Acoustical Ceiling Tiles & How to Install a Suspended Ceiling

I’ll be the first to admit that, in all my guides about preventing noise from entering a room, I haven’t spent much time on ceilings. Of course, many of the methods I suggested you use on walls and floors also apply to ceilings. However, some soundproofing tools, such as acoustical ceiling tiles, are made specifically for these surfaces. Additionally, there are different ways of installing those products — such as creating a suspended ceiling.

Now, you might be wondering whether applying an acoustic treatment to your ceilings is even necessary. Well, in my opinion, most rooms don’t need these kinds of treatments. They usually don’t play a big part in preventing sounds from escaping or allowing them to enter a room. However, they can be helpful in rooms where even incremental acoustic differences matter.

Best acoustical ceiling tiles and how to install a suspended ceiling.

So, if you frequently hear your neighbors stomping around above you, your best bet would be to get them to soundproof their floors, not work on your ceilings. However, if you really believe you need to fortify your ceilings, installing a suspended ceiling might be beneficial.

In fact, building a suspended ceiling with acoustical tiles would likely achieve both of those goals — soundproofing and improving internal sound quality. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we talk about the different methods you can use to attach your ceiling tiles, let’s talk about their own acoustic properties.

When and Where Should You Install Acoustical Ceiling Tiles?

Previously, we have discussed several methods you might use to soundproof a basement ceiling. I still stand by most of the suggestions I made in that article. However, most of them are definitely less attractive solutions than most acoustical tiles you’ll find.

Now, before we dive into the benefits of installing acoustical ceiling tiles, I should clear one thing up. If you have a large room with bare walls and floors, acoustically treating the ceiling won’t do much good. Ultimately, our perception of sound tends to be horizontal — because our ears are pointed that way. So most of the noise that bothers us is coming from the sides.

Even though we can hear sounds coming from all directions, ceiling reverberations aren’t as big of an issue as the sound waves that bounce off the walls. So, your first task should be to soften up your walls and floors.

That being said, there are several areas in your home that would benefit from having acoustical tiles. For example, they’d be useful additions to home theaters, living rooms, and gaming rooms. If you’re a music producer or voice-over artist, you can use them to complete your recording studio.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Acoustical Ceiling Tiles

Depending on the type of tiles you end up using, there are several benefits you might experience after installing them in the areas I’ve mentioned. Generally, acoustic tiles might:

  • Lessen noise, as they share some properties with other absorbent materials
  • Reduce echo, since many acoustical tiles are made of soft materials which absorb sound
  • Block sound waves from passing through the ceiling to the upper floor, especially if you install them as a part of a drop ceiling
  • Simply cover up an unsightly ceiling

On the other hand, you might want to consider some drawbacks, as well. Since most acoustical ceiling tiles are porous, they’re not waterproof. If you’re already struggling to keep your ceiling dry, you can imagine how that might be a problem.

Aside from potentially creating the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew, moisture can also stain the tiles. If you just want to cover up a stained ceiling, stick to solid, waterproof tiles. You could still create a suspended ceiling with them, though they would be slightly less effective if you’re looking to reduce echo.

Suspended ceiling with acoustical tiles.

How to Find the Best Acoustical Ceiling Tiles

So how do you recognize great acoustical ceiling tiles? Well, first, you’ll want to check the basic information the manufacturer included in the product description, such as:

  • The materials the tiles are made of. As long as the tiles are porous, they’ll be effective at absorbing sound waves. Regular ceiling tiles tend to be of firmer materials, and they usually come in a wider variety of colors and designs. Additionally, if you need the products to be moisture resistant, you’ll want to look for non-porous materials.
  • The dimensions of the product. Specifically, the thickness of the tiles determines their effectiveness. Most acoustic tiles are about ⅝–¾ of an inch thick, which is about as good as you can expect to find. You should also keep in mind the length and width of the tiles as well as the total coverage of the product you’re looking at.
  • The NRC and CAC rating. We’ve talked about the noise coefficient rating in terms of sound absorption before. It’s the number on a scale of 0–1 that tells you the percentage of the noise the product can absorb. The ceiling attenuation class is a similar system, but for ceiling products specifically. In both systems, higher numbers mean that your tiles are more effective.

Now let’s try to find these criteria in the best ceiling tiles I’ve found.

Armstrong Acoustical Ceiling Tiles

Armstrong is pretty much the go-to company for anyone looking for quality acoustical treatments. Their acoustical tiles are the company’s first foray into the world of soundproofing, as far as I know. Understandably, their product lineup is still pretty sparse, featuring different sizes and thicknesses of the same material.

The company’s most popular product I’ve found is their 2-foot square mineral fiber tile. Thanks to the material’s porous and textured nature, this product is incredibly effective at noise absorption.

According to the manufacturer, these tiles have an NRC rating of 0.55 and a ceiling attenuation class of 33. These tiles are about ⅝ of an inch thick, with slightly angled edges which make them easier to drop into a suspended ceiling grid. But, not all tiles have those kinds of edges. Some, like the company’s 2 by 4 feet tiles have regular, square sides.

