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High ceilings have become the norm in new homes, but few builders consider the negative acoustical effects—namely sound reverberation—that high ceilings can produce. What's more, many builders may not be aware of the range of acoustic ceiling products that control noise while still providing an attractive finish.

Until recently, ceilings presented a two-sided dilemma: Decorative ceilings—while popular for their aesthetics—provide little in the way of sound control. And although standard fissure-patterned acoustic tiles have been common in residential basements and are affordable, they have little aesthetic appeal. So high-end builders, contractors, and homeowners are beginning to look to the commercial sector for high-performance, attractive acoustic ceiling products, along with noise-controlling installation ideas, to help set their homes apart, says Portia Ash, residential noise control business manager for Owens Corning.

Within the commercial sector, suspended acoustic ceilings are still common because they are easy to install and allow access to mechanicals, but architects in this market are showing an increasing preference for higher-end and better-looking acoustic ceilings, manufacturers say. The high-end products tend to have a more stylized design, but that style is decidedly spare and modernistic, allowing ceilings to recede into the background. Manufacturers also are catering to current commercial design trends by offering acoustic ceilings with smaller perforations, smoother surfaces, and sharper edges.

Home builders are starting to look to the commercial segment for high-performance, high-style acoustic ceiling products.

“The bulk of designers and architects are really trying to design the ceiling to go away, because modern designs at the moment are the trend, and modern is clean, white, and flat in wall and ceiling applications,” points out Kim Graaskamp, director of sales and marketing for Hunter Douglas Ceilings.

Commercial architects have started using 4-foot-square or 2-foot-by-4-foot tiles, instead of standard 2-foot-square tiles, yielding a smoother appearance and reducing the visible repetition of the suspension grid, according to Joerg Hutmacher, business unit manager for illbruck International.

In anticipation of the trickle-down to homes, many manufacturers are adding some of their commercial-line acoustic ceiling products to their residential lines. “They will trickle into more urban settings in the residential market: lofts, condominiums, or very architecturally high-end or leading-edge residential homes,” predicts Naeem Malik, national sales manager for Armstrong Ceilings.

Home builders and homeowners tend to choose acoustic ceilings based on aesthetics and price, says Greg Christakis, product marketing manager, ceiling tile, for USG Interiors, because they do not understand acoustical values and rating systems. Products with high-end aesthetics and high performance ratings will usually carry a higher price, which may drive customers to lower-priced products, regardless of performance. Therefore, dealers that have a working knowledge of Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC) and Ceiling Attenuation Class ratings—common measurements of acoustical performance—may have a better chance of selling a higher-priced product.

“If they understand the properties of the tiles, homeowners are willing to pay more for a higher-NRC product. They want the best tile they can get for their budget,” Graaskamp says. “The more educated you are about the quality of the product, the more apt you are to sell the stuff.”