Natural Materials in Biophilic Design

In creating a direct connection to nature, wood ceilings and wall systems can boost occupant health, well-being, and productivity
[ Page 3 of 5 ]        
Sponsored by CertainTeed Architectural
By Barbara Horwitz-Bennett
This test is no longer available for credit

Wood Ceiling Systems

In sorting through the various wall and ceiling product types and systems available, it is helpful to understand their design and performance characteristics, installation, and common applications.


Available in a variety of veneers with narrow reveal or semi-concealed edges, wood panels include perforated, slotted, and channeled patterns for enhanced acoustics. When backed with an acoustical infill like fiberglass or mineral fiber, panels can improve sound absorption, delivering a noise reduction coefficient (NRC) from 0.40 up to 0.90.

Typical panel sizes are 2 feet x 2 feet and 2 feet x 4 feet, and can easily be installed into an acoustical suspension system, also known as a T-bar grid. To support larger-sized panels, alternative installation methods can be utilized.

Wood panels are also available as wall systems. They can be 4 feet x 8 feet or larger and absorb sound at similar values to ceiling systems. In addition to flat, the panels can be curved.

Wood panels are often used in front-of-the-house corporate settings, atriums, and conference rooms, and can be applied in assorted ways to elevate traditional lay-in ceiling design. They offer a rich, warm, and polished aesthetic.

Grille Modules

Natural wood grille modules, solid or veneered, are vertical planks, typically between 1–2 feet x 10 feet, with varying thickness in height and width. “Used as walls and ceilings, they provide a visual depth and dimensionality to a space and break up the monotony of a standard white ceiling,” explains Zachary Donahue, product manager of wood ceilings and walls, CertainTeed, Malvern, Pennsylvania.

Cost will vary from MDF on a fire-retardant particle board all the way up to high-end walnut or cherry wood. In the middle range, a good value is poplar or basswood, which can be finished to replicate walnut or cherry.

The modules are relatively easy to install and modify on-site. They easily integrate into the infrastructure (e.g., HVAC, lighting, and sprinkler heads) and do not require custom measurements. With an infill, they offer an NRC up to 0.90 or higher. In general, fire-protection requirements for solid wood materials are Class C per ASTM E84/ULC S102, and veneered materials on fire-retardant MDF or fire-retardant particle board are Class A per ASTM E84/ULC S102.

The systems can be used on the ceiling and walls. And because the modules are available in a variety of sizes and orientations, a high level of customization is possible. For enhanced acoustics, black infill panels increase NRC ratings.

“Using grille modules can create a less-heavy-looking ceiling while defining separate collaboration or resting spaces,” Bennett says. “Another benefit is disguise, as the modules can cover an unsightly, exposed ceiling by specifying a felt backer to lay above the wooden slats.”

Lucas Rew likes to design with grilles, in addition to panels and planks, on account of their ability to align scale, patterning, and materials with other building aesthetics and materials. She also appreciates their span, timeless aesthetics, accessibility to building systems, and ability to meet performance specifications for acoustics, seismic, and maintenance.

Linear Planks

These planks can be tongue and groove, with the boards butted up against each other to create a closed flat surface for an NRC of 0.90 or higher when installed with channels. Or they can be designed as an open reveal with space between the planks. When felt or other acoustic material is installed in between, sound absorption properties can be up to 0.65 or 0.75 NRC.

Wood planks create a very attractive flat linear visual surface that works well for large, open spaces and applications such as airports and stadiums. The product can also be used for accent walls—for example, in elevator lobbies or behind flat-screens or monitors—as it provides an alternative visual than typical surfaces.

Depending upon the selected species, the planks can also be used in some exterior applications, such as a garden or gazebo.

For wall applications, the planks can be directly attached to studs, furring, or Z-clips. For ceilings, clips or other mounting applications can be used to attach the planks directly to the framing or standard acoustical suspensions systems.


[ Page 3 of 5 ]        
Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in May 2020