False can be beautiful

You should probably be staring at the ceiling for an answer. False ceilings that once adorned only commercial and industrial establishments are today a hot decor element. Also called drop or suspended ceilings, they’re secondary ceilings hung below the main ceiling, serving both aesthetic and utilitarian purposes.

Consisting of tiles and panels fitted into a framework of metal tracks suspended from the main ceiling, the false ceiling lends a warmer ambience to the office, bedroom or living room at home. The space between the main and the drop-ceiling (plenum space) can conceal HVAC duct air returns, electrical wiring etc without holes or channels being bored into the original ceiling for them. Repairs and later additions or modifications like telephone, computer and electrical wiring are convenient, for, all that’s required is removal of the relevant panels, finishing the repairs and re-fitting them!  

Today, ceiling tiles are trendier. Mineral fibre and metal tiles are the most commonly preferred drop-ceiling tiles. Those made of wood-fibre, gypsum and glasswool are also available. Another ceiling-tile variety is attached directly to the old ceiling or to wood/metal furring strips, dispensing with the plenum space. Previously, panels were usually an austere white.

But, today, because tiles come in a variety of colours and designs, they can enhance decor too. This relatively greater fire-resistant and acid/alkali-resistant option is touted as the most suitable ceiling solution for a tropical country in India, minimising dirt-accumulation problems in view of their non-porous, non-absorbent, lightweight, waterproof and fungus/termite-resistant nature.

Economy of installation, replacement, removal or maintenance also contributes to their popularity. They can be washed or painted. Water-damaged/sullied tiles can simply be replaced. False ceiling varieties like grid ceilings and fibre ceilings, made of solid PVC foam are available. 

Some people employ the false ceiling route to camouflage flaws in the main ceiling such as old, cracked plaster, deferring expensive repairs. Its acoustic properties have made it the favourite ceiling-choice for recording studios, conference halls, auditoriums and hotels. Because it muffles external sounds, it’s the right option for a home-theatre room.
Westerners commonly use it for the basement ceiling to accommodate guitar-practising or rambunctious, video-game playing kids.

Drop-ceiling installation can also be a DIY project. But, be prepared to spare lots of time and energy to achieve the perfect finish. If you’re opting for a suspended ceiling, first check whether the room will appear cramped and stuffy on installation.

The usual minimum of 7.5-8 ft. room height allows for the mandatory three-four inches of plenum space. But, dwarf-rooms can’t accommodate false ceilings. Stem water leaks, if any, before installation. As for tile size, smaller tiles demand more support tracking.  

To incorporate recessed lighting or full-panel fluorescent ceiling lights, an additional two inches is recommended. But, caution is advised with incandescent lighting, for it heats up faster than the fluorescent type. Other overhead appliances like fans can also be easily installed onto a drop ceiling. Use suspended ceiling hooks to hang lightweight decorative pieces from the false ceiling.

As for disadvantages, besides reducing headroom, false ceiling tiles and panels deteriorate quickly and are also more unstable than conventional ceilings during earthquakes.

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