Improving the Energy Efficiency of Your Suspended Ceiling

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A suspended ceiling can provide many benefits for your building, especially when done correctly. You can add a suspended ceiling to the front of a warehouse to create office space, without having to put too much labor and money into the project. A suspended ceiling helps muffle excess noise, allows easy passage of communication and computer networking needs and is simple to repair and modify because of standardized tile sizes. But one area where your suspended ceiling may need help to reach peak energy efficiency is how you seal the places other components pass through, such as lights, intercoms, HVAC vents, wiring, plumbing and other infiltration areas.

To determine the best way to deal with these problems, we received expert advice on improving a suspended ceiling for peak performance from someone who knows serious insulation. Lloyd McIntire is a recently retired insulation contractor in Tower, Minnesota - the town that broke the record for the coldest spot in the contiguous United States at -60ºF in January 1996. As the only insulator in one of the coldest parts of our country, he was happy to share a little of his 42+ years of experience with us.

Chicago Metallic Drop CeilingThe first step is to determine what's already in your suspended ceiling. "You have to start by doing an inspection and verifying what you already have in place. (A client) had a situation where he'd added insulation that blocked ventilation and allowed air leaks, causing hot spots and ice dams. A friend had told him he needed to add insulation, so he'd put sheet foam on top of the fiberglass. When he shoved the sheet foam on top, he displaced the existing fiberglass. That would have been messy, but still done the job, but to fit the boards into the space, the foam was cut 1/8-1/4" narrower than the space, so all the heat loss was going around the (unsealed) cracks in the sheet foam." Because the fiberglass had also been displaced, air was going directly through the loose grid and tile spaces in the suspended ceiling, through the holes where the fiberglass batting had been displaced and around the cracks at the edges of the sheet foam. Mr. McIntire was called in to "fix" the problem by removing all the insulation and putting in insulation that had been properly fit to the space and eliminated the problematic air infiltration gaps around the space. By the time the ceiling was fixed along with adding appropriate insulation to the ductwork and exposed concrete block walls that were losing heat to high winds, the client's heating expenses were lowered by 45-50%.

The next step is to add insulation and seal around any areas of infiltration. "Spray foam is much better than fiberglass (in this situation) because moisture in an unventilated area can cause problems with mold and mildew in the fiberglass. Spray foam fills any spaces, so it seals pipes, wiring, anything that goes through that area," Mr. McIntire mentions. "Sheet foam is another option if you need to seal wall spaces (above the suspended ceiling) against infiltrating air, as long as the gaps (between boards) are sealed." 

Acoustical Ceiling PanelsHe also notes that it's vital to ensure that insulation is replaced around new items added to a ceiling, such as a new run of wiring, new ductwork or similar areas of potential infiltration. "If you're really going to look at attic  insulation and  so on, you should really be caulking and have a vapor barrier need to look at moving the insulation to seal around any air bypasses to the inside or outside of the area above the suspended ceiling. This includes lights, wire penetration up to the attic, plumbing, that need to be sealed with caulking or weatherstripping." This is also true when you have a dead space above your suspended ceiling where the temperature is not being controlled.

If you need to seal your suspended ceiling, please contact us! At Wallboard Supply Company, we've been supplying the 4-state region for decades.

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Wallboard Supply Company is a third generation, family run business that has been serving New England's building needs since 1970. Bob Filion started the company with a commitment to provide quality drywall and finishing products with unmatched customer service. The company has grown over the years, expanding its' product range, but never wavering from its' core values.