Maximize home theater acoustics without compromising style

photo_HomeTheaterMost would consider the selection of state-of-the-art audio and video equipment as the most important factor in designing a home theater or media room. And, from a performance perspective, this is primarily true. However, if you do not think holistically about the design of other elements in the room, you are missing out on an even more dynamic experience.

One of the most common ways to better manage acoustics in a home media room is to install specially designed wall panels. These panels are attached to existing walls using screws or nails. Although these panels are available in a variety of sizes and colors, they can be cumbersome and are not conducive to a modern, monolithic design aesthetic.

As an alternative to these potentially unwieldy acoustic panels, many homeowners are now using noise-reducing drywall on interior ceilings and walls. This specialty drywall, which can reduce sound transmission between rooms by up to 90 percent, installs just like traditional drywall and can be finished with the paint color of your choice. Since the acoustical control technology is integrated into the drywall, you can create smooth, streamlined walls for a more sleek appearance.

Above and beyond the walls and ceilings of a home theater, it is also important to assess any noise “leaks” around electrical boxes and light fixtures. For these areas, homeowners should consider specially design noise-proofing sealants and tapes to help mask distracting noises, such as squeaking floors or foot traffic overhead.

Finally, it’s important to remember that hard surfaces can reduce sound clarity and result in echoes. Carpet, compared to tile or hardwood floors, creates a better acoustical environment. Also, glass windows can hinder both visual and audio quality. Blackout shades or heavy curtains can go along way in enhancing a blockbuster theater experience right at home.

 

 

 

AIA Trend Alert: Smart Doors that Stay Open

ASSAABLOYIn visiting the ASSA ABLOY mobile showroom, you’ll quickly realize the astounding combination of technology and performance that goes into the company’s door opening solutions. With a specific emphasis on classroom settings, the showroom featured a real-life demonstration of its Safe Zone technology in a music room. The gist of Safe Zone is that the door will remain open as long as it detects motion, making it easier to carry large items in and out of rooms without wear-and-tear on the door. Furthermore, ASSA ABLOY doors demonstrated exceptional acoustical performance. In the on-site simulation, loud music was completely inaudible with a closed door. Now, that’s something to make some noise about.

Ready for Action: AIA 2014

aia_chicagoOn the eve of the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) annual conference, we’re rearing to go and carefully compiling our “must see” list for day one of the show. We have a full schedule of activities at the CertainTeed booth, so be sure to stop by and say hello. If you aren’t in the Windy City for the big event, we’ll do our best to share interesting insights from the exhibit hall. Drop us a line and we’ll report back to you. In the mean time, here’s what’s on our radar.

  1. Architect magazine is hosting Chicago Tribune architectural critic, Blair Kamin for a live interview session on Thursday at 11 a.m. A Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, Kamin offers a unique perspective on the challenges and opportunities of urban development, public spaces and historic preservation.
  1. Bust a move at the YKK booth. The company will debut its “Do the Architect” video, offering a much-needed respite from a long day of strenuous, CEU courses.
  1. Sign the “Down with Decibels” petition to tackle unwanted noise in interior spaces. The petition was designed to rally attendees around the idea that acoustics profoundly impact the way people work, learn and heal in the built environment.
  1. Experience a whole new dimension of upcycling with Rail Yard Studios. The company transforms old railroad ties into coffee tables, bed frames and bookshelves that are design savvy and sustainable.
  1. Get schooled on classroom acoustics. ASSA ABLOY and CertainTeed will host a panel discussion at Learning Lounge #4067 at 1:20 p.m. From concept to installation to real-world testing, this team of experts has a compelling story to share about their work at a Pennsylvania elementary school.
  1. Ready to put your pedometer to the test? Take a walk to one of the many Chicago-area buildings designed by Perkins + Will. Check out their online map to get the scoop on all of the sites to see.

Looking ahead, there’s still two more days of exploration at AIA. What should we see and do next?

 

 

 

The Risks of Poor Acoustics in Healthcare Settings

CTC_Gyptone_Big_Curve_yellow_818x474Longer hospital stays, higher readmission rates, unnecessary medical errors, high stress among staff — these are just a few of the consequences of unwanted noise in healthcare settings. It is estimated that ambient noise levels in healthcare facilities have dramatically increased since 1972. In a UK survey conducted by the National Health Service, 40 percent of hospital patients cited noise was a major annoyance during their stay—outranking other factors such as cleanliness, quality of food, privacy and amount of staff. Additionally, new research indicates that the risk of a heart attack increases when measured noise levels exceed 65 decibels.

The good news? There are solutions. Join me on Wednesday, May 21 at 2 p.m. EST for a one-hour webinar dedicated to improving acoustics in healthcare settings. You can register for free here and earn AIA and USGBC credit.

