After some years in decor wilderness, false ceilings are making a comeback.

False ceilings have been through the fashion cycle — very much in vogue in the 70s, then violently out of favour for a couple of decades, and now back with a vengeance. Highlighting the ceiling is hot again, and apart from adding dazzle to room design, false or dropped ceilings come in handy to tuck away ugly piping, wiring or ductworks.

Today’s suspended ceiling systems come in a variety of styles, textures, grids and colours, giving endless design possibilities and choices. They are easy to install and come either in the grid type or in gypsum, with fire safety and eco-friendly factors included. A test done by the Warrington Fire company in 2005 revealed that a drop ceiling could withstand a fire for 109 minutes, allowing ample time for rescue, recovery or extinguishing.

Equally important, having the wiring and plumbing systems all hidden and yet easily accessible in one place is a huge advantage for repairs and modifications. In case of an overhead seepage, it’s no problem to replace a couple of damaged panels. These ceilings also accentuate and dramatise lighting in a room and are particularly necessary for cove lighting, concealed lighting, and for dramatic lighting at two or three levels.

Finally, the insulating effect of suspended ceiling panels is huge. The interiors stay much cooler or warmer than the outdoors, and can lower electric cooling and heating bills considerably. You can also choose to use white or light-coloured panels, especially in office spaces, to create bright spaces, optimise light reflection, and thus reduce artificial lighting in the room.

Picking the best

The exposed grid is the most common type of suspended ceiling. Square grids are created, and then filled with ceiling tiles that have a wide metal frame around them. A concealed grid system uses acoustic tiles or boards to hide the grid system from view.

This creates a smooth, clean look, but is more expensive than the exposed system. It can also be more difficult for maintenance personnel to access areas above the ceiling. Some suspended ceiling systems use wires and hangers to hang sheets of drywall below the ceiling. These systems are an easier alternative to the extensive channels typically required to create drywall structures.

There are a number of choices when it comes to choosing tiles for a suspended ceiling. Earlier, Plaster of Paris was used a lot but now gypsum boards have become popular and are used in combination with wood, plywood, veneer and so on.

Flexible, adaptable to any design, acoustic, and fire resistant, these can be fixed into the concealed grid system. Living rooms and home theatres might require a mix, where gypsum is combined with wood or mineral fibres to create a rich look or improve sound quality, with lighting playing an integral role. Insulation material can be added without compromising looks.

Mineral fibre is another common material, often used in offices, conference rooms, or home theatres, also available as wood fibre, gypsum or glass wool. These simple fibre boards look like thermocol and are high in strength; sound and heat insulation; and fire and moisture resistance; with some varieties even being eco-friendly.

The new trend in this space is laminated sheets. Perforated metal sheets are another option, used in commercial spaces, and can be inserted between the fibre boards to allow air flow in the space that houses the wiring and plumbing lines.

Tiles too are trendy, especially in large commercial spaces, with off-white tiles being the most common although other colours and printed tiles are also available. In hospitals and clean room settings, mould and mildew-resistant tiles are being used. Other tiles that can be used are laminated gypsum, metal, soft fibre, PVC panels and aluminium composite panels, all new and upcoming fashions.

Not so cool

The main disadvantage with false ceilings is reduced headroom. At least four to eight inches of clearance is required between the grid and the ceiling to install tiles and light fixtures.

Also, although these are often used as a renovation tool for a quick and inexpensive repair of damaged ceilings, they are themselves prone to aging quickly, sometimes discoloured by excessive smoking, sometimes sagging in the centre, and sometimes damaged easily.

But the fact remains that if you want to make a dramatic statement, suspended ceilings are a great design choice, helping you create a space that is uniquely yours.