Suspended ceilings: Yes, they need to be designed with seismic conditions in mind

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Ottawa Construction News staff writer

You might not think suspended ceilings would present huge challenges in earthquakes – the materials are generally light-weight and not load bearing.

However, Rockfon district sales manager Isabelle Champagne recently demonstrated that these building elements can, in certain circumstances, be crucial for safety. For example, what happens if the ceiling tiles and materials collapse over doorways or emergency exits when the building shakes, even if the structure isn’t damaged?

Speaking to a Construction Specifications Canada (CSC) Ottawa chapter gathering last Wednesday (Nov. 22), Champagne said that ceiling assembly manufacturers have developed product enhancements and systems to manage the risks and meet building code requirements in areas where seismic activity is high. (This includes the Ottawa Valley and Montreal regions).

Champagne outlined how seismic standards depend on the building’s use, size, and location. A critical structure – such as a fire station – in a high-earthquake area will need to meet higher standards than a small warehouse or single-storey building in regions where earthquakes are not a problem.

These standards, then, affect the design elements required. These changes will increase project costs, especially with higher labour expenses, Champagne said.

“The clips, the struts, the additional hanger wires, and work around plenum elements can add up,” she said in a note to OCN after her presentation.

Hooks, spacers and sliders are incorporated to allow the ceiling assembly components to move without collapsing, and these features are most carefully used in areas where safety is critical (such as entranceways).

“Think about your building,” she said. “What is it you are looking at? Think about the seismic requirements.”

“And remember that the specifications will have these standards listed” and there needs to be care in developing the specifications so they are appropriate for the location and type of building being designed, she said.

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