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Drop Ceiling Soundproofing

Drop Ceiling Soundproofing

Author: Sturgeon Christie

Last Updated: February 9, 2024

Read Time: 8 Minutes

Drop Ceiling Soundproofing

Author:

Sturgeon Christie

Last Updated:

February 9, 2024

Read Time:

8 Minutes

Author: Sturgeon Christie

Updated: Feb. 9, 2024

Read Time: 8 Minutes

A drop ceiling is a secondary ceiling hung below the main (structural) ceiling. The drop ceiling has been around 100+ years and was developed as a solution to hide all that exposed building infrastructure. You’ll find a drop ceiling grid in basements, office buildings, and schools. They can be very helpful for room acoustics, but can be equally bad for soundproofing. If you have a drop ceiling grid and are dealing with unwanted noise in your space, it’s time to learn how to soundproof a drop ceiling.

Soundproofing suspended ceilings will help to create a more peaceful and productive environment. Less noise means fewer distractions, less stress, and more focus on the task at hand. Read on to find out more about the benefits of drop ceiling soundproofing.

A drop ceiling is a secondary ceiling hung below the main (structural) ceiling. The drop ceiling has been around 100+ years and was developed as a solution to hide all that exposed building infrastructure. You’ll find a drop ceiling grid in basements, office buildings, and schools. They can be very helpful for room acoustics, but can be equally bad for soundproofing. If you have a drop ceiling grid and are dealing with unwanted noise in your space, it’s time to learn how to soundproof a drop ceiling.

Soundproofing suspended ceilings will help to create a more peaceful and productive environment. Less noise means fewer distractions, less stress, and more focus on the task at hand. Read on to find out more about the benefits of drop ceiling soundproofing.

Key Takeaways

  • A drop ceiling is a secondary ceiling used to hide building infrastructure. A standard drop ceiling does not provide quality soundproofing.

  • Soundproofing a drop ceiling can create a more peaceful and productive environment by keeping unwanted noise out (or in).

  • Dropped ceilings are not the ideal choice for soundproofing, but can be improved with proper sound treatments.

  • Soundproofing options for a drop ceiling include replacing the original ceiling tiles with sound-blocking tiles, installing ceiling tile backers, and soundproofing the HVAC system if it's the source of the noise.
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Popular Ceiling Tiles for Acoustics and Soundproofing


What is a Dropped Ceiling?

Drop ceilings are very common, and any office or school you walk into will have drop ceilings somewhere. Its purpose is primarily aesthetic: to hide the building’s wiring, ventilation, or plumbing systems. Its purpose is not to soundproof the room.

Most spaces need some level of ceiling soundproofing. And a drop ceiling won’t provide that soundproofing on its own.

Dropped ceilings are not soundproof because the drop ceiling tiles stop noise about as well as a piece of cardboard. They won’t block any sound, because they are not dense enough to actually prevent noise from passing through them. A room with a dropped ceiling is kinda like a box with the top open. When we soundproof a drop ceiling, it’s like closing and sealing up the top of the box.

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Why You Should Consider Soundproofing Your Drop Ceiling

If you have a drop ceiling in a room and noise issues, soundproofing the drop ceiling is one of the first places you should go to solve your noise issues. With any ceiling, you're going to be dealing with two types of noise:

  • Airborne noise, such as from people talking and TVs, travels from the source of the sound to the listener through the air
  • Impact noise, like walking or dropped objects, is from sound waves traveling through physical structures before reaching the listener

When trying to create a soundproof ceiling, it's essential to address both types of noise.

Dropped ceilings can do a better job than most ceilings at stopping structural noise. The process hanging the ceiling at least partially decouples the ceiling from the floor above it, hijacking the path for structural noise. You can fully decouple the drop ceiling using one of our sound isolation clip systems, and better prevent that structural noise.

Drop Ceiling SOundproofing for airborne noise

Airborne noise tends to be the biggest problem for a drop ceiling assembly. Again your room is like a lidless box where sound can come into the top really easily. This airborne sound tends to travel via two paths:

  1. The most common path is noise from adjacent rooms will go over the walls and into adjacent rooms. This is really common in a commercial building, because the wall will typically end at the dropped ceiling. That leaves an open-air space above the wall between two rooms.
  2. The second common problem is that any noise from the ventilation system will pass right through the ceiling tiles to the floor below.

The Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC) is a metric used to measure the material's sound absorption. The higher the NRC rating, the better the material absorbs sound on a scale from 0.0 to 1.0. Your typical acoustic ceiling tiles have an NRC rating of 0.70 or higher. The NRC rating is very important for determining the sound quality (acoustics) in a room, but it does not mean the material is actually going to block noise from traveling from one space to another. To block noise, we need a dense, airtight barrier. To determine how well a structure blocks airborne sound, we use a different metric called STC rating, or with ceilings specifically sometimes referred to as a Ceiling Attenuation Class (CAC). The CAC rating is on a scale from 0 to 100. The higher the number, the better the ceiling system is at blocking airborne sound.

