Although acoustics aren't at the top of the list of most design project plans or decor considerations, we all immediately - and unhappily - know when we're in a room that's too noisy. It could be an office where unwanted sound is literally undermining concentration and memory, and distracting from the work to be done. Or a restaurant that's just too loud for conversation - too many otherwise-great spots serve too much din with the dinner! Could be a home theatre where the expensive AV equipment isn't giving the promised quality of sound. In any of these situations and many more, acoustic panels may provide results -- and relief!
So, how do you know if a room will benefit from acoustic panels (or other acoustic treatment)? Easy - just run through this list of considerations!
Assess the noise
If you're working with an existing space, it's often a simple matter to answer the question: is the sound level inside the room conducive to its intended use and the comfort of the people using it? Is there enough sound for the space to feel "alive"? Or is there so much that the "sound" becomes "noise"? The occupants themselves will not hesitate to tell you the answer!
Even at the planning stage of a new project or renovation, it is fairly easy to forecast the general acoustic impact of the design choices being made. The sound absorption qualities of the planned surface materials can be easily assessed for how they will support the room's intended use.
Consider the impacts of the noise
Often acoustic treatments are thought of as "nice-to-do" or "add-on options". Interior designers have told us acoustics are often one of the first items their clients will cut to reduce a project budget.
However, noise levels are MUCH more than a matter of personal preference. Health and well-being, productivity and - in the case of business - profitability, are all affected by noise. Many studies have proven that extensive and/or excessive exposure to noise impacts us physically and in our ability to perform mental tasks. Less scientifically, our personal experience generally confirms the finding, "noise makes us cranky". And cranky people are not delivering their best, at work or at play!
The International Well Building Institute has just published a set of bulding standards to maintain and enhance occupant health and wellness. Their report deails how poor acoustics impact our cardiovascular, endocrine and nervous systems!
Good acoustics can be critical to the purpose of and the people in a space. These things are definitely worth a budget allocation.
Consider your options for reducing noise
If you recognize that a room is noisy due to reverberation of the sound created inside it, you may have several options. (If the noise problem is originating outside the room, the issue is soundproofing, not the topic of this post.)
Architectural and decorative surface materials all either reflect or absorb sound to some degree, measured and expressed as their "noise reduction coefficient" or NRC. The NRC for hard surfaces such as drywall, brick, glass, concrete and metal can be as low as zero! These surfaces reflect almost all of the sound waves that reach them, creating a lot of reverberation (i.e., noise!) in a room. The NRC for carpets, lush or plentiful fabrics such as drapes or tablecloths is somewhat higher: they will absorb some sound, and may be a decorating option that will help.
The highest - and best - NRC is obtained in specialized acoustic products. At the construction stage, many projects may be able to incorporate acoustic ceiling tiles or specific flooring materials. But these aren't appropriate for all types of spaces. And for retrofits, it's often too late.
This brings us (finally!) to acoustic panels. Acoustic panels - and the related category of acoustic baffles - have extremely high NRC. They can absorb sound to a degree 50 times or more than the rate of most common hard surfaces. (Look for a future post for details on this!) Acoustic panels can be incorporated into original plans and designs and/or added to a finished space. They can be mounted or suspended from ceilings and/or walls. The look can be customized with thousands of potential fabric wraps. And increasingly, they are being offered in more shapes and styles, or with fabrication features that can add much to the visual esthetic of a room.
Acoustic panels can provide the "ahhh" of comfort that makes a room comfortable, beautiful and functional - great to use and enjoy.
Acoustic panels offer many benefits as a component, complement or correction in a design or finished room. Good room acoustics will enhance the space and the users' experience in it. And good acoustics is more than simply preference, impacting people's health and well-being. For commercial premises, acoustics can impact a business' bottom line, enhancing employee productivity and helping attract and retain customers to a comfortable environment.
Acoustics With Design is a Canadian distributor focused on bringing beautiful products to the Canadian acoustics market. This is the first of a series of posts on the subject of acoustic panels, that will address when, where and how acoustic panels can enhance built environments and user experiences.
If you have a project or a problem with a noisy room, let us know. If you have a story about how a noisy room has affected you, we'd love to hear! Share, in the comments section below.