Is there a single good reason for Acoustic Ceiling Tile to exist?! I think not.*

I've spent the morning cutting and placing ACT (to add insult to injury, I had to listen to Contemporary Country while doing it).  It's cheap, crappy material that looks cheap and crappy no matter how carefully you install it. If it gets wet it has to be thrown in a landfill. If you paint it it loses most of its acoustical value. If the grid gets bent you have to toss it out and hang a new one. A single tile hanging skewed in its frame lowers the perceptual real estate value of the entire building. Everyone who looks at it associates it with cheap construction and the hiding of lots of secrets (like just how cheaply constructed the actual structure is below that finish).

Is there honestly any good, redeemable reason to use it?


*My tongue is in my cheek as I write this, of course - partly because I'm still trying to get the grit from cutting the tiles out of my teeth.

Apr 30, 14 1:10 pm

you don't want me to answer that question. you really don't...

Apr 30, 14 1:47 pm

'cause it's cheap, of course.

Enjoying the new job?

Apr 30, 14 1:54 pm

It's a wonderful horizontal wildlife protection barrier.  Just think of how many spiders would be raining down on your head without it... duh!!

Apr 30, 14 2:01 pm

i like the 80s/90s movies with kids throwing pencils in them.

Apr 30, 14 2:06 pm

I seem to recall a fracas breaking out at a concert in a small basement club in Seattle which caused minor damage to the venue.  The headline for news story reporting the contretemps was "And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Busted Ceiling Tiles".

Apr 30, 14 2:18 pm
Save Western


I'm actually interested to know as well. Is the only reason because its cheaper and more accessible than drywall for folks that want to conceal the structure and systems above? Why that particular material? Why not felt or something?

Apr 30, 14 3:54 pm

I just wish TV/Movies would stop showing burglars crawling across the top of it like it's a solid floor.

Apr 30, 14 4:21 pm

It is much lighter than drywall, which allows the grid to be as small as possible, reducing the cost. I would say that it is a material used solely because it is cheap to install.

Apr 30, 14 4:22 pm

If you're serious, there's a ton of reasons to use it, and thousands of options, materials, shapes and forms. Hell just log onto USG or Armstrong for basic ideas. 

Labor cost are cheaper than drywall installed in most cases; track & tile is easily cut and modified; Material can be a lot more expensive. Can be rated assembly with hold downs.  Hundred fold better at acoustics with most.  Leaves a plenum for return air, hiding mechanical electrical plumbing and low voltage like network/phone.  Adaptable so you can move a light fixture, get up in there and add stuff (like more cabling), etc.  Gets rid of hatches you'd have to put in drywall like shutoffs, fire dampers, mechanical dampers, cleanouts, etc.  It doesn't need painted, can be replaced with standard sizes 2x2 or 2x4.  Also in tenant finish, it goes over the walls, so you can remodel and move walls without damaging the ceiling.  Aesthetically, you can make clouds or shapes to break up an otherwise dull ceiling.

I even use it in my own house, like in the basement or family room as a coffer and to break up the solid ceiling plane at the perimeter.  As a bonus, it allows me access to plumbing from below and the ability to string speaker wire/power wherever I want easily.  You can even leave the gap, put in lights so it washes the ceiling in a pattern to add interest.  Also if you have a forced air system, you can also use it like a plenum to help balance and distribute a ton better than relying on living space and open doors.  And also from a homeowner standpoint; It's easier for DIY than learning how to drywall, tape and texture as well as less messy.  It'd just be weird to see it everywhere.  

Apr 30, 14 4:53 pm
Olaf Design Ninja_

I won't re-iterate all the points mightyaa makes, I will just formulate a response that will turn the whole question on its head...........remember back in the day in studio or some ideological moment out of school like doing a design competition looking for a genius building system and assembly, a design true to all of modern architecture tenants for good design, a honest simple and functional system...remember when you tried to develop this patent pending architecture? BOOM. T grids and tiles.

Apr 30, 14 7:44 pm

That is an interesting point Chris. It's kind of weird how many of the most successful and adaptable modern innovations have some kind of stigma in our society for being cheap and/or boring.

I think mobile homes are another good example of this... they are more effective and functional than most of the crazy modular building systems proposed by Buckminster Fuller and the like. But, now they are seen as a sign of poverty and bad living choices. IKEA  is somewhat in the same boat, as well. It brought cheap, functional modern design to the masses, yet it is often looked down upon, especially compared to pseudo-antique solid wood furniture which costs a fortune in comparison.

Sometimes I wonder if the only thing that really creates value in the eyes of our society is the price tag associated with the product. 

Apr 30, 14 8:12 pm
Because without it your rooms are too live or you have to install REALLY expensive acoustical panels.
Apr 30, 14 8:20 pm
BTW Donna when did you get fired and have to take this tradesman job?
Apr 30, 14 8:21 pm

It keeps cardboard out of land fills because of the recycled content...

Apr 30, 14 8:29 pm

Mobile homes are a good example of toxic and unsafe construction.

Apr 30, 14 8:56 pm
mightyaa I'll grant that in a world where economics trumps sensual pleasure every time ACT appears to satisfy a lot of mistakenly "valid" concerns. But there is no excuse, ever, for ACT to be used in residential. Ever.
Apr 30, 14 10:58 pm
gruen I'm in Facilities. When I requested that each site-cut tile also be beveled to match the edges of the full tiles I felt it only fair to help out with the labor. My poor team is so overworked lately.
Apr 30, 14 11:01 pm
won and done williams

With modern construction (i.e. open floor plans, longer ceiling spans, etc.), what's a better alternative? Drywall is next to impossible to get a dead nuts flat surface (in comparison to the gorgeous wet plaster ceilings a hundred years ago). ACT is basically a system invented to work with our modern construction. In order to do away with ACT, you would have to rethink modern construction and in turn modern programming. 