Specifically, the Ceilings in the Healthcare Segment course will cover:

  • How evidence-based design is driving healthcare facility construction
  • Strategies for optimizing indoor environments for the best patient outcomes
  • The role of sound attenuation in protecting patient privacy
  • LEED® for Healthcare as it relates to ceilings and acoustics
  • Facility Guidelines Institute guidelines for ceilings in healthcare environments

The simple truth is that there is no excuse for poor acoustics in healthcare settings. Solutions for better acoustical control not only exist but are in reach — however, we need to ban together to truly make a difference for patients and hospital staff alike. To that end, we recently launched the “Down with Decibels” campaign and encourage you to join the movement.

 

 

 

The Sound Around You

HIPHN_El Paso Corp_Cafe_1_2000Improving acoustical performance in interior spaces is part of our everyday discussion, and raising awareness of the impact of noise on people has become a leading passion of mine. In the architectural and building industries, research provides clear evidence that exposure to noise impacts healing and productivity. This research influences how we design buildings for the people who spend the majority of their time in these places — the students in a classroom, patients in a hospital, or employees in an office. However at a personal, individual level, there is great value in better understanding acoustics in our daily lives.

Most interior environments should be safeguarded against decibel levels that would harm your ability to hear, however, how does excessive noise affect your ability to concentrate and overall stress level?

Measuring the decibel level of activities throughout the day is quite easy to do by simply installing a mobile app on your smartphone, such as Decibel 10th. I encourage you to use one of these tools to monitor fluctuations in the noise around you throughout the day and take note of how you respond. Do your muscles tense while struggling to have a conversation in a loud restaurant (or does your dinner-mate wonder why you are screaming at them over a simple decision as to what wine to select)? Are you more focused at work wearing sound-canceling headphones or “squatting” in an unoccupied conference room?

As you experience different noise levels, take note of how the sounds around you measure up to these average decibel levels:

Decibel Level (dB) Activity
0 Threshold of what a healthy ear can hear
10 Soft wind
20 A peaceful apartment in the city
25-35 Leaves rustling in the wind
40 Typing on a keyboard
50 Talking in a low voice
60 Conversation
65 Sitting in a small car with motor idling; normal office noise
75-90 Traffic noise

Taking an inventory of excessive noise in our daily lives is the first step toward a more productive and healthy society. For example, a study by the Danish Cancer Society that monitored the effect of traffic noise reports that for every 10-decibel increase, the risk of heart attack went up 12 percent with increases in risk starting at only 40dB. This is one statistic of many that are shedding light on the impact of noise in our lives. How does excessive noise or poor acoustics impact your daily life? We encourage you to share your story at www.nonoisenow.com.

Acoustics – Designing Classrooms for Optimal Learning

Santa Monica Public LibraryWhat impact can you as the designer bring to a classroom setting given that you are not going to be teaching?  One of the things you potentially bring is the ability to impact the environmental acoustical value of the space.

The 21st Century classroom is a more diverse place than ever before. With the mainstreaming of children with learning disabilities, physical challenges and language barrier issues, it is more important than ever to have an acoustically efficient environment. To create a design which does not addresses the lowest common denominator just seems wrong.

This gives students a better chance of staying engaged. It is especially critical where younger students are concerned (K-5). They do not yet have the skills to fill in the words that are lost when listening to the teacher in a less-than-adequate acoustic environment.

I worked in ceiling construction earlier in my career and built hundreds of school classrooms knowing all the while that they were poorly designed spaces accountable only to the installed cost per square foot. I then moved into working with the architectural community in an effort to bring a better focus on the power of and necessity for efficient acoustic design. I have observed through numerous academic studies that the attention to acoustic design in classrooms has a significant impact on learning for all students; but especially early learners. I was also afforded the opportunity to observe this need for acoustic design close-up as the parent of an autistic child attending a public school.

Thanks to LEED taking an active part in acoustics and environmental design, this topic is now required for certification in a LEED for Schools project. It is our responsibility as designers, specifiers and advocates to put a human face on the critical importance of this topic.

I will be teaching a webinar on Classroom Acoustics on Tuesday, March 11, from 12:00 – 1:00 pm. I will cover issues such as: Signal to noise ratio – reverberation time – speech intelligibility testing – how all these metrics and academic testing have shown that a quieter environment is a better learning environment – and more. 

If this is a topic of interest to you, take advantage of this free webinar by registering here: Ceilings: Classroom Acoustics (GBCI Approved)

 

Wall Assemblies for Maximum Efficiency: How Many Layers is Too Many?

SimplexOPTIMABuilding professionals spend a lot of time dealing with production construction which has dialed in efficiencies and productivity to provide the maximum assembly for the cost per square foot.  The reality is in standard construction you build things in five or six layers. This is the standard in terms of building a wall system more efficiently and we have gotten it down to a science.  Generally a six layer home will give you a solid, energy efficient, comfortable home.

