It is imperative for our mental and physical well-being that noise is controlled in offices, education facilities, public spaces, and medical facilities. Given our ever-increasing urban lifestyle, it is critical these spaces maintain decent acoustics. Inadequate acoustics can cause health issues, reduce productivity and increase stress. This blog is to help you understand acoustics and the options available to improve the acoustics in your workspace.
Before we continue let’s discuss exactly what acoustics is, what measurements are used in measuring noise,
What is acoustics?
The properties or qualities of a room or building that determine how sound is transmitted in it.
Decibel (dB) – A decibel is a unit used to measure the intensity of a sound. Or simply, how loud something is.
For example, a whispered conversation is 20 dB, an office is 45-50 dB and a plane taking off is 120 dB.
Reverberation time (RT) – is the time it takes for sound to die away. For more information on reverberation read our blog “what is reverberation?”
Noise impacts all facets of our life. Noise impacts how we work
Fact: Not all sound is noise but all noise is sound. Noise is unwanted sound judged to be unpleasant, loud or disruptive to hearing.
Let’s see how poor acoustics can impact on offices, education facilities, public spaces, retail and medical industries.
Office Noise Control
Noise impacts productivity
- Conversations, phone calls, coughing, ringtones, snacking, whistling, tapping, slamming doors, background noise and headphone noise
- 99% of people say their concentration is impaired by office noise
- Impact on the business
- Studies show it takes workers 20 minutes to regain concentration after a distraction, causing countless ‘lost hours; in the working day week and year
For example, as I write this I am listening to typing, a squeaking chair and voices from the boardroom, all vying for my attention. This distraction may take me up to 20 minutes to regain my focus. Impacting my productivity.
If I submit to a distraction 5 times a day and it will take me 20 minutes to refocus that is 80 minutes per day of lost hours – 7 hours per week and 28 hours lost in the month. Creating an annual cost to the business of $10,000-$15,000 for just me – imagine the expense of distraction to multiple employees.
The reason why we get distracted by external stimuli is due to our fight or flight response to certain sounds. Our ancestors linked loud, distinguishable noises with high-stress events that signalled danger.
Today, we get the same fight or flight urges from office sounds such as loud conversations, ringtones, music, and snacks. Not only do these sounds contribute to fight or flight urges but people becoming distracted and frustrated while at work.
Left unchecked, these normal, day-to-day sounds can cause staff to become unhappy and productivity to decrease.
Education Noise Control
Poor acoustics has negative impacts on students and teachers. Traditionally classrooms were set up to facilitate teacher-driven learning. The teacher standing at the front of the classroom dictating the lesson through the use of slides and other visuals.
Today, with the advancement in technologies, teaching styles have changed. Supporting more collaboration, group work and complex problem solving requiring good acoustic design to promote concentration and speech communication.
Acoustically poor teaching spaces can make hearing and understanding speech very difficult for children and therefore these spaces are unsuitable for learning situations.
Students, in particular young children, require good listening conditions. The teacher’s voice needs to be loud and clear above the background noise which may include traffic, other school-related activities or general classroom noise. Teachers in class should be able to use a teaching voice, free from vocal stress to minimise long term strain and damage.
Insufficient acoustics can lead to disengagement from learning by students and damage to a teachers voice leading to sick leave.
Public Spaces Noise Control
Think back to the last time you were at a restaurant, was it busy? Or were there only a few people in the space? If there were only a few people present and you were having to raise your voice to speak to your wait staff poor acoustics were present. Ordinary acoustics can impact the way we taste our food – science proves that significant levels of background noise reduce a person’s ability to detect sweet and salty foods!
Have you ever left a restaurant early because of noise? 80% of participants in a recent poll said they have left a restaurant early due to noise levels. 43% said they prefer takeaway to the din of a restaurant. While many of us accept this din as the new norm we still expect respect – to have the ability to converse easily and enjoy ourselves when in a public space!
Public spaces require acoustic treatments that restore a neutral sound balance. That is, interfering with the path of sound to control the sound energy. Restoring the neutral sound balance will make for more pleasant user experience and potentially increase visitors to a restaurant, library, sporting facility or recreation centre.
