A typical dropped ceiling consists of a grid-work of metal channels in the shape of an upside-down "T", suspended on wires from the overhead structure. These channels snap together in a regularly spaced pattern of cells. Each cell is then filled with lightweight ceiling tiles or "panels" which simply drop into the grid. The primary grid types are "Standard 1" (15/16 face), Slimline (9/16" grid), and concealed grid.
To address fire safety, ceiling tiles made from mineral fibres, plastic, tin, composite, or fire-rated wood panels can be used within the construction to meet acceptable standards/ratings. Some tiles, in specific situations, can provide the needed additional resistance to meet the "time rating" required for various fire code, city ordinance, commercial, or other similar building construction regulations. Fire ratings for ceiling panels vary based on the materials used, the preparation of each panel, and the safety testing and third party evaluation done to determine where and how they can be safely installed. In the UK it can be required for the tiles from certain manufacturers to be clipped into the grid with special ceiling clips in order to provide a fire rating; there are special tiles designed for the underside of mezzanine floors however that can give a fire rating without being clipped.
Drop out ceilings have a further advantage in that they can be mounted underneath fire sprinklers, thus hiding the sprinklers for a more attractive appearance. When installed underneath fire sprinklers, certain requirements for materials, applications, installation, and maintenance of drop out ceilings must be met in order to comply with fire safety regulations. (The white paper Drop-out Ceiling Panels–A Discussion on Their Use With Fire Sprinklers, referenced by the article, is available here).
High-voltage electrical equipment (generally regarded as being over 50 volts) is not permitted to be exposed in the plenum space above a drop ceiling. High voltage wiring must be enclosed in conduit or raceways, and must be physically isolated from low-voltage wiring. High voltage electrical devices similarly must be enclosed in a plenum space, inside a metallic container. Similarly, electrical outlets for domestic powered devices are not permitted inside the plenum space, though outlets can be installed on ceiling tiles inside electrical boxes, with the sockets exposed on the exterior bottom face of the drop ceiling. The purpose of these restrictions is to limit flame spread inside the unseen plenum space, in the event of high voltage equipment or wiring failure. Low voltage cabling is permitted because current flow is typically negligible so the risk of overheating and fire is limited.
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