False ceilings and voltage stabilizers…



Architect Navneet Malhotra is a perpetual student. He loves to break myths and unmask the true cause for bad work by constantly sharing experience… “Path to gaining knowledge is through sharing,” is his motto.


I need to know if false ceilings are recommended in buildings that are prone to frequent earthquakes. In case they are, what kind of material is most suitable for this?
Gaurav Sanghvi, Mumbai

If the region experiences a lot of tremors, then it would be better to avoid false ceilings all together. But if, for some reason, you can’t, then you could try some of these options:
Wood: Make the false ceiling out of wood frame and plywood skin. You could treat the outer surface with paint, laminates and decorative wood veneers that can be polished or lacquered. These nailed (or pin joint) wood frames are able to absorb and bear tremors better than a rigid POP ceiling.

If you are environment-conscious (like me), you could try some of these atypical solutions. I have also mentioned several vendors as getting access to those particular materials may prove to be your biggest challenge.

Special PVC stretch membrane: These 0.2-mm-thick PVC-based recyclable membranes are stretched and fixed to aluminium profiles that are suspended from the surrounding structure. Once the membrane is attached to the surrounding frame, heat is applied to the surface to achieve a wrinkle-free finish. These thin, cloth-like sheets have the ability to take on almost any shape and with a little planning, the support system can easily house services, etc. Fortunately, these membranes can be erected and dismantled with ease and often come with a 8 to 10-year warranty. These membranes come in several colours and surface finishes such as matte, satin, lacquered, metallic and translucent. The latter can be back-lit to stunning effect. To go one step further, you can play with stationary or mobile silhouettes on a back-lit membrane to create intriguing drama.
Brand: Euroceil
Location: South India
Web link: http://euroceil.com/main/?goback=%252Egde_100689_member_163726112

Structure fabric: This option may be slightly difficult to use as an indoor false ceiling as its construction details are designed for all-weather outdoor structures. However, these light-weight tensile membranes possess all the desirable qualities of a false ceiling that can withstand severe earthquakes.
Contractors: Ekra Decor: http://www.ekradecor.com/delhi-project.html, Mega Tensiles: http://www.megatensiles.com/

If you are unable to locate a vendor in the vicinity of your project to execute the above-mentioned solutions, then here’s how you could improve the ability of a regular false ceiling to handle tremors.

Gypsum board: You could improve the success rate of this material by keeping it as close to the roof slab as possible. Increased suspended length increases the lever arm of the ceiling and acts as a force multiplier. Alternatively, suspending the false ceiling only from the centre of the room and leaving its periphery free may also help. This will naturally introduce a (cove) cavity between the peripheral wall and the false ceiling. Make sure the gap between the wall and the ceiling is atleast equal to or greater than the distance between the roof and the ceiling. The false ceiling can now swing independently like a pendulum without buckling or breaking due to lack of space. You could now introduce lights
in this cove to make the ceiling seem like it is floating…

Mineral fibre board grid: The brand Armstrong has developed a seismic-resistant grid ceiling, details of which can be hopefully procured from your local vendor. (I have my doubts, however, whether it will be easily available.)
Web link: http://www.armstrong.co.uk/assets/global/commclgeu/files/Literature/1252.PDF

The vendor who recently installed a split air conditioner in my house, placed the transformer on the floor of my bedroom. He discouraged us from placing it in the balcony or hanging it on the outer surface of our apartment wall. It is big, ugly and radiates heat as well as (I believe) toxic fumes. It also makes a lot of clicking noises that have kept us awake for the past few nights. Please advice.
Anjali Kukreja, Gurgaon

I think your vendor has installed a voltage stabilizer in your room, which is a little different from a transformer. Yet your pain is real. These are used to stabilize fluctuating voltage automatically, therefore the clicking noises. Theoretically stabilizers can be installed at any location on the circuit between the distribution board (DB)* and the air conditioner, provided you plan for it. But in all practical terms, once the building is ready and you don’t want to change the wiring, then they can be housed either near the DB or the AC.

Voltage stabilizers do dissipate heat and require air circulation. So if you choose to house them inside a cupboard or a closed space, make sure it is well-ventilated. You could always introduce a louvered or a fly-screen shutter to that unit. Even though dust has negligible impact on these devices, vendors avoid placing them in balconies or on the external face of the building to prevent ingress of moisture as contact with rainwater could lead to short circuits and fires. These low-maintenance devices can easily be hung above door-height, in a visually obscure corner of the room. I suggest you identify such a place and install it such that it cannot be seen or heard. Make sure you ask for a wall-hanging or wall-mounted voltage stabilizer model otherwiseyou will have to create a ledge within the room to house it.
(*The distribution board is a small metal box that houses the miniature circuit breakers or MCBs. This box is probably near the entrance to your house.)

I had used a white paper masking tape to protect the edges of the glass bricks from cement stains, but now the tape itself is proving to be a bigger nuisance. It refuses to come off completely, and when it does, it leaves behind unsightly glue marks. I tried scraping it off gently with a blade because I was afraid of scratching the surface. Of course, it didn’t help. In fact, the quality of the glue was so poor that after a short while my fingers were completely covered with scraps of tape and glue!
Rajat Kapoor, New Delhi

The solution is simple. Apply turpentine oil on the surface. For this, you could either use a paint-brush or a clean piece of cloth folded into a small wad. The second option is better as it will allow you to increase the rubbing pressure on the surface as well as control the oil drip stains. Let the surface absorb the oil for a few minutes before scrubbing it clean with a wad of cloth that’s been lightly moistened with turpentine. Finally, wipe the surface with a clean, dry cloth.

As for the quality of the masking tape and the glue in particular, cost-cutting and intense competition has unfortunately flooded the market (especially the low-cost, non-branded segment) with sub-standard products.

The nozzles of the shower head in my bathroom are completely choked by salt deposits. I have de-clogged them now and again with a paper pin, but the process is quite time-consuming and they don’t stay that way for long. Is there anything I can do to save the fixture, or is replacement the only option?
Basu Chatterjee, New Delhi

Salt deposits can be easily dissolved by a light acid, provided the surface of the fixture is either stainless steel or is strongly chromed. Most branded products have a good-quality surface treatment. Fill a small polythene bag with vinegar. Tie the bag on the shower head such that the nozzles are completely submerged in the liquid. In about 15 to 20 minutes, the shower head would have unclogged itself. Use an old toothbrush to scrub the surface lightly for well-entrenched stains.

Dip a piece of clean cloth in the leftover vinegar (after it has done its job on the shower) and clean the fittings, fixtures and tiles in the bathroom. Don’t do this too frequently as it will corrode the surface finish. The nozzles could also be blocked due to dust and rust deposits that accumulate in the plumbing pipes over a period of time. For this, you will have to remove the shower head and clean the fixture from inside. This is a simple exercise that you can do yourself — all you need is a pipe wrench. Or, you can always engage a local plumber.

The apartment we live in has sliding windows starting from two feet from the finished floor. We feel insecure with this low sill-height. Is there any way we could increase the same?
Rajan Visha Mehta, Ahmedabad

You can increase the sill-height by either reducing the window size or by ‘lifting’ it up. Both these solutions are neither easy nor cheap. Moreover, most building societies aren’t too pleased with this kind of alteration as it impacts the elevation of the building. I suggest you consider fixing a metal railing just outside the existing window. It’s fortunate that you have sliding windows, and not ones that open towards the outside. This way, your fly-screen protection will also not be disturbed. Just paint the grill to match the external facade, otherwise it will stand out.