The Value of Stone Wool Acoustical Ceilings

A proven, natural building material is now used in ceilings providing high-performance acoustics and smooth, clean surfaces
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Sponsored by ROCKFON
Peter J. Arsenault, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP
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Projects: Designing for Specific Building Types

The performance, aesthetics, and design principles of good suspended acoustical ceiling design all come together in particular projects. Of course each building type tends to have its own focus or functional requirements for ceilings as discussed briefly as follows:

Office environments commonly have a strong need for good acoustical control given that there is an often dense area of people working together with a need for a high degree of distraction-free concentration. After surveying 65,000 people over the past decade in North America, Europe, Africa, and Australia, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, report that more than half of office workers are dissatisfied with the level of “speech privacy,” making it the leading complaint in offices everywhere (The New York Times, May 2012). Other studies have found that there is a close relationship between occupational noise exposure and all-cause mortality with industrial workers (CORDIS study, Melamed et al., 1999). In open office layouts, unwanted noise sources include nearby conversations, benching workstations, speaker phones, etc. which all need to be contained requiring ceiling products with high NRC ratings. Hence, designing spaces to address these acoustical concerns is clearly important and the high performance of stone wool ceilings certainly can contribute to that overall design. Further, the fire safety, durability, aesthetics, and mold resistance address other aspects of modern office design and planning.

Healthcare settings require excellent acoustics, hygiene, and cleaning capabilities; stone wool ceilings can provide all three.

Photo courtesy of ROCKFON

Healthcare settings require excellent acoustics, hygiene, cleaning capabilities; stone wool ceilings can provide all three.


In healthcare settings, it is worth noting that sound pressure (decibel) levels in healthcare have risen significantly and consistently since 1960 (study by Busch-Vishniac et al, 2005). In particular, night-time noise pollution is one of the main complaints of patients in hospitals. Modern research suggests that Florence Nightingale wasn't exaggerating when she stated “Unnecessary noise…is the most cruel absence of care which can be inflicted either on sick or well. For…the sick are only mentioned as suffering in a greater proportion than the well from precisely the same causes.” (Notes on Nursing first published in 1860 with a Dover edition printed in 1969). Current studies show that high levels of sound have negative physical and psychological effects on patients, disrupting sleep, increasing stress, and decreasing patients' confidence in the competence of their clinical caregivers who may be suffering from noise issues as well.

Attention to detail and the use of sound-insulating materials coupled with sound absorption in rooms can go a long way toward addressing these concerns. Stone wool ceiling tiles with high NRC ratings will help meet the design criteria for performance. Additionally, the hygienic nature of stone wool that does not allow for mold or other microorganisms to grow helps to ensure a healthcare environment that is appropriately healthy. The smooth surface of stone wool tiles also means that they are easy to clean when needed. The fire safety characteristics and light reflective qualities add to the safety and quality of healthcare spaces as well.

Education settings have been studied extensively when it comes to indoor acoustical quality. One such study concluded that classrooms in the United States typically have speech intelligibility ratings of 75 percent or less, meaning every fourth spoken word is not understood (Seep, Glosemeyer, Hulce, Linn, & Aytar, 2000). Another found that loud or reverberant classrooms may cause teachers to raise their voices, leading to increased teacher stress and fatigue (Tiesler & Oberdörster, 2008). Whether the focus is the students, the teachers, or both, all will benefit from improved acoustical performance in the classroom. High-performance stone wool ceiling tiles can certainly contribute to an overall successful acoustical design in that regard. They can also be very useful in open gathering spaces such as cafeterias, gyms, libraries, and auditorium spaces. The other qualities of stone wool tiles are also desirable for schools as well in that fire safety in corridors, moisture resistance in locker rooms, and overall aesthetic options with colors and patterns are a big part of successful school designs.

Regardless of the building type, all clients are concerned about getting good value at a reasonable cost. Stone wool ceiling tile systems are very competitive with other ceiling systems with an installed price ranging from $2.00 to $5.00 per square foot depending on the usual construction cost variables of location, project size, product features, etc. That means that for essentially the same cost as other suspended ceiling systems, it is possible to have a building that performs better in terms of acoustics, appearance, durability, fire safety, and moisture resistance.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in October 2017