Open Plenums Gain Popularity, But Be Careful

While open plenum spaces have gained popularity, they’re not a panacea, nor can they be used everywhere. For instance, they can’t be used in many healthcare settings, Barnes says, noting that open ceilings “would have lots of places for dust and microbes to hide.”

Acoustics is another concern. In a traditional closed ceiling, the acoustical ceiling panel typically does a decent job of absorbing sound. With an open plenum, that acoustical line of defense is lost.

For instance, designing an open plenum in a reception area that already has a hard-surface floor could make it difficult for employees at the front desk to hear people phoning the company. When deciding on a ceiling design and materials, it’s critical to first understand how the space will be used.

In addition, clear, ongoing coordination and communication between all the professionals working on a project is critical with an open plenum design, Madson says. In most buildings, the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, security, and lighting systems are located in the ceiling area. When this equipment is exposed, it becomes part of the design. Along with its functionality, it will need to be arrayed so it enhances, rather than detracts from, the overall building design and aesthetic. Ensuring this requires discussions starting early in the design process.

When an open plenum incorporates clouds or baffles, most building owners will want to minimize their placement in front of any systems that require more frequent access, Bailey says.

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