By Esther Yates-Abrams and Melissa Gooding
Stretch ceiling systems offer designers, contractors, and owners creative freedom in ceiling design. Installations may take varying forms such as pitched, curved, vaulted, domed, and/or circular, in addition to simple flat ceilings. Membranes, the stretchy part of a stretch ceiling, are available in a wide range of colours, textures, and finishes, including metallic, sparkle, and foil to create calm, clean and cool ambiance, or vibrantly colourful features and lighting effects, making them a perfect fit for an indoor aquatic environment.
Stretching across time
The concept behind stretch ceilings has been around for centuries. In Ancient Egypt, around 300 BC, ceilings were manufactured from presoaked linen fabric that stretched from wall to wall, shrinking to create a perfectly smooth finish as it dried.
Similar processes have been found in the remains of the Greek and Roman empires (before the third century AD) where silk cloth, dyed to match the colour of the walls, was used. Over time, these fabrics would gather dust and sag under its weight, while dyed fabrics faded, so the cloth had to be replaced periodically.
In Armenia, around the 17th century, cotton fabric was soaked in a liquid chalk solution, which also shrunk during the drying process, producing a perfectly flat matte white ceiling. Sometime after that the technology appears to have been lost, until reappearing in Europe in the ’60s.
Today, stretch ceiling systems comprise membranes, which are available in various polymers and/or polyester based textiles, and tracks (profiles) made of aluminum or plastic, which hold the outer edges of the membrane(s) in place.
Suited for the aquatic environment
Today, instead of natural fibres such as linen, silk, and cotton, stretch ceiling membranes are made from more durable and infinitely recyclable polymer films and polyester-based fabrics, which are capable of lasting more than 25 years without fading or absorbing any particulates.
While these membranes do not need to be replaced like those of yesteryear, they can be easily changed to quickly alter the look of an interior space, whether it is just for fun, or to keep an indoor swimming pool/hot tub area look cutting edge.
Not only do these materials come in a wide range of colours and surface textures, they can also be digitally printed, offering an affordable, modern version of the ancient art of wall and ceiling frescoes. Printing may include a company logo, digital photograph, or faux texture. With digital photography, trompe l’oeil (the illusion of a three-dimensional space beyond the artwork) effects become incredibly lifelike. Backlighting added behind a printed translucent membrane can make an outdoor space depicted in a digital image come to life, and appear as a natural extension of the actual indoor pool area. This is especially useful for bringing the outdoors to a windowless space, maintaining privacy while creating a natural atmosphere, or opening up the feel of a small room.
Modern stretch ceiling systems are light, sound attenuating, and thermally insulating. Safe, high quality materials make them easy to maintain, requiring just a wipe with mild household soap and water if they become soiled. Further, these ceilings can replace drywall, stucco, or ceiling tiles in existing indoor pool facilities or new construction projects. Most manufacturers carry images for print or high-resolution images can be supplied for an almost endless array of art, designs, and photography to decorate an indoor pool environment with flair and taste.
Stretch ceiling systems are ideally suited to indoor pool and hot tub environments as the material is unaffected by moisture and/or chlorine (Cl). Further, drywall, plaster, steelwork, or other material behind the stretched ceiling (or wall) is protected, as the membrane forms a waterproof and fungus resistant vapour barrier. If the surface behind the stretched ceiling has previously mouldered or mildewed, spores are sealed in by the installation and starved for moisture.
The material is also suitable for use in steam room applications as it remains completely stable at ambient temperatures of up to 60 C (140 F); therefore, the entire swimming pool and/or spa space can be fashioned with a practical and functional ceiling system that requires minimal background support, weight, joints, or disruption.
If a water pipe above the stretch ceiling should develop a leak, the membrane can hold up to 100 L (26.4 gal) of water per 1 m2 (10.7 sf) of surface area.