Better acoustics in the office More communication – less noise
Magazine Contact #15
Noise is something different for each individual, and sensitivity to noise depends a lot on the condition of a particular day. Generally speaking, however, the following applies: noise is what we don’t want to hear. For example, hearing the Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky at 67 decibel may be pure listening pleasure, whereas 67 decibel of street noise may be extremely unnerving.
Noise may have some serious psychological and physiological effects. Permanent exposure leads to irritation, strain, fear, and nervousness. If such psychological strain becomes permanent, it will have physical consequences. Blood pressure as well as the number of stress hormones will rise. Breathing and heart rhythm will change, digestion will suffer.
To increase the quality of living in the office, some sound-related measures have to be taken. In this context, there are some seemingly contradictory objectives: on the one hand, communication in the office should be encouraged, while, on the other hand, noise should be abated. By means of well planned room zoning, the use of sound-effective partitions and the choice of the right materials for floors, walls, and ceilings, a lot can be done to minimize noise exposure in offices.
Technically speaking, the maximum admissible noise level in a room as specified in standards is easy to determine: where mostly brain work is done, the sound level should be between 35 and 45 decibel - and it should never exceed 55 decibel. The necessary degree of acoustic privacy strongly depends on the assignment of the respective employee. While a project group needs a very open ambience affording flexible communication facilities, absolute confidence must be ensured in the area of personnel management. Therefore, different stages of retreat facilities have to be provided for in modern organizations.
Basically, an office cannot be “overdamped”. However, some people feel very uncomfortable when it is extremely quiet with no other persons in the room. They are used to basic noise generated by technical devices, phone calls, etc. For such cases the so-called “sound-masking” was created, a technique trying to equalize the constantly varying noise level of an office ambience as far as possible, thus enhancing the acoustic well-being of the employees. Both too much and too little noise is concealed by a deliberately applied digital background noise.
That’s how you minimize noise:
- Create an acoustic ambience that is as uniform as possible
- Provide for noise abatement: by installing acoustic ceilings, wall-to-wall carpet, acoustically effective partitions and facilities (curtains, furniture, etc.)
- Provide for sound absorption: absorbing partitions, absorbing ceilings, etc. (reverberation time should never be more than 1 second, values around 0.5 seconds are optimal)