Let’s face it. If a school is to be remodeled after many years of service, something must be done with the aged/discolored acoustical ceiling tiles. The obvious and most common response is to discard the old tiles and replace them with new materials. In the majority of instances, the new tiles are the same size and design as the old ones. What makes the decision making even more interesting is that in many cases, by removing the tiles, old asbestos is revealed, making a costly asbestos removal program necessary.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the ceilings did not have to be replaced? Think of the advantages if a state-of-the-art alternative is employed.

Following are some of those advantages:

• dramatically reduce the cost and

installation time,

• avoid solid waste disposal into landfills,

• circumvent asbestos removal,

• increase light dispersion while decreasing dependence on artificial lighting and

• ensure a greater life expectancy.

Following are a series of questions and answers designed to introduce acoustical ceiling restoration — the state-of-the-art system that is gaining increasing popularity in the school market.

Q: Whether a working or learning space, which environmental factors can most readily impact an individual’s performance?

A: Noise can obviously be distracting, but poor lighting can be even more damaging to a quality performance. While modest lighting will not halt normal activity, a dark and gloomy atmosphere can subconsciously impact one’s output in a negative way.

Q: In any space (classroom, hallway, office, etc.), which surface is most responsible for distributing light?

A: The ceiling is the largest area and, if properly coated, can disperse light more efficiently than any other surface.

If you have established the need for a new ceiling surface, that need is addressed by most facility planners by removing the old ceiling and installing new materials. Making the assumption that a less expensive and faster installed alternative would be preferable, the next set of questions quickly explores the alternatives.

Q: Why not paint the old ceiling. This would provide a white, light reflective surface.

A: Conventional paints will also damage the sound absorbing and fire retardant qualities of the old ceiling material. Apart from the safety consideration, a loss of acoustics translates to more noise… not an environmental factor of choice. Traditional paints also leave the tiles stuck to the supporting t-bar system, impeding access above the ceiling for maintenance purposes.

Q: How about chemical cleaning?

A: By the time a ceiling has aged and discolored, some tiles have been replaced, resulting in a checkerboard affect. Chemical cleaners are designed to remove surface contamination. This will not overcome the difference in color between older and newer tiles. Secondly, if the original coating that was applied by the tile manufacturer has discolored, removing the surface contamination will not restore the pigment’s color. If that pigment is now a grayish white, then it remains a grayish white.

Q: Are there any other alternatives that would allow for the recycling of the old ceiling materials?

A: Acoustical ceiling restoration is a system that provides a newly coated surface, while not introducing any of the negatives associated with traditional painting systems.

Q: What makes the acoustical coating used in acoustical ceiling restoration different than traditional paint?

A: It is called bridging. By the very nature of their chemistry, conventional paints bridge open spaces. That is why windows are stuck to the windowsill after having been painted. The coating used in acoustical ceiling restoration is a nonbridging material that is chemically designed not to span an open space. Instead of plugging the pores with paint, the acoustical coating leaves those pores open to continue absorbing sound.

Specifying a System

The architect, facility manager or school system executive wishes to specify an Acoustical Ceiling Restoration product/process. Now, how do they proceed? How do they know one product from another? After all, product claims are so frequently inflated. The answer lies in whether or not the acoustical coating has been tested by independent laboratories, using the appropriate ASTM test, in the five main areas of concern: acoustical testing, flame testing, light reflectance testing, toxicity test and aging test.

These five tests’ results should answer the following questions regarding the application of the coating to an acoustical ceiling surface.

• What affect will the coating have on the sound absorbing capability of the ceiling?

• What affect will the coating have on the speed flame will spread in a fire, and more importantly, will the amount of smoke developed be increased or decreased as a result of the coating being burned on the surface?

• Will the new coated surface increase the ability of light to be distributed throughout the area; particularly as compared to other coatings?

• Should the surface coating burn, would it give off a gas that is dangerous?

• What is the life expectancy of the proposed coating compared against other coatings?

If the manufacturer of the proposed coating cannot provide legitimate testing in these five categories, buyers beware. Also, take a look at how long the manufacturer has been producing the product. The longer they have been in the business, the more they can draw on their experience when complications arise or assistance is needed.

Identifying Applicators

No matter how good a product may be, there are those contractors who can negate the benefits through poor application procedures. There are two approaches to arriving at an applicator; (1) rely on a general contractor to select a subcontractor and (2) choose the applicator and deal directly with that firm.

If you rely on the general contractor, make it clear (in writing) that adherence to the specified product is essential and no substitutions will be accepted. Insist that they use a subcontractor who has experience with the specified product. If they are not familiar with the specified product, suggest that they contact the product manufacturer for a recommendation. Remember that left to their own devices, painting contractors will often use paint.

If you wish to contract directly for the application of the specified product, the same suggestions hold. Contact the product manufacturer for recommendations on the application side of the project.

In-House Application

Many school systems have their own paint personnel who are quite capable of restoring ceilings on a general on-going basis. Toward that end, the acoustical coating manufacturer of choice should be able to offer a training program and make all of the required materials/supplies available. Ceiling restoration does not have to be part of a major school remodeling program.

Preventive Maintenance

Whether the ceiling is new or recently restored, there is no doubt that sooner or later a water stain will occur and/or soot will accumulate around the air diffusers. If these eyesores are dealt with quickly and without too much effort, the new-like appearance will be maintained, increasing the life expectancy. Once again, the full-service ceiling restoration product manufacturer should have items available to deal with these issues.

Seldom, if ever, is one solution the answer to all problems. There are many situations where the ceiling must be entirely replaced. But, that is normally not the case. Acoustical ceiling restoration is a system that saves time and money, can out perform the coatings even on new tiles, avoids adding to the landfill and provides a better work/learning environment.