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.

Designing Buildings with the Future in Mind

 

Glenn Jackson

Glenn Jackson

Glenn Jackson is Director, Corporate Marketing for CertainTeed Corporation

Part of the conversation regarding sustainable design is a move toward improving performance and addressing specific needs of the potential occupants of a particular space.

The building industry has historically designed buildings based only on the need to provide a place for people to live, or go to school or to heal when sick. 

Today, so much more is taken into consideration. Product manufacturers, the design community and even building owners are much more focused on asking “What problem are we trying to solve” or “What elements need to exist in a building to help address performance based criteria such as, learning, healing, innovating and working.

Creating unique spaces is becoming more the norm even within what we refer to as vertical markets or niche markets which meet the needs of a particular industry.  Standards for design or performance may exist within a vertical market such as educational facilities or healthcare facilities but each project will have specific needs driven by geographical and environmental conditions, uses for the spaces, aesthetics and building owner preferences.

Some of the areas most critical to building sustainable and performance-based structures are thermal and acoustical comfort which is not seen but does affect our physical comfort and wellbeing.  Visual comfort speaks to our need for natural light.  Innovations in glass products are revolutionizing the industry.  Indoor air quality is crucial in all buildings and systems, and products are available to address most concerns for creating clean indoor air.

In the end, the efforts made to design and build high-performance, sustainable, buildings with solution based systems will provide significant savings for the end users.

It’s Not Just Wallboard Anymore

 

Ashwin Himat

Ashwin Himat

Ashwin Himat is Director of Marketing – North America for CertainTeed Gypsum

New innovations in technology are redefining building products industry-wide. Manufacturers are improving products today based on solutions to environmental concerns and to address indoor environmental quality. Wallboard is no exception.

Historically, wallboard enabled residential and commercial construction to provide better fire protection and a flat, smooth surface that could be easily painted or wallpapered. Because of the recycled content of wallboard, it has always been considered a sustainable product but its function rather than its features were the primary selling point.

The drivers for innovation of wallboard products predominately came from the commercial build community. Earlier innovations in wallboard provided moisture resistance for areas of buildings with high moisture such as bathrooms and kitchens. With increased concerns and claims regarding mold in buildings, a technology was developed to provide mold and moisture resistance to wallboard.  Mold is a potentially serious health issue for people so the ability to include a mold resistant wallboard in a home or building susceptible to mold reduces the potential.

With the rapidly growing awareness of the importance of indoor air quality and its impact on health and productivity, recent technology innovations have led to the introduction of wallboards that clean the air.  By removing volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) such as formaldehyde and other aldehydes from the air and converting them into safe, inert compounds, these wallboards can improve indoor air quality for generations. 

In response to the growing marketplace demand for acoustic comfort, manufacturers have increased innovations in the area of noise-reducing gypsum board, specifically designed for wall systems requiring high STC ratings where acoustic management is needed.

The commercial build community is aware of these advancements in wallboard and they are including them in specifications especially in the educational and healthcare arena. But these wallboards adapt well to residential construction as well especially when designing custom homes that may include home theaters or music rooms.

Homeowners need to be educated about the options they have when either building a new home or expanding an existing one.  Decisions made about the walls and ceilings of a home should be carefully considered because ones overall comfort depends on it.

Wallboard is not a one size fits all product any longer so when it comes to improving comfort and indoor environmental quality remember to consider the best solutions for your walls and ceilings.

Solving an Acoustical Problem in a Retrofit Environment

 

Stan Gatland

Stan Gatland is Manager, Building Science Technology for CertainTeed Corporation

It can be a challenge to control the acoustics in older buildings when they are repurposed for multiple business uses.  One example is a call center situated in the middle of an office building, surrounded by cubicles of other workers and offices with many hard surfaces – glass, wallboard and wood doors. The perimeter of the call center has a low suspended ceiling with a decorative hard wood finish that amplifies and reflects the various sounds typical in an open plan office setting – loud telephone conversations and office equipment – carrying the disruptive noise throughout the floor.

The building owner had some ideas on how to improve the space but decided to work with an acoustical consultant to confirm the noisy conditions with measurements, as well as make recommendations on how to improve the space acoustically.

Acousticians commonly refer to highly sound reflective rooms as “live” or “reverberant.” Open plan office space should be designed for both good speech privacy and poor speech intelligibility.  Typically, you design for privacy at work stations and make speech unintelligible between adjacent areas by controlling background noise levels and reverberation time – the length of time it takes for a sound pressure level to decay or dissipate.

The results confirmed that background noise levels were high and intermittent and reverberation times exceeded the maximum recommendation of 0.60 seconds at most locations on the floor.

Another metric that was used to characterize the space was the speech transmission index (STI). STI is a measure of the ability to understand speech in a given space with the sound source coming from different directions or locations.

In open plan office settings, you want STI values to be low or poor meaning that people can’t understand each other from different locations.  Most locations had fair to excellent ratings creating a poor acoustical environment.

The recommendations provided by the consultant to solve the problem in this office space were:

  • Change the entire ceiling to high absorption suspended tile or use functional absorbers (hanging panels in the box like orientation)
  • Add some absorptive treatment to office doors or walls facing the open office
  • If not enough, use background masking noise.

It is expected that if the summary improvements were made it would improve comfort and maybe morale and productivity for the employees.

Time will tell. Do you have any examples of acoustical retrofit to share?

A Sound Affect on Human Centered Design

I was once told good (and bad) acoustics is something you experience; something you can feel, even if you don’t know what it is. I am always impressed at how real this experience can be.

Research shows that people work more productively, communicate and learn more effectively, and heal more efficiently in environments with good acoustics.

Recently, Jill Robles, the Ecophon Architectural Sales Manager in New England, and I had the pleasure of working with the Institute for Human Centered Design (IHCD) in Boston, Massachusetts.  The IHCD is an international non-governmental educational organization committed to advancing the role of design in expanding opportunity and enhancing experience for people of all ages and abilities through excellence in design.

A large lobby area outside of a conference room is utilized frequently for meetings.  It is a great space for informal gatherings after presentations but the acoustical condition made it uncomfortable and difficult to hear. Conversations can be a challenge without proper sound dampening because of heavy reverberation and increased sound pressure levels.

Prior to our “acoustical intervention”, members of the IHCD team were skeptical that the acoustical challenge could not be overcome, and that any acoustical solution might resemble that of an “ugly burlap sack”

Our solution? Shaped, free-hanging, acoustical sound-absorbers hung from the existing gypsum ceiling at varying levels to enhance the contemporary and spirited design in an area that has many acoustically reverberant surfaces. We took simple before and after decibel (db) readings, and the sound pressure levels decreased by 13 db when people were talking softly. It may not sound like a lot, but a 2-3 db reduction is like having two car engines running side by side and turning one of them off!

Though acoustics was the primary reason for the treatment, these noise absorbing systems were far from the feared “burlap sack”. Members of the IHCD staff commented on how they served as artwork. The shapes and levels complimented the suspended lighting, and even allowed some flexibility in how light was dispersed.

But the true test was during a presentation weeks later, co-hosted by the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), Ecophon, and CertainTeed. Attended by more than 60 guests from the Architectural, Design, Acoustical Engineering, and Interior Design Communities, the presentation by European speakers discussed how acoustics impact people based on research from around the world.

After the presentation, the guests mingled, chatted and relaxed. The most interesting part is that everyone congregated in the area that received the acoustical treatment, while the other areas in the facility were empty. To me, this demonstrates a good acoustical experience… nobody knows why they feel more comfortable in a space, but they naturally communicate better in it.