May 1, 14 9:27 am

I found a really good reason for it to exist when I was about 3 years old.

Dad just remodeled the basement (finished with false wood paneling...) and the ceiling had acoustic tile. My sister and I had these novelty pens with dinosaur heads on the top. They made really good darts.

Acoustic tile turns out to be an excellent dart board.

May 1, 14 9:33 am

Just a couple residential ones... No, not mine and I think they are too dark. Top one is the track and s-board easily done by a DIY type including the rustification.  I'd contemplate something like this for an old log cabin where you need to add insulation but want to keep that sort of 'salvage material' look.  Just get some old rusted out tin and cut to shape.  Bottom is one of those fancier systems.  Myself though... this isn't my style or taste.

May 1, 14 10:34 am

what's a better alternative?

Access floors. Or not. Always a bunch of trade-offs. Hard to beat the price of ACT. Easy to beat the aesthetic.

May 1, 14 10:35 am

That corrugated "industrialesque" installation is vomit-inducing.  Seriously.  And on a completely opposite end of the spectrum, the "traditional" coffered ceiling is equally vomitous.

Come on.  You're a renegade, a rebel, shutting down conventional aesthetics while keepin' it real with rust and heavy metal expressing your hard-edged vibe and then you...carefully cut it all to fit a contemporary office interior 2x2 grid?!? WTF????

On the other side, you're a connoisseur of fine liqueur and want to graciously host your guests in traditional, old-world ambiance that celebrates traditions of skilled craftsmanship and the genteel class who can afford it so you...nail gun some Fypon mouldings to the ceiling?!?

Gross. Those are both gross.

May 1, 14 12:05 pm

If you absolutely *must* have acoustical treatment (and I agree, many many small DIY spaces, especially restaurants and cafes, suffer from too many reflective surfaces on the interior rendering them uncomfortable to spend time in), this Eurospan system is an attractive alternative.  Maybe it's just the 2x2 grid - and heaven forbid 2x4 - that I despise, although I *love* construction standard sizes expressed in materials like plywood and framing.

May 1, 14 12:09 pm

lol Donna... did say it wasn't my style at all as I tend toward contemporary.  Just a couple google images because some folks tend to see just the tegular stuff from home depot I meekly tried to convince even myself might work and it's damn hard to find photos of it in residential.

And I liked your link.  One I never got around to doing is stretched translucent canvas similar to that.  Had one of those '70's houses with that awful vaulted shed roof with the customary clearstory at the tip.  Wanted to 're-proportion' the space using an elliptical frame and stretched translucent canvas with some lighting effect.  Unfortunately, I'm an architect which means I can figure out cool stuff I can't afford.

Armstrong has some cool stuff...

With the right kind of residential, some of this stuff could fit right in. 

May 1, 14 5:54 pm
Olaf Design Ninja_

At one firm on many projects for same clients we had to put sheet rock in the bathrooms as ceilings and not ACT to keep the clients clientele from stashing their drugs and what not in the bathroom. Good thing or a bad thing?

May 1, 14 6:09 pm

Just thought i would throw this out here as I cost out existing building as part of my job...

Using Office SF as an example,

"Good" typical fiberglass and metal T supports ACT it costs .... $4.07 / SF

"Good" Gypsum board, taped and painted it costs .... $2.21 / SF

ACT is actually more expensive.

May 1, 14 6:23 pm

Most bathrooms have hard lids.  Stashing isn't usually the reason.  There's acoustic and odor encapsulation, cleanable surfaces (you can wipe down drywall, not ACT) and privacy concerns (peeping toms).  Also more specialty mechanical like exhaust fans, motors and ducts as well as plumbing and vent stacks.  Also things like lighting at the vanity mirrors aren't good with the standard 2x4 type fixtures that go with drop ceilings.  There's also the aesthetics since the spaces are small, a really high ceiling just feels weird so you'll want a lower ceiling anyway which means it's not running over the top of partitions like standard ceilings. 

edit; the cleanable surface is a big one.  Bathrooms are wetter areas both from the use and the regular cleaning (not what you sicko's probably thought about)..  That means it's more probable you'll have mildew or mold issues here than you would in an office space or lobby.

@w4000.  Totally true.  In a general sense.  Now add in access panels for dampers/shut offs, return ducts, and have the security, phone, network installers bid a hard lid versus a drop ceiling.  :P  

May 1, 14 7:36 pm
Olaf Design Ninja_

you're right Mightyaa, an access panel in a sheet rock ceiling would be much better for stashing...

what if the panels glow Donna?

May 1, 14 10:08 pm

It's all how you use it.  PS: Simparch is great:

May 2, 14 1:19 am

Janosh, you got me: that installation by Simparch, which I did see in person at CAC, *is* a justifiable use of ACT.  But only because it can exist in contrast to how unacceptable it is in every earnest use of it elsewhere!

Chris, a glowing ceiling grid can be lovely.  But does it need to be an ACT grid? No. And in that image (might just be a camera trick) the grid appears to be longer and narrower than 2x4).

May 2, 14 8:17 am

I was in an office space waiting for an update and the client said, the accoustical tile ceiling is tired it needs to be replaced.  When I looked up at the ceiling all the tiles had been replace so they were crispy white, but the grid was nasty with the smoke yellow look of bi gone years.  You know  when the space had little ventilation and everyone had a cig burning in an ashtray....and who would ever think of going outside.

May 2, 14 8:41 am

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