The growing trend for installations featuring exposed ceiling services has placed the (often overlooked) Mechanical and Electrical sector firmly in the spotlight. This sought-after architectural effect depends heavily on the expertise and skill of M&E service professionals.
Traditionally, construction projects carefully conceal building services from the eyes of the occupants – above ceilings, within walls, below floors and behind the closed doors of riser cupboards. The skill of the engineers installing pipework, ductwork, containment and cabling is mostly not given due credit – and certainly clients often don’t appreciate the costs of something they cannot see.
Installation systems have evolved accordingly to make fitout easier and cheaper; modular lighting systems, flexible ductwork, and plastic pipework systems have become commonplace, often ending up draped loosely over a false ceiling. Sometimes these hidden service voids conceal a multitude of issues due to poor installation and maintenance.
With an exposed installation it is vital to ensure every bolt and piece of lagging is installed perfectly as it will always be on view for all to see, so this means the end results are of the highest quality.
At the construction phase, programmes are much easier to co-ordinate between trades as you don’t have to fit in a ceiling installation between the M&E 1st and 2nd fix. Post-installation, routine maintenance is much simpler without a grid or MF ceiling to contend with – and you’ll often get earlier warning of faults as they aren’t hidden within the ceiling void.
When planning an exposed services project, there are a few important points to bear in mind during the design phase. Careful co-ordination of the combined M&E services is essential to ensure that the end result is aesthetically pleasing, so this needs to be started as early as possible in the design process – are there any existing services that need to remain and be worked around? What is the target clearance headroom? If you don’t plan it perfectly, you will end up with clashes during installation and your ceiling services will end up looking like spaghetti!
Acoustics also need to be considered and sound-absorbing materials may need to be installed on other surfaces. Any noisy equipment such as HRV units and BS boxes should ideally be located outside the open ceiling area.
It’s worth considering whether to leave the services unfinished or to paint them. This is an architectural decision but from the perspective of the M&E engineers it’s a shame to cover up shiny new containment, ductwork and equipment with paint, which can also obscure important specification numbers and even stick dampers in position. Services finish has an effect on the lighting – a white painted finish will increase the reflectance of the ceiling but the spraying has to be done to a very high standard as every imperfection is extremely visible; conversely a dark colour paint will suck the light out of the space and you’ll need extra luminaires. On the subject of lighting, remember that suspended luminaires with uplight can create an impressive effect.
In conclusion, exposed services installations look fantastic and are certainly here to stay, so if you are a ceiling fitter reading this you could do well to book a training course on installing galvanised conduit!