You should also keep the coverage of the product in mind when you’re shopping. The 2-foot square tiles can cover 64 square feet, while the larger ones cover 96 square feet. There are also smaller 12-inch square tiles, which come in packs of 40 (and can, therefore, cover 40 square feet).

Aside from these white mineral fiber slates, Armstrong also makes black tiles. They come in two sizes — 2 by 2 and 2 by 4 feet. Whichever ones you end up getting, you can be sure that a black ceiling would completely transform any space.

Other Acoustical Ceiling Tile Brands

Obviously, Armstrong isn’t the only brand that offers effective acoustical ceiling tiles. There are several others that have similar products. For example, Soundsulate makes lightweight fiberglass tiles that have an NRC rating of .7 to 1.0, depending on  whether you purchase the 1 or 2-inch version of the product. The tiles are available in black and white, and they come in 2-foot squares or 2 by 4 feet rectangles.

Of course, if you don’t want to have a plain white ceiling or even a slightly more exciting black one, some brands stock more interesting colors. The DEKIRU 12-inch square tiles come in nine different colors including black, white, and gray. These polyester fiber squares are actually advertised as acoustic panels that can be used on both walls and ceilings.

That brings me to my next point. If none of the tiles I’ve mentioned appeal to you, there are others that would work just as well.

Other Materials You Can Use

If you’ve been following my guides, you may already have a good idea of some materials you can use to achieve the same effect you’d get by using acoustical ceiling tiles. For one, if we’re going to strictly stick with products that are made for ceilings, there are always styrofoam tiles.

They may not be as effective at absorbing sound as fiberglass tiles would be, but they’re good enough. After all, styrofoam is still a porous material, which makes it an adequate buffer between the noise and the hard ceiling. Additionally, most styrofoam tiles I’ve seen are decorative, with textures ranging from simple lines and bubbles to intricate swirling designs. They’re also cheap and paintable — which are two more points in their favor.

Now, if you’re not set on installing ceiling tiles, there are other acoustic products that may do an even better job of reducing echo. You can basically use anything you might use on your walls, from acoustic foam tiles to fabric panels. If you decide to use foam tiles, you’ll find the installation fairly similar to how you’d install ceiling tiles. Basically, you can just glue or even pin them directly to the ceiling.

Fabric panels may be a bit trickier to put up, but there are several ways to do it. As I’ve explained in my previous article, you can use Z-clips, impaling clips, or L-brackets. Any of them would work.

And, if you decide that you don’t want to install them flush to the ceiling, you can let your fabric panels hang vertically like baffles. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, let’s talk about how you can go around installing your acoustical ceiling tiles.

How to Install Acoustical Ceiling Tiles

There are two ways to go around putting up lightweight, porous ceiling tiles. The first method involves attaching them directly to the ceiling, while the second requires more construction. Either way, you should hear an audible difference in the sound quality when you’re done — if you took the time to treat your walls and floors, first.

Option 1: Glue the Tiles Directly to the Ceiling

Whether you have exposed drywall on your ceiling or a flat plaster finish, you should be able to glue your tiles on fairly easily. Note, however, that this method may not work on bumpy ceilings or ones that already have a decorative textured finish. You’ll have to scrub off or level the texture with more plaster before proceeding.

As with any project involving adhesives, you’ll want to make sure that your surface is clean before you begin. After you’ve vacuumed or wiped the ceiling with a damp sponge, you might want to find its center. You can do that by pulling two strings diagonally across the ceiling and marking the spot where they meet. From there, it should be easy to determine where your tile will go.

Placing the first tile in the center of the ceiling will make the finished result look that much more put together than if you were to start on the sides and work your way in. Apply the ceiling tile adhesive of your choice near the edges of the tile and on the inside as well. Then, put one corner of the tile over the center of the ceiling, and press it flat. Continue pressing the tiles on until you’ve covered the whole ceiling.

Option 2: Create a Suspended Ceiling

If you’re lucky, the ceiling you’re treating will already have a preinstalled T-bar grid you can drop your tiles into. However, if you’re installing a suspended ceiling for the first time, you’ll have to set up the grid yourself. Whether you already have a ceiling or you’re looking up at the bare joists, the process of creating the grid will be pretty much the same. In fact, I’ve already explained how it’s done in my article about soundproofing without disturbing the drywall.

You’ll need to be careful about measuring and making sure everything is level. Decide how tall you want your suspended ceiling to be before you drill into the walls! Once you have the edges of the grid attached to your walls, install the strips that go across the room. For more information, you can check out the official acoustical ceiling tile installation guide from Armstrong.

What Can Acoustical Ceiling Tiles Do for Your Home?

Ultimately, it’s not enough to simply focus on the walls and floors when you’re soundproofing your home. As we have already established, sound waves move in all directions. Having an exposed ceiling means that they will be able to bounce off that huge, flat surface. Therefore, disrupting that surface by lining it with absorbent materials should not only improve the interior quality of the room but also trap some of the vibrations before they can escape the space.

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