Decision: Ceiling Replacement

By: Ken Woolf

The present situation is as follows: An acoustical tile ceiling is discolored from age and contamination. Lighting has been affected and the work environment is less than ideal. But before moving forward with any action, the decision should be based on a series of cost-related considerations.

Decision One: Is the treatment of the ceiling part of a major building renovation project? If so, will the existing ceiling be removed in order to complete other major tasks above it, such as installing a sprinkler system, a HVAC modification, etc? If so, the options are limited and the only choices boil down to deciding what type of new tile/ceiling will best serve the needs and budgets. If the ceiling treatment is not part of a major renovation, there are other alternatives worth looking at before calling the new ceiling installer.

Decision Two: If replacing the ceiling tiles were to be the approach taken, will the same style be selected? Conversely, if the present ceiling consists of 2’ x 4’ fissured tiles, would the preferred new ceiling 2’ x 2’ revealed edge glacier tiles?

If the intent is to change styles, the choices have to do with the style of new tile and the best proposal from a ceiling installer … end of story. But, if the existing ceiling style is perfectly acceptable and the old tiles are still structurally sound, another alternative becomes available for consideration … acoustical ceiling restoration.

Decision Three: Which is the best way to go, replace or restore … that is the question. And the most common denominator in the decision-making process is dollars and cents. Follow the money.

To make the soundest decision, a number of factors need to be taken into consideration and once done; the wiser choice will become apparent. Following are the more logical ones:

Initial Expenditure
There are two financial considerations here … direct and indirect costs. The direct cost is that of the installation and as a rule of thumb, ceiling restoration is about one-half that of replacement. The indirect costs are associated with the expenses that may occur as a result of an on-going project. These could include hiring security people while contractors are on the premises, impact on normal business routine, etc. Another rule of thumb is that ceiling restoration is typically completed in one-third of the time required for replacement.

Long-Term Value
When ceiling tiles are manufactured, a coating is applied to the surface and similarly when ceiling tiles are restored, another type of coating is applied. As time goes by, the ceiling surface is exposed to ultra-violet light that tends to gray-out the white pigment in the surface coating. All other things being equal, the rate that this graying occurs is directly related to the quality of the coating material itself … how well it resists the affect of ultra-violet light. Independent laboratory testing has shown that a high quality restoration coating will hold its color longer than those products typically used in a mass production manufacturing process. The point to be considered is the longer it takes for discoloration to occur, the greater the return on investment.

Light Reflectance
The ceiling represents the largest continuous surface off of which light can be either be reflected or absorbed. The better the light dispersion, the less dependence there will be on artificial lighting … and that can translate into energy savings. And if financial savings is not impressive enough, there is another aspect of quality light that has greater value, particularly in a retail environment. The better the lighting, the truer the colors will appear. Research reports have shown a direct correlation between retail sales and the freshness of a well lighted store.

Color Options
Even if a ceiling tile manufacturer could offer a full range of colors to select from, the cost would be prohibitive on most projects and the delivery time would also present a problem for consideration. Whereas the better restoration coatings can be tinted to any designer color, from black to white at minimal expense and/or delay.

Ceiling Tiles vs. Ceiling System
Ceiling tiles can be replaced with new ones, but the t-bars that support them are also discolored. Further, the air diffusers and audio speaker plates that are installed in the ceiling are equally tarnished. If the ceiling installer is asked to treat these additional surfaces (cleaning or painting), it adds to the total cost. In the ceiling restoration process the entire ceiling system is treated at the same time with one set cost per square foot of ceiling.

The Environment
Another aspect in the decision-making process is related to the environmental impact. When ceiling tiles are replaced, they are generally discarded into a landfill with other solid waste materials. The ceiling restoration alternative is in fact a recycling process whereby the old tiles are reused and solid waste disposal is avoided.

When it comes to acoustical ceilings, there is a popular misconception. New is not always better. Acoustical ceiling restoration offers benefits up and beyond what is typically available through replacement with new materials. Is it the panacea for all occasions? No. Is it the more practical approach in most situations? Most likely.

If nothing more, before replacing a ceiling, at least make contact with a responsible source and schedule a demonstration of the restoration process. It can be an eye-opener.

Comments (4)

2*4 ceiling tile that a sticking up at the corners by approx 1/8 inch. Are the tile worth coating or replace them? I have pictures of them if needed.
Thanks derek

I can be reached at 401-728-5809 if more info is needed


In the best of all worlds, a new tile would be perfectly flat and that 1/8″ space would not be there. In reality, the grid system could be off the tiniest bit, causing some separation of that much space or after a bit of humidity is absorbed, it could lift that much.

Having said all that, if I was intent on having a perfectly new appearance, I would remove the ceiling tiles, have the grid system leveled and refinished, and then, install new tiles.

The less involved approach is to spray the tiles and grid with the acoustical coating and “live with” the 1/8″ space. It is not the perfect solution, but it one that many people prefer, as compared with other alternatives.

I hope this helps but, in the final analysis, only you can determine your priorities.


What can I do to make my 44 year old acoustic ceiling tiles look better.

Call me at 781-767-2270 and let me help. There are a number of things you can do, depending on the condition.

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