Retail Noise Control
In recent years, there has been exponential growth in the use of open floor plans, bare walls, an abundance of glass and minimalist design. While these spaces may be visually appealing, they do not facilitate good acoustics. A space that is too noisy can seem hostile, unsafe, overcrowded and uncomfortable, and create a stressful experience for the shopper.
Research shows many people judge a store by its noise and some avoid a store or leave before they progress too fair inside the doorway.
Studies show that by altering a retail space to make it acoustically comfortable, can increase sales by 3-10%. This can be done through the installation of acoustic wall or ceiling coverings, along with the addition of carpeted floors and soft furnishings. The application of acoustic panels does not have to impact the aesthetics of your shop, in fact, Avenue Interior System can colour match the panels to your shops colour scheme or you can choose images to be printed directly on the panel to make it a feature.
Medical Noise Control
Hospitals, Doctors offices, Nursing homes and Aged care facilities that lack acoustics can have detrimental impacts on staff and patients.
Noisy hospitals do not solely impact patients; too much noise can result in an adverse effect on the team. Due to the noise, hospital staff
- Can develop an annoyance response (irritation due to noise)
- Need to exert more energy causing more fatigue
- Have increased stress levels
Good acoustics in the medical industry is crucial. Part of the trust between the patient care team (PCT) and patient involves assurance that the conversations held in the examination room are private. If by chance you heard a previous patients concerns while waiting for your appointment, you are less likely to confide in your Doctor leading to potential misdiagnosis and taking longer to return to good health.
If communications with the PCT is audible outside the examination room, this can be a breach of privacy, and the Doctor can be liable.
Supporting safety, health, healing and welling being with excellent acoustics will reduce medical errors by promoting open conversation among patients, families and the PCT. Good acoustics give the perception of privacy, comfort, safety and security for patients and their families, whereas poor acoustics has the opposite effect and increases chances of readmission to care facilities and misdiagnosis.
Nursing Home Noise Control
Patients in a Nursing Home suffering from dementia who are exposed to poor acoustics and high noise levels will act out as the
excess noise causes confusion and agitation. It is essential that nursing homes and hospitals maintain appropriate noise levels for people living with dementia. Excess noise in care facilities can cause patients to wander, fall or develop behaviour problems such as anxiety and agitation.
The benefits of a quiet environment for people with dementia are:
- They will respond more – they will have more time to process information and require less effort to concentrate
- Appropriate sound levels can improve communication as the person can focus on one interaction
- A quiet environment can minimise confusion and help patients to concentrate and rest
- More peaceful spaces achieve more dignified care for people suffering from dementia
How to fix poor acoustics?
- Stop or remove noise
- A really simple way to improve the acoustic comfort of any space is to cover 25% of the available wall space with a class A absorbent material
- Acoustic wall panels, carpets and ceiling tiles soak up excess sound
- Solid barriers, partitions and walls help to stop the sound
- Sound masking helps to cover up or ‘soothe’ the sound
- Sound insulation is concerned with slowing or stopping sound waves by physically blocking their travel from one room to another
- Success in achieving effective sound insulation or attenuation – in the workspace is reliant on the usage of the space, the building structure, the type of ceilings and partitions and attention to detail
Engaging an acoustic Engineer such as AcousTech will provide you with the information you need to design an acoustically sound space. The acoustic engineer will work with an acoustic provider such as Avenue Interior Systems to deliver you an outstanding result.
- Some of the data gathering methods they may utilise include:
- Acoustic measurements of equivalent continuous sound level and daily exposure levels
- Acoustic modelling of your building and processes using CadnaA state of the art acoustic predictor software
- Measurements of sound reverberation time inside buildings
- Sound measurements
- Noise surveys: different acoustic descriptors will be used (LAEq, LA90, daily exposure, frequency spectrum, airborne or impact noise testing, reverberation time calculation, etc.)
- Modelling: spreadsheet or 3D computer-based
- Assessment: Industrial impact noise, noise reduction
- Reporting including noise mappings and management plans
- Acoustic commissioning, testing and certification
Good acoustics improve the health and attitudes of people frequenting/living in a space. In-office spaces and retail environments, it can even increase profits by improving staff productivity and increase the number of people visiting a store.
Remember: We can manage sound before it becomes noise!