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What is Acoustical Tile?

By Karen Bernardo
Updated May 16, 2024
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Acoustical, or acoustic, tile is used in building construction to maximize the quality of sound produced in the area where the tile is installed. This product may also reduce unwanted sound transmission coming from outside. There are a number of different types of acoustical tile products, including those which can be hung from a suspended grid system on the ceiling, those which can be affixed directly to an existing ceiling, and those which can be fastened to the surface of a wall. All acoustic tile works by making the surface softer, which deadens the echo and reverberation that a hard surface would otherwise produce.

Acoustical tile is common in large public areas, for a variety of different reasons. Theaters, concert halls, and churches use it to make the nuances of the auditory experience more pleasant. In addition, acoustical tile aims to completely eliminate exterior noise such as traffic, allowing those within the space to focus on what they've come to hear. This sound-filtering capability is very useful in schools and office buildings, where people trying to concentrate would be distracted by the sound of others in adjacent rooms.

Due in part to the recent growth in home office and entertainment systems, acoustical tile has begun to be used more commonly in residential settings. Just as in its commercial applications, acoustic tile cushions the home office from family distractions, and enhances the at-home media experience as well. As more and more homeowners begin to consider this solution for their homes, tile manufacturers have focused on making their products affordable, easily available, and more attractive.

No longer is the buyer limited to ugly white squares. Today's acoustical tile comes in patterns designed to resemble stucco, stone, or even fabric. It has become easier to install as well, well within the abilities of the average weekend remodeler. Homeowners should bear in mind, however, that acoustical tiles have special properties that make them a bit different from other wall and ceiling surfaces. They may not be washable or paintable, although they can often be bleached, because paint or soap residue would fill in those tiny pores and crevices that allow the tile to do its work. Many of these factors vary by manufacturer.

All acoustical tile is not alike in performance, either. Two measurements help the buyer identify the strength and efficiency of a particular tile: its NRC and CAC ratings. NRC stands for Noise Reduction Coefficient, and refers to the way the tile treats sounds that hit its surface. CAC stands for Ceiling Attenuation Class, and refers to the amount of sound that is allowed to pass through the tile. A tile with an NRC rating of 80% and a CAC rating of 40 would be considered very effective.

Although acoustical tile needs to be treated differently than a regular painted wall, it can be the perfect solution for situations in which noise is a problem. With proper application and care, an investment in acoustical tile should satisfy its users for many years to come.

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Discussion Comments
By reader888 — On Feb 06, 2011

We definitely need to get some of these for our church. The building we are in is not the greatest as far as sound quality goes. We installed carpet, and that helped quite a bit, but it could be even better.

I think if we had acoustical tile for the ceiling, it would really help our music quality.

We also get a lot of distracting sounds from outside. Do we need to get wall tiles too, or will the ceiling tiles be enough to cut the outside noise?

By write79 — On Feb 04, 2011

This sounds perfect for my home theater! I have transformed a room in my house into a my own version of a movie theater -- large flat screen high definition television, a great surround sound system and big comfortable couches and chairs to relax on, and even room darkening shades.

Acoustical ceiling and wall tiles are just what I need to finish it off. Once I have these, I'll be set!

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