If you want to fix sound problems in your space while trying to work, you have two options. The first path is to replace your dropped ceiling with a more traditional ceiling assembly like drywall. For high STC requirements (think recording studio), going with a traditional drywall assembly is required. The second and most common is to install soundproofing materials to the existing drop ceiling assembly.

soundproof a dropped ceiling

How to Soundproof a Dropped Ceiling

Steps to soundproof a dropped ceiling

  1.  Replace the original ceiling tiles with acoustic ceiling tiles or ceiling tiles rated to block sound
  2.  Install ceiling tiles backers on top of the existing ceiling tiles
  3.  Soundproof the HVAC system directly (if that’s the source of the noise)

For soundproofing a suspended ceiling like a conference room ceiling, we have several options to increase the amount of noise blocked. You can take any of these single steps on their own to increase your dropped ceiling soundproofing performance, but doing all these together in tandem will get you the best, most soundproofed dropped ceiling possible.

Step 1: Installing Soundproof Ceiling Tiles

Most soundproof drop ceiling tiles are extremely lightweight materials and won't block sound. One option is to upgrade to a ceiling tile that blocks sound, BlocknZorbe drop ceiling tiles:

  • Charcoal or white as the color options
  • These ceiling tiles panels both block and absorb sound (STC and NRC rated)
  • BlocknZorbe EZ Drop Ceiling tiles lay into the grid so that the edges sit on the T-grid flanges, with the face of the tile sitting at the grid plane.
  • Come in nominal 2' x 2' and 2' x 4' sizing that easily lays into a ceiling grid. If cuts are needed, use a table saw.

Installing soundproof ceiling tiles is the easiest way to soundproof a dropped ceiling. You must install them with 100% coverage for sound blocking to be effective, and it’s highly recommended to also combine them with our soundproof light covers to ensure the ceiling is completely sealed up.

Alternative: Acoustic Ceiling Tiles

Sometimes there isn't a sound leaking issue, and the room just has poor acoustics. Our acoustic drop ceiling tiles are a great fit for this need. Our Timberwool™ wood wool ceiling tiles and PolyZorbe™ polyester ceiling tiles (also PolyZorbe™ vivid polyester ceiling tiles for a colorful flare) provide an upscale look with high absorptive qualities.

Step 2: Installing Ceiling Tile Backers to Soundproof a Dropped Ceiling

Adding an acoustical backer to the ceiling tiles will help substantially increase the density of the current tiles and prevent noise from passing through. This can pair with any ceiling tile. Our best ceiling tile backer is the CelluZorbe™ HD Ceiling Tile Backer, made of a 13lb density cellulose fiber. It is ½" thick and can be laid on top of the ceiling tile or attached with an adhesive to the back. We recommend attaching with an adhesive to ensure the best long-term performance

The CelluZorbe™ HD Ceiling Tile Backer is excellent both at blocking sound from passing through the existing ceiling grid, as well as adding additional sound absorption in the larger air cavity above the ceiling tile grid. As with the soundproof ceiling tiles, the ceiling tile backer should be combined with soundproof light covers for best performance. Your box now has a lid!

Please note that if you have a small air space (no more than a few feet), adding a ceiling tile backer is an incredible option for both the absorption and blocking of sound. If you have a large air space above the drop ceiling, like in a lot of warehouse/office combos, ceiling tile backers can worsen the below space's acoustics because you're keeping the sound from going up into a large space.

Step 3: Soundproofing the HVAC System Above the Dropped Ceiling

In most cases with drop ceiling tiles, noise from adjacent rooms is a problem. If the ventilation system is an issue though, you have an additional option which is to directly soundproof the unit or the ductwork.

In some buildings, the vents will carry noise from room to room. In others, the unit is vibrating and making noise that then travels down through the drop ceiling. If the HVAC unit or the ducts are vibrating, you need to damp the vibrating metal with our Damplifier Pro sound deadening mats. If room-to-room noise is the issue, you need to consider the structure of the vents, add an absorptive liner (EcoVerb Roll), and potentially wrap the ducts with a noise barrier. We go into these strategies in more detail in our HVAC soundproofing article.

For high STC requirements, we can also help you build a baffling system that basically acts as a muffler to cap off your ductwork. Whatever solution you’re considering, feel free to keep reading in that HVAC article or contact us for help.

drop ceiling soundproofing

Questions About Your Soundproofing Project

That about covers the basics on how to soundproof a drop ceiling. You have a few different options on ways to go about it, and the right choice for you depends on the noise issue, how much sound reduction you need, and your own preference. For our other ceiling sound treatments, read our article on the topic! If you need to soundproof a metal roof above your dropepd ceiling, read our article on the topic. For all soundproofing questions, feel free to reach out any time via phone or chat. Our soundproofing experts are here to help!

Have questions about your project?

Call us at 1.800.679.8511