Ceiling tile grid is a metal framing system used to support a dropped, or suspended, ceiling. This grid hangs below the structural ceiling, with the interstitial space used for pipes, wires, and ducts. The ceiling tile grid not only supports gypsum tiles, but also certain types of light fixtures and air supply or return grills. These ceilings have traditionally served as an alternative to drywall in commercial buildings, and have also become a popular option for residential basement ceilings.
Buyers can choose from two basic types of ceiling tile grid. The most common, and most affordable, is the exposed grid. In this system, the tiles rest above the framing, so the grid itself is completely visible. A concealed grid costs more, and is generally more difficult to install. In this system, each tile can be slid into place using a groove cut into its center. This groove allows the tiles to hide grid, creating a very clean and attractive finish.
A ceiling tile grid consists of several components, each of which plays a key role in a successful installation. Installers start by placing a special track around the perimeter of the room. This track resembles the rest of the grid, but is designed to support the ceiling around its perimeter while giving it a finished look. Next, crews hang parallel sections of grid across the entire length of the room. These longer pieces are known as mains, and are supported by wires suspended from the ceiling above.
Finally, crews insert small grid pieces, known as tees, in between the mains. The tees snap into pre-cut holes along the length of the grid. The placement of these shorter grid sections helps to determine the layout and design of the tile ceiling. Typically, the tees are placed every 2 or 4 feet (60 cm to 1.2 m) along the mains to accommodate standard ceiling tile sizes.
Most ceiling tile grid products feature a flat, white profile made from steel. To save money, some installers rely on plastic grid, which also helps reduce the weight of the ceiling structure. Custom grid colors are also available, with black grid a popular choice in restaurants and nightclubs. Some manufacturers also produce curved or embossed grid to give ceilings a high-end finish.
The primary advantage to using a grid ceiling is that it provides space for heating and electrical equipment. This equipment is also easy to access by simply removing a single tile once the ceilings have been installed. Despite their advantages, buyers should be aware that these ceilings are surprisingly difficult for novice users to install, particularly when it comes to ensuring the structure is completely level. Dropped ceilings also decrease the available head room within a space, which may be a drawback in smaller structures.