The sound is essential to the experience of the room. Unwanted sound has a steep cost in impression, well-being, and productivity. Now, more than ever, we are getting calls on ways to soundproof an office and get rid of unwanted sounds. When considering soundproofing, we need to determine what type of soundproofing is needed – whether we want to eliminate noise from intruding or escaping from a room, such as with a conference room or study area, or if we want to eliminate unwanted noise, such as in a auditorium or open office.
When an environment is too loud, there is a detrimental effect on productivity. For example, according to one study, a noisy office space inhibits productivity by 66%.
Not only does productivity suffer, but excessive noise harms your staff’s employee satisfaction and health as well. For example, a German study found that prolonged exposure to noise levels at the equivalent of a classroom or open office floor plan (65 decibels) can increase someone’s heart rate to heart-attack levels.
You can’t soundproof to eliminate all the noise in an environment, but you can dampen it to healthier levels in various ways.
Often overlooked, another reason to soundproof an office space is how it affects other people’s impressions. For example, suppose you host clients or are trying to attract talent; when they visit, your company should greet them with a professional hum around the office, not a raucous racket rivaling a trading floor.
After over a year of working from home, one surprise employees are experiencing is that the office is noisy! Of course, part of the noise comes from many people in a space when we have become accustomed to just ourselves (and perhaps a pet).
Some of our coworkers have forgotten how to converse when others are in the room or may have never known just how loud they speak on the phone or during a Zoom call.
But there are also new noise ramifications from the new workspace; these adaptive neighborhoods that are open for collaboration. It’s the worst of two worlds – Open spaces where sound can travel and echo, and people gathering to socialize, talk and present as a group.
Space determines sound. Sound is a wave, similar to a water wave, and the size, shape, construction, obstructions, and inhabitants in a room can affect or ‘sculpt’ that sound wave. As designers, we can visualize and predict how sound is likely to behave in our environment. Sound waves travel through air, liquids, and solids, although transitioning from one medium to another causes the sound wave to lose energy. This is why sounds lose their “loudness” when they transition through different mediums, such as from the air then through a door, as their energy is lessened when changing mediums.
When we add several different materials together, sound waves loose the majority of their energy transitioning through each layer – this is the heart of sound proofing a room so that noise from the outside can’t get in, and sound from inside cannot get out.
When there are cracks or openings between materials, such as through gaps in electric plates, masonry, windows, and door cracks, sound can travel through the same medium – air – and not lose any energy. Closing those gaps can immediately make an audible difference from room to room.
Sound-proofing creates barriers and enclosures to completely stop sound from moving from the outside of the area to the inside. Sound-proofing occurs when we carefully seal off a room to prevent a specific range of frequencies and pressures. Soundproof planning determines the materials and methods that are needed to eliminate unwanted sounds and how these materials are to be added to the space. Sound elimination can be costly depending on the level of elimination required, so it is used typically for conference rooms, executive offices, and other confidential spaces where listening is essential and sensitive conversations occur.
Sound waves also reverberate, bouncing off of surfaces and creating echoes that are confusing and distort the understanding in our mind. This is the unwanted noise in a room. There are several ways to suppress or deflect the reflected sound wave.
Definition: Our ears and brains convert sound waves into sounds depending on the frequency and amplitude, or pressure, of the wave. Sound frequency is measured in hertz and determines the pitch we hear. Sound pressure is measured in decibels and is a measure of intensity, or the height of the wave, equaling loudness. The energy of the sound wave determines the amplitude of the wave.
“SoundScaping” is similar to landscaping – creating an experience that is appropriate to the space – but with sound. In essence, SoundScaping preserves desired sounds and suppresses unwanted sounds. Sounds have a range of acceptance depending on the context. For example, the noise of a bar at happy hour would be unacceptable in your home. Alternatively, even with the activity of a coffee shop, we are still able to focus and converse. Effective SoundScaping uses suppression, masking, diffusion and some elimination tools to design and deliver the desired sound experience.
Sound suppression focuses on absorbing sound waves in spaces where quiet is most needed. Porous materials are very efficient at stopping sound waves from bouncing back into a room by absorbing the sound wave into the absorptive area of the material. As porous materials are a combination of solids and air, the sound wave expends a considerable amount of energy transferring from one medium to another and back again, in a short distance. The strength and number of sound waves absorbed depends on the material type, thickness, porosity, and surface area. One way to suppress noise in an office is to install porous materials on ceilings, walls, floors, or part of the furniture and features inside the room. To stop reverberation efficiently, add multiple sound-absorbing materials. Where possible, focus on perpendicular surfaces to collect sound waves with special attention on corners and hallways that produce numerous echoes.
When sound waves are redirected or reflected in many directions, echoes can be eliminated as the waves interfere and counteract with each other, improving the overall sound experience. Textured materials with sharp angles will redirect soundwaves away from the listeners’ area.
Sometimes adding more sound to a space can distract the brain from distant noise echoes and help it remain focus on closer conversations or tasks. Sound masking typically occurs through “White Noise” generators, background music, or features like waterfalls or fountains. The sound waves of the white noise can also overcome the reverberating echoes, eliminating many of the unwanted sound waves.
As hybrid floor plans arise in office configurations, experts point to the increased collaboration and relationship-building levels they encourage. Additionally, they also potentially reduce construction costs. But these open areas, where people congregate to collaborate, also increase sound waves’ number and pressure. Fortunately, the above steps will minimize the effect of that noise. Soundproofing materials have evolved, so there are more choices of size, shape, color and texture than ever to reduce office noise.
Acoustic Panels and Tiles: For open office plans where sound can bounce around and seem to magnify, Acoustic panels are great. Not only do they absorb sound like a sponge, but they also diffuse the reverberating sound waves.
They easily mount on a wall, like artwork, or suspend from the ceiling. Since they come in almost any shape, size, or design configuration, they’re often considered functional art.
White Noise Generators: a form of ambient noise that has the same frequency as human speech. So it’s kind of like camouflage for sound.
Noise Reducing Paint: While Soundproof paint is relatively new, it’s an effective and affordable way to reduce sound traveling between offices. Soundproofing paint is an easy and non-invasive solution for increasing a shared office wall’s STC (Sound Transmission Class) rating. STC references how effectively materials attenuate airborne sound. Materials have different STC ranges, and the higher the number, the more noise is blocked.
Sound Suppressing Carpet and Upholstery: In large open spaces where sound waves tend to bounce and magnify, upholstered items like furniture and carpet absorb sound waves, making an area quieter.
If you’re building a new office, it’s helpful to look at the design, functionality, and sound requirements of the space. We recommend starting with evaluating your current business model and needs. For example, does your business rely on people being on the phone throughout most of the day? They may need separate offices or private areas for calls. When evaluating an open floor plan, consider adding sound absorbing dividers and panels to block sound travel.
Here are some other tips to soundproof your office:
Exchange materials that reflect noise waves with alternative options that absorb. For example, you could replace doors, cubicles, or dividers with materials with a higher STC rating.
Here are some quick fixes:
Excessive noise shouldn’t be one of the challenges of working in an office environment. There are numerous solutions for reducing office noise.
We offer some of the best sound-absorbing furniture, dividers, wall panels, door seals, and ceiling tiles for office noise reduction. With many options, these products provide a designer look with exceptional acoustic qualities.
Our products for soundproofing an office space vary widely and include everything from traditional acoustic panels to high-end products custom-designed and engineered to meet any need and match almost any décor. Our sound engineers can examine your space and needs and develop a comprehensive plan to provide the righ amount of sound exactly where you need it.