Hygienic Ceilings: Keeping it clean overhead

This luminous ceiling panel shows where leakage collected on the top side, then evaporated without damaging either the thermoformed panel or the contents of the room below. The stain was removed with simple washing.

Climate change and other societal issues have prompted an examination of ways to improve the resiliency of our buildings and communities. This was made manifest in May 2016, when President Obama called for an effort to increase resilience through building codes and standards. Hurricanes, tornados, and floods make the headlines, but one of the most effective ways to improve resiliency is simply to use building materials that are not ruined when they get wet. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) publishes guidelines for flood-damage resistant materials. On a scale of 1 (i.e. cannot survive the wetting and drying associated with floods) to 5 (i.e. “permitted for… essentially unmitigated flood exposure”), several types of hygienic ceilings are acceptable as Class 4 materials:

Resistant to floodwater damage from wetting and drying, but less durable when exposed to moving water. These materials can survive wetting and drying and may be successfully cleaned after a flood to render them free of most harmful pollutants. Materials in this class may be exposed to and/or submerged in floodwaters in interior spaces and do not require special waterproofing protection.(See FEMA Technical Bulletin 2, Flood Damage-Resistant Materials Requirements. Visit www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/2655.)

Instead of joining the pile of flood-damaged finishes, Class 4 panels can generally be removed from the ceiling suspension grid, washed, and reused.

The Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology (IEST) publishes recommended practices for planning and design of nanoscale science and technology facilities. It points out “Nanotechnology facilities typically require cleanrooms for research and fabrication, but the cleanroom is not the primary focus of the facility.” These facilities have other controlled environments that must be designed to meet diverse requirements, including hygiene.

Indoor air quality
Clean buildings require less ventilation to maintain indoor air quality (IAQ), and thereby reduce energy loads for heating and cooling buildings. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) states:

A clean indoor environment is generally considered an essential requisite for good IAQ. As part of the design of the building, selecting interior materials and finishes that have surfaces that can be easily cleaned without strong chemical agents is also an important aspect of the overall strategy for controlling cleaning-associated IAQ impacts. Ensuring that these surfaces are also durable will reduce maintenance requirements as well as the IAQ impacts associated with replacement or refinishing. (This comes from ASHRAE’s Indoor Air Quality Guide: Best Practices for Design, Construction, and Commissioning. Visit iaq.ashrae.org.)

Ventilation requirements are a greater concern when ceiling materials are able to adsorb and then re-emit odors and VOCs.

Hygiene is not only about physical health, but also emotional and mental health. A growing body of evidence from organizations such as the International Well Building Institute, along with personal observations, supports the conclusion people feel better about themselves and the places where they live, work, study, shop, and play when those spaces are clean and well maintained.

Hygiene in perspective
An n-gram traces the frequency with which a word or phrase is used over time, offering insight into changing behavior. The n-gram graph of the word ‘hygiene’ in English-language books shows it did not start trending until the second half of the 19th century, during the epoch when Pasteur and others developed the germ theory of disease. With the realization cleanliness reduces disease, the richly decorated surfaces of the Victorian Age began evolving into the less fussy styles of the Edwardian Age, and then the austerity of the Modernist architects.

The decline in the term’s use becomes pronounced shortly after 1928, when Fleming discovered penicillin. It is interesting to note the decline of references to hygiene occurs simultaneously with the growing interest in ‘acoustical ceilings.’ Prior to the advent of acoustical ceilings, most ceilings were relatively easily cleaned hard surfaces such as plaster, tin, or painted wood. Perhaps the miracles of modern medicine made it possible for people to overlook hygiene and use difficult-to-clean ceilings that potentially release fibers and support mold.

This is hardly a complete analysis of the complex factors shaping cultural and architectural trends, but it does suggest building design trends are likely influenced by changes in scientific knowledge and the prevailing social paradigms. (For another perspective on this, see the Treehugger article, “Antibiotic Resistance will Change the Way We Live,” by architect Lloyd Alter. Visit www.treehugger.com/urban-design/antibiotic-resistance-will-change-way-we-live.html.)

As the trends described in this article gain momentum, hygienic ceilings may well become the new norm.

While searching for subatomic particles, CERN—the European Organization for Nuclear Research—still has to keep ordinary dirt particles out of its computers. In Geneva, Switzerland, its computer center (shown at left) stores, distributes, and analyzes 15 million gigabytes of data generated every year by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

The facility uses a hot/cool aisle configuration to keep the computers cool. Filtered, chilled air is pumped into the cool aisles between the front sides of the computer servers. Air heats as it passes through servers, and is exhausted into hot aisles on back sides of servers. A roof over the cool aisles, along with doors at ends of aisles, transforms cold aisles into an enclosed air plenum.

The roof is made from light-transmitting plastic ceiling panels that allow the cold aisle to be illuminated from luminaires above the computer racks thus eliminating a heat source from the conditioned space. The hygienic panels are easy to clean and do not release dust, fibers, or other contaminants into the servers. The grid supporting the panels spans between server racks.

For more on “Hygienic Ceilings: Standards and Guidelines,” along with an n-gram of “hygiene,” see these authors’ article posted on The Construction Specifier website. Visit www.constructionspecifier.com/more-hygienic-ceilings.

Ed Davis is president of Ceilume, a manufacturer of thermoformed ceiling products. He has been responsible for product testing and code compliance. Davis can be reached via www.ceilume.com/pro.

David Condello has more than 20 years of experience in construction, and is architectural services manager for Ceilume. He can be contacted through www.ceilume.com/pro.

Michael Chusid, RA, FCSI, CCS, is a frequent contributor to this magazine, and received the 2015 The Construction Specifier Article of the Year Award from CSI. He is an authority in building product innovation. Chusid can be reached via www.chusid.com.

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