Building Acoustics: How to Design Healthier Buildings

What is building acoustics? Today, you learn all about building acoustics and how acoustic design can help in the development of better-performing buildings. Acoustics have an impact on the building as a whole and in turn, human comfort levels.

For example, ever had a night when you couldn’t sleep because of the neighbors, street noise or a loud AC? Or you’re trying to get some work done in your office… Only to be repetitively interrupted by what’s happening around you? Not only is this annoying (and your sleep and focus suffer), it’s also damaging to your health, productivity, and wellbeing.

Want to learn more? Read on to learn all about the importance of acoustics in building design.

Why is building acoustics important?

Building acoustics is the science of controlling sound in buildings. With acoustics services, sound is controlled within specific spaces and noise transmission from one space to the other is minimized. This can be achieved with materials, design and acoustic techniques.

Why is building acoustics so important? The impact of noise on health and wellbeing is often disregarded because it can’t be felt in the same way as, say, water and air pollution.

But acoustics can have a huge impact on health, wellbeing, and productivity. In fact, noise pollution is, together with air pollution and water pollution, the most serious environmental pollution that affects human health. Noise pollution is an annoying and harmful level of noise.

For this reason, acoustic design is a crucial part of the design, construction, and operation of most buildings.

What are the benefits of building acoustics?

What types of benefits does the optimization of building acoustics have? Good question. Here are the main benefits of improved building acoustics.

Health, wellbeing, and comfort

First, the acoustics in buildings is one of the key considerations of the impact that a building has on building occupants’ health, wellbeing, and comfort.

Studies show that noise has a major impact on sleep. In fact, noise levels can make our sleeping brains behave as if they are awake.

Plus, noise also impacts our health more generally. Noise is the number one cause of hearing loss. Noise leads to mental health problems such as anxiety and mental fatigue and serious health problems. High blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stress, and migraines are just a few such health issues.

It’s clear that with better acoustics, buildings can be made healthier and that way, more valuable for building occupants, investors, and owners.

Building occupancy levels and sales prices

Noise levels don’t directly affect occupancy levels or sales or lease prices. There might be other considerations (such as location) that outweigh noise disturbances.

At the same time, building acoustics have a big impact on health and wellbeing and buildings with optimized acoustics are high-performing buildings. That way, there can be some correlation between occupancy levels, sales prices, and acoustics.

For office buildings and buildings that depend on good acoustics, such as theaters and concert halls, acoustical considerations are all the more important.

Productivity

How do acoustics then affect productivity? If acoustics aren’t taken into account, a well-designed workspace can fail to achieve its purpose of being a productive and collaborative space.

For example, bad acoustics can make us distracted and require a lot of our brain capacity. In fact, if someone overhears a conversation at work, the listener will instinctively process the conversation. And with the brain already focusing on one conversation, this employee won’t be able to fully focus on the task in front of them.

A study by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) shows that 70% of office workers feel that noise affects their productivity. Plus, noise increases absenteeism and illnesses and makes people less helpful and more frustrated.

With this in mind, optimized acoustics can account for huge cost-savings and create a lot of value for companies.

How does building acoustics work?

You understand the benefits of building acoustics. But how is building acoustics optimized?

In short, noise can be both airborne and structure-borne. A building’s acoustics are influenced by the volume and geometry of that space. Besides this, sound absorption, transmission and reflection characteristics of surfaces that are positioned within and enclose that space impact acoustics.

Plus, other factors are materials that separate the space, generation of sound inside and outside the space, airborne sound transmission and impact noise.

For example, some of the main culprits in most offices are:

  • Noisy HVAC systems.
  • Improper partitioning of areas.
  • Lousy acoustic insulation.
  • Improper acoustic design.

But thanks to acoustical engineering, noise can be controlled. There are several different strategies, including:

  • Full Building Commissioning. Building commissioning is a crucial part of making sure that building acoustics are optimized in the right way. A properly commissioned building will significantly reduce the risks of noise pollution.
  • Testing and measuring sound levels. On-site testing and measuring can be done both at the planning and construction phase and the operational phase to make better design choices and fix shortcomings.
  • Modeling and simulations. High-tech computer models help in estimating how your building will work acoustically. This helps you make better decisions about how to optimize your building’s acoustics.
  • Sound isolation. Sound isolation is one of the most important considerations for a building and it helps you get rid of unwanted noise that is transmitted through adjoining buildings, walls, floors, and ceilings.
  • Monitoring environmental noise. With short and long-term noise monitoring equipment, the impact of noise can be measured and evaluated. Future noise levels can also be modeled and predicted.
  • Equipment noise reduction. Mechanical and electrical systems might be causing unwanted noise. For this, engineering techniques can be used to reduce the noise and vibration from your building’s equipment.
  • Room acoustics. If your space is a theatre, cinema, restaurant or classroom (in short, space where music and speech will be transmitted), balancing sound quality and acoustics is an important consideration.
  • WELL Certification. The WELL certification focuses on human health and wellness, including acoustics. Read more about how we used WELL to improve our noise levels at Alpin’s Masdar City headquarters.

Plus, besides planning and design measures, acoustical soundproofing and barrier construction can be used as more rigorous measures to improve building acoustics.

Building acoustics for different types of buildings

Different buildings have different acoustical needs. Here below are the main considerations for various building types.

Acoustics in residential buildings and hotels

Hotels and residential buildings rely on good acoustics for hotel bookings and high building occupancy levels. After all, health, sleep, and comfort are key considerations for hotel and residential building occupants.

In fact, buildings in areas with less noise have been shown to be more valuable than similar buildings in more noisy areas. Acoustics can improve residential buildings in areas with a lot of noise and that way, affect pricing.

Noise is also one of the biggest causes of complaints at hotels. Hotel acoustics affect guests’ comfort levels and impact hotel bookings. While soundproofing makes it more expensive to develop a hotel, this cost can easily pay itself back thanks to customer retention and more bookings.

Acoustics in office spaces

Office spaces need to be built to help office workers keep productive. Comfortable and healthy buildings, which are built for better communication, are ideal as offices. And acoustics play a big part in all of it.

As we’ve seen, poor acoustics can impact productivity, staff retention, and healthcare costs. Sound privacy is another consideration. All in all, you are 66% less productive if you hear other people talk while you’re writing or reading. On the other hand, if sound-masking technology is used, employees are 46% better at concentrating and their short-term memory increases by 10%.

What does this show? Improving office space acoustics can have a major impact on your bottom line.

Acoustics in schools and medical facilities

Public schools and medical facilities depend on comfortable and healthy buildings.

In fact, poor acoustics in schools can negatively affect students by causing cognitive fatigue, increased anxiety, and poorer learning outcomes. In medical facilities, noise levels can impact patient comfort and slow down recovery. Plus, acoustic quality is important from a privacy perspective. Bad acoustics can jeopardize patient privacy.

Acoustics in buildings with specific acoustic requirements

Many buildings have specific acoustic requirements because of their intended use. For example, concert halls, conference spaces, recording studios, and cinemas depend on good building acoustics to function properly.

In these types of buildings, acoustics will directly impact the value of the building and their commercial potential (for example, concert ticket sales).

Want to know more?

There you have it. Now you know why building acoustics are an important part of building design, construction, and operations and how acoustic design can optimize buildings.

Want to learn more? Read all about how we help your project achieve the best acoustics with our advisory architectural acoustics services and construction acoustics testing services.