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Last edited 28 Jun 2022
Building acoustic considerations
 Why 2021 proved building acoustics must be a non- negotiable consideration
With the increasing densification of towns and cities the way we think about space is changing. Property owners are nowlooking to utilise every inch of space, allowing less conventional areas to be reimagined into unique living or working environments. While designers respond to design challenges covering aesthetics and usability, an area that is often overlooked is the importance of acoustics in the property – and the impact it can have on work environments.
 The right acoustic solution should always be considered when creating and adapting workspaces.
The outbreak of COVID19 has reshaped society as we knew it. It disrupted our routines and forced us to reassess our work-life balance, environments and health. 2021 highlighted the acoustic flaws in buildings across the country, where fancy office designs are no longer shadowing how effective these spaces are to actually work in. Workspaces need to be adapted so they are not only aesthetically pleasing, but calm and inviting too, enhancing the health and wellbeing of all who enter them.
After months working remotely, many realised the importance of face-to-face interactions with their colleagues and welcomed the idea of heading back into the office to embrace a collaborative setting where they can be social and creative again. For some though, returning to the office has been a difficult adjustment and served as a stark reminder of how hectic and distracting their workspaces can be. Employers must create workspaces that inspire and support their employees’ mental health.
Since the pandemic, the negative impact that poor acoustics have on our health has been thrust into the spotlight. This has caused many to consider how distressing excessive levels of noise can be both at home and in the office. According to Yes Homebuyers, 28% of people who moved house last year held noisy neighbours responsible for their decision to move on (ref 1). Would this have been realised if we weren’t spending so much time at home? Although the answer to that question will remain unknown, the truth of the matter is that too much noise can be hard to cope with and worryingly it can also lead to adverse health effects, increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes (ref 2).
 A change for the better
The harmful effects of excessive noise are now becoming a pain-point for housing developers and building owners. Yet it is worth noting, building owners who take steps towards fixing this problem will benefit from lower costs and higher efficiency. Investing in improved acoustics directly impacts employees in a very positive way.
As a result they become healthier, happier and more productive. Lockdown, particularly for those living and working in highly populated cities, highlighted the vast number of builds structures that are not fit for purpose when it comes to acoustic solutions and sound management. This has kick-started a ‘sound revolution,’ and it is here to stay. As noise levels have crept up the list of criteria for perspective buyers and tenants, the time has come for the built environment sector to ensure regulatory requirements are being met, and many developers and building designers are now exploring ways to create healthy sound environments, where reverberation – one of the main drivers for excessive noise, is absorbed, resulting in better communication and lower stress levels.
Control of Noise at Work Regulations state that daily or weekly, noise levels should reach no higher than 87dB and peak sound pressure, 140dB. The level of excessive ‘background’ noise in workspace environments should not be underestimated. Over time, it can dramatically impact staff’s ability to think coherently. Although this is not tangible, it does need to be considered equally. Businesses invest in ergonomic chairs, height adjustable desks and keyboards to facilitate a good posture and often forget about the less visible but equally detrimental impact poor acoustics can have on their staff. Think of noise as a flickering screen and its impact on your eyes. Noise can have the same distracting effect on our brains.
 An attitude adjustment
With the COVID crisis still ongoing, businesses are placing a great emphasis on our physical workspaces. Many are working hard to ensure staff feel comfortable and safe to return to the office environment. Health and safety measures such as social distancing, touchless surfaces and tactile-free walkways help protect staff, however, these new open and collaborative spaces often fail to incorporate the impact of noise.
The increasing absence of dividing walls and soft furnishings along with the rising number of wipeable hard surfaces might help in minimising the spread of viruses, but they leave very little behind to absorb sound reverberation, leading to environments that become unwelcoming and rather stressful ‘echo chambers.’
Designers working on office redesigns are aware of the potential problems of not incorporating acoustic solutions into the projects. A recent study we conducted highlighted how just 9% of designers believe that ‘acoustic design is getting the attention it deserves by their clients.’ Rather shockingly, almost half of these clients stated when interviewed that they aren’t interested in ‘end-user health,’ suggesting they’re more interested in just getting the job done and using a mere box ticking approach. With an increasing tendency towards hybrid work, acoustic health needs to be taken seriously. Redesign projects enable the opportunity to incorporate effective solutions, which are compatible with modern co-working spaces, while also providing a pleasing aesthetic for the end user to enjoy.
 Making moves
Acoustics are influenced by room geometry and noise distribution. There are a myriad of options on the market to help employers looking to improve the safety of staff, so it is important that they do their research to ensure a quality and effective finish. Both acoustic hangers and cavity insulation are great solutions to block out noise transfer between rooms, while interior coatings are increasingly used to ensure acoustically balanced interiors.
Reverberation can be significantly reduced with treatments like fire-rated acoustic sprays and plasters for walls and ceilings. These solutions can be quickly spray applied and offer quality acoustic finishes without design compromise. It’s even possible to specify a through-coloured option, meaning there will be no need to redecorate, and this will also minimise the need for repair over time, and help offset the cost.
Acoustics ceiling sprays absorb sound energy instead of reflecting it, reducing reverberation times and overall noise levels in a space. These acoustic systems also allow complete flexibility with Cat A and Cat B configuration allowing for dividing structures such as office pods to be brought in without disrupting the acoustic spray finish on the ceiling above. Quality acoustic sprays can be applied to nearly all types of surfaces including plaster, wood, metal and concrete, making them suitable for all types of office workspaces.
Premium acoustic sprays can contribute towards a sustainable design and health certification systems including BREEAM, SKA, Living Building Challenge and adds up to 17 points towards the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating of a project. However, before investing in a spray, it is important to establish if it is GREENGUARD Gold Certified compliance for Indoor Air Quality as this will mean it meets the highest welfare standards.
Fire safety should also be considered. Acoustic sprays that go above and beyond Approved Document B fire requirement (Class 0 to BS476 & B-s1, d0 fire rating), will give peace of mind that in the event of a fire, the acoustic spray would provide little to no smoke and absolutely no droplets, assisting in the safe escape of its occupants.
If businesses are to come back stronger than ever, then it starts with creating the right environment for staff to thrive and feel at ease. Redesigns provide a golden opportunity to invest in acoustics to improve the health of those who will use the space. With safe, quality and sustainable options on the open market, it has never been easier to ensure spaces are fully protected, enabling the end user to enjoy it to the full.
Article appears on pages 6 and 7 of Spring 2022 Issue 141 of the AT Journal entitled 'Why 2021 proved building acoustics must be a non- negotiable consideration' and is written by Ben Hancock MD of Oscar Acoustics.
 External Links
- Acoustic consultant.
- Acoustic design for health and wellbeing.
- Airborne sound.
- Approved Document E.
- Ash deafening.
- Audio frequency.
- Building acoustics.
- Building Bulletin 93: acoustic design of schools.
- Flanking sound.
- Impact sound.
- Noise nuisance.
- Pre-completion sound testing.
- Robust details certification scheme.
- Room acoustics.
- Sound absorption.
- Sound insulation.
- Sound insulation in dwellings: Part 1: An introduction (GG 83-1).
- Sound reduction index (SRI).
- Sound v noise.
- Structure-borne sound.
- Suitable insulation can help preserve the golden sound of silence.
- Suitably Qualified Acoustician.
- Walt Disney Concert Hall.
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