An environment filled with acoustic issues can make workers less productive or force
occupants to leave in search for better working spaces. So, WHY IS MY SPACE SO NOISY and
what can be done about it?
Rooms are often repurposed: for example, when a meeting space makes way for desks or a closet becomes a mini server room. This creates entirely new ambient noises that the room was never designed to counter.
It’s important to consider how the room’s new purpose will impact its acoustics. What materials are the floors, walls and ceilings made of – would it require carpets and insulation? Does the change put the room’s occupants closer to noise sources – for example, are they now next to the elevator? Is the space less occupied than before, resulting in more echoes?
Credit: Unsplash/ AlexKotliarskyi
Large, open spaces
Open offices can be a marvel, infusing energy into the workplace through shared spaces and natural light. But with that comes shared sound. People often complain about ambient noise (also known as background), as well as the concern that others can hear their conversations. Open environments tend to be both too loud and too quiet. How can that be fixed without ruining the ambiance of an open floor workplace?
Two easy fixes are to create loud and quiet spaces: these are areas where employees can have noisy meetings or enjoy a bit of meditative thinking. Acoustic panels can act as dividers to define these spaces. An area surrounded by acoustic glass creates a tranquil zone where natural light will still reach. Mobile acoustic dividers can also be used to create temporary zones inside an office. Alternatively, white noise such as ambient ocean sounds can create a pleasant counter-balance.
Floors reverberate a lot of sound, both on the same floor and below it. A company could try and mandate its employees to tread lightly, but that is not realistic. They probably aren’t even stomping: it is surprising how much sound a floor can generate, especially if it is hollow beneath or wooden.
Carpets remain a great way to dampen floor sounds, though they can be costly to maintain. Another option is to install insulation or sound reduction panels underneath the floor, or in the ceiling of the floor below. Dampening compounds, which are laid over a floor, can also be used, but will require installing an extra surface on top of it.
Air ducts, elevators and generators all make noise. One air duct or an elevator doesn’t seem like a massive acoustic polluter, but combine all of these and they create quite the racket! Even air conditioners installed on the roof or against outside walls can reverberate a lot of sound, causing acoustic issues all over the building. Air ducts are also great carriers for other noise sources, such as loud conversations next door about the weekend.
Air ducts and fans are rarely insulated properly, so that would be a great place to look for some quick wins. Insist on regular maintenance of equipment, particularly air conditioner fans: these attract dirt, which make their bearings start to whine. It’s also smart to investigate if the air conditioner units are secured with noise-cancelling joints.
Elevators and generators are not as easy to address. Elevators can be very noisy if the building wasn’t designed to reduce their vibrations. In those cases, it is easier to make nearby walls more soundproof. Occupied rooms should ideally be put away from elevators. Generators ought to be placed far away from people and placed in sound-dampening
Many acoustic issues in buildings come from the outside. Traffic, construction, even other buildings are noisy and distracting. One option is to send people outside and tell everyone to keep quiet, but that’s not likely to work. Rather treat the building and stop noise from coming in.
The two biggest carriers of outside noise are windows and air ducts. Windows can be dampened by installing acoustic glass with specific acoustic framing or investing in heavy drapes. Air ducts can be insulated against sound with air filters. There is also the option of planting shrubs outside the building: plants are incredibly good at scattering sound, thus reducing noise.