How to Achieve Optimal Acoustics in Different Domains

The role of acoustics in architecture is not just about achieving optimum sound levels. With the right solutions in place, it can enhance the way people interact with each other and the space around them. Done correctly, it can also promote health and wellness – creating a calm and peaceful ambience where occupants can enjoy living, working or socialising.

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However, no two spaces are the same, and the acoustic needs of a building can vary greatly depending on its design as well as its intended purpose. From workspaces to warehouses, Ben Hancock, Managing Director at Oscar Acoustics, outlines some practical advice on achieving optimal acoustics within different settings.

Offices

When it comes to office workspaces, it’s important to remember that the physical arrangement of the space can have a significant impact on acoustics. Post-pandemic, we’ve seen a rise in easy-to-clean surfaces that help keep employees safe – think barriers, cubicle-style offices and modular pods within open-plan spaces and tactile-free walkways.

We’ve also seen the rise of ‘agile’ workspaces to support hybrid working. This includes adaptable and easily-customisable spaces, which includes breakout areas, amenity spaces, collaboration space and domestically-influenced environments.

The downside to this approach is that it can cause intense noise reverberation, allowing sound to bounce around and impacting employees’ ability to communicate and concentrate. Long term – it can even cause their health to deteriorate, increasing the risk of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.

One way to overcome this issue is through high-quality acoustic sprays. They can be applied to both walls and ceilings without compromising the interior design and can be used on nearly any surface type. These types of acoustic treatments also allow complete flexibility with Cat A and B configuration and reconfiguration, depending on the preference of the project.

Hospitality

As town and city pubs, bars and restaurants gradually return to pre-COVID levels of visits, the acoustic design of hospitality venues is worthy of consideration once again. Ignoring it could be a recipe for disaster.

A recent study by UK charity Action on Hearing Loss (AoHL) found that noise levels in some well-known chain restaurants can reach as high as 90dB on busy evenings – that’s the equivalent of sitting next to a lawnmower or motorbike.

Often, the root cause of the cacophony is poorly-planned architecture and design where noise generators and amplifiers join forces. Open kitchens, live music and hard surfaces also amplify sound, especially when combined with tables packed tightly together. So, how do you deal with the sound of people talking, laughing, glasses clinking in celebration, eating and perhaps even live music? You tackle noise echo and reverberation.

Acoustic sprays and plasters that absorb sound energy instead of reflecting it can help control overall noise levels to create a calmer atmosphere whilst still retaining an atmospheric buzz. Importantly, they also allow greater clarity in speech and music, allowing everyone to be heard. Their seamless and decorative finish enables restaurant owners to achieve excellent acoustics without compromising design.

Stadia

The roar of the crowd is a fundamental element of the sports or music stadium environment but left unchecked, and it can quickly reach dangerously high levels, causing tinnitus and even permanent hearing loss. Thankfully, awareness around acoustic safety and control is building, and with the right acoustic finish, it can actually enhance the quality of sound within a space rather than dampen it.

Due to the sheer size of these types of venues, an economical acoustic product is needed to control reverberation, and acoustic sprays and plasters are an ideal solution for the perfect acoustic ambience. Sprays can be applied at variable thicknesses, depending on the project, and work by effortlessly minimising excessive noise reverberation caused by hard, flat surfaces – absorbing sound energy rather than reflecting it.

It’s important to remember that not all acoustic sprays are created equal. Given the potential for large crowds, sprays that boast fire protection credentials should always be chosen over a cheaper, less reliable version. As such, acoustic sprays that go above and beyond the Approved Document B fire requirement (Class 0 to BS 476 and B-s1,d0 fire rating) should be prioritised.

Warehouses

Warehouses, distribution centres and e-commerce fulfilment centres are known for being noisy environments. Often, fast-paced workers must compete with the sound of machinery, such as forklift trucks, conveyor belts and packing stations.

To add to this, solid concrete floors and block walls create the ‘perfect storm’ when it comes to intense noise reverberation, allowing sound to bounce and echo. For workers dealing with this daily, it can have a profound effect, both physically and psychologically, especially over long hours or through shift work.

Whilst ear defenders go some way to reducing these risks, they also put staff at risk if they are unable to hear the sound of moving machinery or alarms. Regulations on noise state that workers shouldn’t be exposed to sound levels above 87dB, yet forklift trucks operate at an average of 90dB.

In order to remedy this, specially-adapted acoustic sprays, applied to walls or ceilings, can absorb sound energy, significantly reducing it to create safer and much healthier environments for workers. Another benefit is that acoustic sprays can be applied at speed, meaning there’s minimum downtime – perfect for warehouse and logistics business, where time means money.

Homes

The main culprit for noise in the home is the issue of sound transfer. Sound passes through ceilings and floors as vibrations and sound pressure waves, generated by footsteps, music or voices on an upper floor. These penetrate and travel through floorboards, joists and ceilings in the form of vibration and noise.

Soundproofing is a crucial part of making spaces more comfortable, but the methods used to tackle noise transfer are often too expensive, too complicated, too bulky, or just plain ineffective.

When noise from above is the problem, the simplest solution is to create an isolated, ‘floating’ ceiling using acoustic hangers. This will break the path of vibration that causes the transfer of unwanted noise between floors.

When soundproofing a ceiling with uneven joists, a height-adjustable acoustic hanger will allow for a flat finish with minimum ceiling height loss – and with the right acoustic hanger, all work can be carried out from the floor below, with no need to disturb occupants above. This also means the process will be much less invasive than altering the heights of skirting boards or doors.

As always, fire safety should be a number one priority, and acoustic hangers that come with an approved BRE fire rating of over 90 minutes, and are compliant with British Building Regulations ‘Approved Document E’ (which deals with airborne and impact sound), should be the only choice.

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