained to allow fire and emergency vehicles to reach your home and in accordance with state and local codes. Maintaining access roads and trimming trees and shrubs overhanging the road to allow emergency vehicles to pass, is also an important criterion of practicing safety options.

Water Supply – Ensure you have multiple garden hoses which can reach the whole house; or a pump, in case the house has a pool or a well.

These are the precautions, which can help avoid the loss caused by fire to property and human lives. It starts from the overall choice of fire resistant materials used in construction of houses and extends to covering other materials with special paints/chemicals.

Fireproofing the house by making sure the design is altered to include as much safety features as possible will help protect your house even in case of serious fire breakout . Also, it is really important to maintain the house in accordance with updated fire safety norms and check regularly if there are any materials which need to be replaced.

To summarize, designing every possible aspect of your house with fire safety in mind, regular checkup, adherence to fire safety norms and maintaining a particular standard of fire safety would all form a part of the fireproofing process.

(Image credit: 1 & 2)

Implementing Right Measures to Prevent Fires: Top 5 Fireproofing Methods

Fireproofing is a specialized job. It’s not easy to fireproof a building structure and requires a thorough understanding of fire resistant building materials and the kind of design that makes the structure fire resistant.

What’s more, the location of the building determines the methodology used for fireproofing. Fireproofing Anchorage might have some points of differences with fireproofing a building in Washington.

One of the most preferred and commonly used fireproofing methods is spray painting a structure with fire resistant material. Other methods include:

Gypsum plasters
Cementitious plasters
Fibrous plasters and
Liquid convection cooling

We have covered all these five methods here to give you an understanding of how they work and in what circumstances they prove useful and more effective.

1. Sprayed Fireproofing

Spray fireproofing means spraying any substance in a way that covers a particular surface properly in order to provide it with fire resistance.

Spray applied fireproofing can be sprayed onto steel to insulate it from the heat of a fire, thus saving lives by providing enough time for people to get out of the building. The material can be cement based or fiber based since both materials have UL testing to ensure safety. Sprayed fireproofing can be used for various materials like wood, fabric, structural steel and more.

In the past, industry defined product classifications as “Cementitious Mixtures” or “Sprayed Fiber” materials. These product classifications have since been withdrawn to avoid complexities and combined to form a new single product classification called Spray-Applied Fire Resistive Material (SFRM).

Cementitious

The term “cementitious” often misleads people to believe the product contains cement, actually most commercial density fireproofing products called “cementitious” do not contain cement; ironically, most materials that are included in the “Sprayed Fiber” category actually do contain cement.

The specific characteristics of each material, the manner in which they are prepared and applied all affect the fire-resistive qualities of SFRM material. One of the most critical elements for a properly installed SFRM is its applied thickness. Sufficient insulation is available to mitigate the passage of heat from a fire to the structure being protected only if proper SFRM thickness is ensured.

The installed-SFRM must at least provide the level of thermal protection equivalent to that provided for the test assembly-during the standard test. There are various standards set and performance tests carried out for the fireproofing materials.

The industry has categorized SFRMs as either “Wet Spray” or “Dry Spray” materials so that the terms better describe the manner in which the material is mixed, conveyed and applied.

2. Gypsum Plasters

Gypsum plaster, or plaster of Paris, is produced by heating gypsum to about 300 °F (150 °C). When the dry plaster powder is mixed with water, it re-forms into gypsum. The unmodified plaster is not fully set for 72 hours even though the setting starts about 10 minutes after mixing, and is complete in about 45 minutes. If plaster or gypsum is heated above 392°F (200°C), an anhydrite is formed, which will also re-form as gypsum if mixed with water. A large gypsum deposit at Montmartre in Paris led “calcined gypsum” (roasted gypsum or gypsum plaster) to be commonly known as “plaster of Paris”.

For many decades, plasters have been in use for passive fire protection, as fireproofing products. The finished plaster slows the spread of the fire for as much as an hour or two because it releases water vapor when exposed to flame. It also provides some insulation to retard heat flow into structural steel elements that would otherwise lose their strength and collapse in a fire.

Early versions of these plasters actually used asbestos fibers, which by now have been outlawed in many countries.

Contemporary plasters fall into the following categories:

Fibrous (including mineral wool and glass fiber).
Cement mixtures either with mineral wool or with vermiculite.
Gypsum plasters, leavened with polystyrene beads, as well as chemical expansion agents to decrease the density of the finished product.

There is a noticeable difference between interior and exterior fireproofing.

Interior products typically tend to be less substantial, with lower densities and lower cost and there is a lot more variety of choice. Exterior products have to withstand extreme fire and other environmental conditions and should be immune to dramatic weather changes. This is why exterior products are also more likely to be attractively tooled, whereas their interior cousins are usually merely sprayed in place.

Exterior fireproofing plasters are losing ground to more costly intumescent and endothermic products, simply on technical merit. Cementitious and gypsum based plasters tend to be endothermic.

Fireproofing plasters are closely related to fire stop mortars. Most fire stop mortars need to be sprayed extensively and tooled to perfection. This improves their fire resistance.

Heat resistant plaster is another building material used for coating walls and chimney breasts. If contractors think gypsum plaster might not stay on the wall due to high temperature, heat resistant plaster is used as an alternative. Heat resistant plaster should be used in cases where the wall is likely to exceed temperatures of 50°C.

3. Cementitious Plasters

Cementitious fireproofing

Cementitious fireproofing is a wet mix plaster fireproofing substance, using a base of Portland cement or gypsum. Fireproofing steel for a fire resistance rating of 1 to 4 hours, for both restrained and unrestrained rating, is normally achieved by suing this type of coating.

Cementitious plasters are often referred to as Portland cement plasters. Portland cement plasters made with perlite aggregate instead of sand offer, many advantages. They are more fire resistant, better insulators, and weigh approximately 60% less than conventional cement and sand plasters.

Also, with the addition of fiber reinforcement, superior crack resistance is achieved. In addition, fiber reinforced perlite cement plaster panels can be safely and easily handled in the field. That’s a huge advantage in itself.

4. Fibrous Plasters

Fibrous Plastering

Fibrous plaster is Gypsum plaster reinforced or backed with sisal or canvas. Fibrous plasters, containing either mineral wool or ceramic fibers tend to simply entrain more air, thus displacing heavy fibers.

On-site cost reduction efforts can further enhance such displacement of solids through at times purposely contravening the requirements of the certification listing. This resulted in architects’ specifying the use of on-site testing of proper densities to ensure the products installed meet the certification listings employed for each installed configuration; that’s because excessively light inorganic fireproofing does not provide adequate protection and is thus in clear violation of the listings.

Materials used for covering items to provide increased fire-resistance include proprietary boards and sheets, made of gypsum, calcium silicate, vermiculite, perlite, mechanically bonded composite boards made of punched sheet-metal and cellulose reinforced concrete.

5. Liquid Convection Cooling

Liquid convection cooling in hollow structural members is an alternative method to keep building steel below its softening temperature. This will keep the temperature under control and prevent fire occurrences.

The 5 techniques discussed here are the most widely used worldwide. They have evolved and the usage of materials has changed over time to better handle the fireproofing needs of the clients and buildings thus making fireproofing methods better and safer.

(Image credit: 1, 2 & 3)

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