Office Privacy: A Ceiling Panel’s Secret Super Power

By: Erin Dugan

Have you ever been in a meeting where you can hear every single word from the office next door? Or have you waited to see the doctor and hear the diagnosis for the patient in the next room? There are a lot of factors that could cause this lack of privacy, such as wall construction and sound flanking through outlets and ductwork. However, the ceiling may also be the culprit. This is especially important for offices where information privacy is crucial as well as healthcare facilities where HIPAA laws need to be enforced.


In many offices, the top of the wall ends at ceiling height rather than extending all the way to the floor deck above. In these spaces, the sound in one room can easily travel through the ceiling and grid, through the plenum, and back down into the room next door. While the primary intent of a ceiling panel is to absorb excessive reverberation, or echoes, within a room, a properly designed ceiling system can also help prevent the sound from traveling through the plenum into neighboring spaces.

The most well known super power of a ceiling is its NRC, or sound absorbing properties. High performing tiles have an NRC of .80 or higher. 

Consider two popular ceiling products used for office spaces:

USG Mars™ High-NRC Acoustical Panels have .85 NRC and 30 CAC

• 1” fiberglass products have approx. .95 NRC and 20 CAC

In traditional closed offices or conference rooms with approx. 250 sf and 8’ ceilings – reverberation time with both ceilings (.85 and .95 NRC) is about 0.35 sec.  (Ideal for best speech communication in a conference space is < 1 sec)

However, the biggest difference is in its sound blocking performance. An increase of 10 CAC points can actually block twice the sound level!

In a quiet office where people are trying to focus and concentrate, noise levels may be approximately 40 dB(A). With a noisy meeting next door and a 1” fiberglass (20 CAC) ceiling, almost all the meeting conversation could be understood and sound levels in the office could be around 55 dB(A). If a USG Mars™ High-NRC Acoustical Panel (30 CAC) ceiling was used, half the sound would be heard, very little would be understood, and the sound levels would be at a comfortable 45 dB(A) in the office. Fewer distractions from the neighboring meeting = more productivity!


USG Mars™ High-NRC Acoustical Panels hidden super power is the best way to help provide more privacy and quiet.

Click here for more information about USG’s acoustical panels.