When planning a room – or even a whole new building – most people focus on what it will look like when completed. What is often forgotten is what it’s going to SOUND like!
But when the project is complete and the space is occupied, the acoustic experience can become very important if it is not a good one. And after completion is often the worst time to address the acoustics. Solutions at this stage are more expensive and unplanned treatments can interfere with the original design intentions.
Designers, architects, contractors and even the layperson, can create acoustically effective spaces, with a bit of forethought.
The best time to think about the acoustics of a space is at the planning stage. That’s when you can ensure the most appropriate construction methods, surface materials and layout, and avoid costly re-fits afterward. Consider the following:
#1: How will the room be USED?
A corporate meeting room, a home theatre and a restaurant, for example, have very different acoustic requirements. The meeting room is all about the spoken word: people will be having converstions and they will want to talk and hear with clarity and comfort. A home theatre may be designed with more built-in resonance to enhance the quality of the audio in expensive entertainment systems. And a restaurant needs to be both lively and functional – have that “buzz factor” while at the same time allowing dinner conversation and clear communication with wait staff.
The intended use of a room has significant implications for its acoustic requirements.
#2: What’s OUTSIDE the room?
Is there need to soundproof the space from activities happening elsewhere? Noise entering a room from the street or from adjacent spaces is a very common complaint. Whether it’s the neighbours in the condo building or the guy in the next office or the traffic in the street … it’s intrusive!
If you need to block external noise, you must plan for this in construction. Specific soundproof architectural products such as doors, windows and drywall are available and building materials and techniques can be employed to help with sound insulation (soundproofing).
#3: What are the dimensions and shape?
Sound waves travel in a space until they hit a solid object; then they either bounce or are absorbed. (If allowed to travel far enough, sound waves will eventually dissipate, but at distances greater than found in built environments.) The shape of the room and the distances between opposite surfaces – floor and ceiling or facing walls – will determine the direction and speed of the sound reverberation. You can easily hear this in the difference in sound in a high ceilinged room vs a low ceilinged one.
The good news here is that almost any shape and size room can be made acoustically effective with sound absorptive material applied in appropriate quantity and position. And this isn’t hard to do, when it’s part of the planning stage.
#4: What SURFACE MATERIALS will you be using?
Have you noticed that restaurants have gotten noisier? At the same time as we’ve moved away from the carpets, drapes and lush upholstered seating of years ago, to today’s restaurant design trends of lots of hard surfaces, including wood, glass concrete and metal? Yup, there’s a correlation.
Hard surfaces will bounce more sound and make a room noisier. If your visual preference is for tile, drywall and other non-absorbent surfaces, you may end up with an acoustically disastrous room.
Consider opportunities to use acoustic ceiling materials, carpet on the floor, or acoustic panels on the walls and/or ceiling. And you won’t need to compromise on the esthetics! Designers and manufacturers are creating acoustic products that look great, are easy to install, and will enhance your space visually as well as acoustically.
With a bit of forethought, a room can be as functional and comfortable as it is beautiful. The time to think about the acoustics is in the early planning, so that the design, materials and construction can enhance the end result.
Have a design project in mind? Contact us with your planning questions!