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The three most common acoustical issues in your office and how to solve them

“I’m Sorry, Can You Repeat That?”- Claudia Wiggins, Business Development Executive

The three most common acoustical issues in your office and how to solve them

One of the major issues our clients commonly run into are acoustical challenges within their office space.  If you find yourself questioning the acoustics in your own space, consider the following statements:

1) “I can hear every word my coworkers in my department are saying”

Most likely, this is due to you working in an open office environment.  This a natural side effect of bringing down the panel walls between workstations to use the existing space more efficiently with smaller workstations.  Thankfully, there is still a lot that you can do about it:

  • Solution 1: The Living Office – Make sure that you create spaces for your employees in which they can extract themselves from the open office, and shut the doors behind them for privacy for at least 1-2 hours per day. Supporting collaboration and pushing teamwork is great and can increase productivity drastically – but only if your employees have the ability to move to a quiet room once in a while.  It is all about creating choices for your employees and letting them work where and how they work best.

With our strategic partner, Herman Miller, we apply the Living Office Strategy to our design process.

  • Solution 2: Sound Masking -Speakers above or below the ceiling grid create a so-called “white noise.”  This sounds almost like the muffling of your HVAC vents blowing air, but it is set to a specific frequency to mask the human voice.  It creates noise that is not distracting to the human brain.  For example, you can hear that your co-workers are talking 10 feet away, but you can’t hear their exact words.  In result, your brain is relieved from the strain of listening in.

2) “We can’t hold a confidential meeting in certain conference rooms because employees outside of the room can hear what is being discussed.”

  • Solution 1: Muraflex Glass Walls – There are many vendors on the market, but not all provide high-quality systems without gaps that let sound travel through.  In our office, we have different systems of Muraflex glass walls installed.  After having used many different systems in the past, we can confidently say that they are by far the best on the market when it comes to functionality, ease of install and acoustical value.

  • Solution 2: Acoustical Wall Fill –Most commercial buildings have the ceiling grid below the actual deck above the ceiling.  This is a common way of creating pathways for cabling, HVAC ducts, and plumbing above the ceiling.  Walls that have been installed after the original shell of the building have been built will only reach a few inches above the ceiling grid, which means that sounds travel easily through the acoustical ceiling tile and over the wall into the next room.  To avoid this, you can have a contractor extend those walls to the deck, or add some acoustical wall fill insulation 4 feet out on each side of those walls.

Sound is able to easily travel through doors, above walls, and even through glass walls that are not acoustically sealed.  Adding a second layer of drywall or using additional soundproofing glues will increase the Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating of your walls.  For gaps between the door and the floor, there are soundproofing door kits available, which tightly seal the gaps once the door is closed.

3) “It is uncomfortably loud in here, as I can hear the echo of someone walking in heels through the hallway.”

  • Solution 1: Add Accessories –This sound issue is created by the reverberation of sounds and can be improved by adding soft surfaces like lounge furniture, acoustical window treatments, acoustical artwork or accessories.  When renovating your space, make sure to use acoustical ceiling tiles or acoustical ceiling clouds in an open ceiling environment.  Using carpet tile instead of hard surfaces also helps tremendously.  Even adding a wall finish like BuzziSkin from BuzziSpace can increase the Noise Reduction Rating of a room immensely after a build out.

When choosing sound absorption products, make sure to check the NRC rating. An NRC rating of 1.0 absorbs 100% of the sounds directed to the product.  To put this into perspective, drywall with a layer of paint has an NRC rating of 0.3.  Acoustical ceiling tiles provide an NRC rating of up to 0.9.


About Claudia

Claudia Wiggins is a Business Development Executive for BSI, an innovator in commercial interiors.  Claudia has over seven years of experience assisting clients in creating productive and collaborative workspaces. She is resourceful in providing interior solutions that meet the needs of her clients and their associates.

At BSI, our passion is creating workplace solutions that integrate design, craftsmanship, furniture and technology.  Ask us how we can help you reinvent the way you work.

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