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What is a Suspended Ceiling?

By B. Turner
Updated May 17, 2024
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A suspended ceiling is a type of finish system that is hung below the ceiling structure within a room or building. It may be suspended from a roof or ceiling deck, which consists of structural framing joists that support loads above and below the deck. The majority of suspended ceiling systems are made up of steel grid and acoustical tiles, though other materials can also be used. Metal hanger wires are used to suspend these systems anywhere from three inches to more than a foot (7.6 cm to 30.5 cm) below the deck.

These ceilings can be installed over existing drywall, exposed wood framing, steel joists, or even tile ceiling finishes. In a typical suspended ceiling system, the tile is supported by thin metal frames that run in a grid pattern across the room. Wall molding is attached to the wall around the entire perimeter of the room. The remainder of the grid is suspended by hanger wires, though the ends of each grid section rest on the wall molding for extra support.

The grid may be arranged in a 2' by 4'(122 cm by 61 cm) or 2' by 2'(61 cm by 61 cm) pattern based on the standard acoustical tile sizes. Recessed fluorescent light fixtures are often used with these ceilings, and are designed to fit within the regular grid patterns. Heating and air conditioning grills may be sold in standard tile sizes so they can also be fit into a suspended ceiling grid.

A suspended ceiling offers many advantages over other types of ceiling structures. Because it is suspended below the deck, the interstitial space can serve as an air plenum for ventilation. This space can also be used to hide pipes, ducts and electrical wiring. Because the tiles are easily removable, it is still possible to access mechanical and electrical equipment above the ceiling for maintenance and service. Suspended grid systems are also relatively affordable and can be installed quickly and easily.

There are also a number of potential drawbacks to consider when choosing a suspended ceiling. Acoustical tiles tend to yellow over time, and can make a room look dated. They need to be replaced regularly, and are susceptible to stains and damage due to moisture or impact. Finally, because they are suspended below the ceiling deck, they reduce the overall ceiling height within the room. This is often considered unattractive, especially in rooms that already have a relatively low ceiling.

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Discussion Comments

By wavy58 — On Feb 17, 2012

My basement has a suspended ceiling. This is good for hiding pipes and other unsightly necessities. Also, it's a great way to block out the sound of my brother's band when they practice down there.

Oh, I can still hear them, but not nearly as well as I could if they practiced in any other room of the house. The acoustical tiles keep most of the noise down in the basement where it belongs.

Since my brother and all his bandmates are either short or average height, the low ceiling doesn't bother them. I'm rather tall, though, so I wouldn't want a suspended ceiling elsewhere in the house. I rarely go down to the basement, so it doesn't bother me.

By shell4life — On Feb 17, 2012

I think that installing suspended ceiling is a wise choice. If you have any sort of water damage, you only have to replace the affected tiles.

My parents had an area of water stain on their ceiling that covered about a foot of space. Unfortunately, they had a solid ceiling that wasn't suspended, so replacing it would have been a major task. They just couldn't afford to do this.

So, when I had my home built, I made sure that the construction crew installed a suspended ceiling. I didn't want to end up in the same predicament as my parents.

Last spring, a tree fell on my house, punching a hole in my roof. Water leaked onto the ceiling, leaving stains. I was so glad that I had a suspended ceiling, because I only had to replace three tiles, and it was so easy to do!

By orangey03 — On Feb 16, 2012

@kylee07drg – I think a lot of office buildings have that type of ceiling. I work in an old art gallery, and it has a more decorative suspended ceiling that follows the same design.

The tiles have a floral pattern on them, and they are off-white. The design is embossed, so they have raised areas and valleys that add to the depth.

Each tile is a perfect square. Each one can be pushed up to reveal wiring.

We have lights installed in the grid. They are recessed and fit the mold. We use white light bulbs instead of yellow to more closely match the color of the ceiling tiles.

By kylee07drg — On Feb 15, 2012

The office where I work has suspended ceiling panels. They are the basic white and gray flecked rectangles found in many office spaces.

We have fluorescent lights that are the exact same size as the panels, and they were designed to fit right into the grid. I have seen the manager change out the bulbs before, and he simply pops the rectangular cover off to reveal the long fluorescent tubes. He switches out the damaged one with a new one, and the cover snaps right back into place.

I have also seen workers come in to check out the wiring from time to time. Some of our computer wires run up through the ceiling, and they push up on the panels to reveal the wire above. I never really thought about where it went, until I saw a panel raised.

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