Occasionally, I work with builders on projects that remind me of possibilities beyond what is the status quo.  I recently had an opportunity to work with a builder who was building a custom home whose wall systems had 13 layers.  This wall had so much redundancy and robustness built into it that I just had to ask for a chance to visit the project and see this masterpiece being built.

This was the homeowner’s instruction: They wanted a thick wall, they wanted a silent wall, they wanted a highly efficient wall for them to own.  That’s one of the key’s to this discussion- the owner is focused on what comes afterwards- not what happened before. To achieve this goal the builder is employing a combination of traditional masonry materials and cutting edge products and systems.   

In a similar fashion, a project that CertainTeed has been involved with at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia with Penn State achieves a similar goal but in a lighter and perhaps less massive assembly – to create a highly efficient wall system that can provide comfort, improve indoor air quality, better acoustics but, and here’s the rub- to still be affordable by more typical consumers.  This was done by using a 2 x 8 construction – providing a deeper wall cavity – A Blown-in-Blanket Insulation System, Weather Resistant Barrier, a Smart Vapor Retarder and Air Barrier System, a Wallboard Solution, Rigid Insulation on exterior and Insulated Vinyl Siding. This created an R30.5 exterior wall.

In both homes, products were used to address acoustics, indoor air quality and moisture control.  Do you need 13 layers?  Probably not but the pressure is certainly going to be on what layers remain to do more than they have in the past.

Thoughts?

 

An Insight from CertainTeed Green Guru Bob Marshall

greenbuild-nation-20x20I asked the following question to CertainTeed Green Guru Bob Marshall, Manager, Marketing Technical Services for Ceilings:

If you had the ability to change one thing about the way we construct homes and buildings what would it be?

Since my interest is primarily with commercial construction, I would say it would be a higher level of attention to the acoustic environment in buildings. It has such great power to effect the way that humans work in an office facility, how well they learn in educational facilities and how well they recover in a healthcare facility. There are volumes of academic research to support these very obvious connections. What is helpful to us now is that LEEDv4 has actually placed points available for effective acoustic design in just about every relevant point system that is part of the new rating system.

Opening the Door to Better Classroom Acoustics

Slatington Elementary ClassroomLast year, I was presented with a unique opportunity to apply our building science research into a real-life application — the renovation of an elementary school in northeastern Pennsylvania. Originally built in 1973, the school was transformed from an open concept interior space into individual state-of-the-art classrooms. Superior acoustical comfort, which can contribute to improved student performance and teacher retention, was a top priority in this field study as well as an analysis of the overall indoor environment that included air quality, thermal comfort and visual comfort measurements.

Our goal was to investigate the impact of installing different, high-performing interior acoustical ceiling and gypsum wallboard system solutions in six new classrooms constructed in the third grade student wing. Acoustical tests were conducted in each classroom to determine sound absorption and interior partition sound transmission levels, as well as major sound flanking paths.

As a leading manufacturer of ceilings and wall products, our team is well versed in the myriad of product specifications and configurations for our products. However, during the testing, I had an a-ha moment of sorts regarding the doorways to the classrooms.

Specifically, I realized that even though it is well known that acoustically isolated, airtight door assemblies improve classroom acoustics when used in conjunction with high-performance gypsum board and ceiling products, these elements are often specified independently rather than a comprehensive acoustical system. This is a challenge that I have always been aware of, but seeing it so clearly in this study led us to ask: what could we do about it?

Our curiosity led us to ASSA ABLOY, the global leader in door opening solutions. Through our alliance, we’ve uncovered easily accessible solutions found in door and frame systems, to address acoustical challenges and reduce the sound reverberation that further complicates noise issues in classrooms.

We look forward to sharing more detailed findings during Greenbuild 2013 through a dedicated education session at the Saint-Gobain Learning Lab. Please join us at the session or leave us a comment below to continue the discussion.

Building Knowledge Experts at AIA2013 – Expertise that Inspires

AIA2013CertainTeed Technical Marketing Manager for Ceilings Bob Marshall conducted a session at AIA2013 on Ceilings in the Health Care Segment.  During the presentation while Bob was discussing the noise levels in hospitals and how it impacts healing, the question was raised:

“Why do we accept higher noise levels in hospitals if we know that it impacts the patients’ ability to heal?”

Two things work in our favor. Acoustical standards and guidelines are well documented and hospital administrators are getting validation regarding just how much acoustics matter and they are starting to make better choices when upgrading their facilities. We have to keep in mind that hospitals are very competitive but we are starting to see changes that have positive effects on patients and recovery. Rooms are painted in pastels now with artwork on the wall so administrators are starting to make the environment more pleasant for the patients.  At some point, they will have to address the noise levels as they relate to healing to continue to remain competitive. There is research that will speak to just about every architectural decision from an interior perspective. We are just validating and giving them the tools to go ahead and sell the acoustical benefits for making these changes.

If you have a question or comment, we would love to hear from you. Although AIA 2013 is over, we know these questions will continue to be raised.