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Enhanced Acoustical Design

Enhanced Acoustical Design

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Published by An Huynh
Extracted from Building Design + Construction, August 2011. For educational/personal use only. Also available for download at http://http://www.bdcnetwork.com/
Extracted from Building Design + Construction, August 2011. For educational/personal use only. Also available for download at http://http://www.bdcnetwork.com/

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Published by: An Huynh on Nov 05, 2011
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mbient noise levels in some facility types are trending up and becoming abarrier to clear communication between building occupants. A 2005 study conducted by Ilene Busch-Vishniac, PhD, a dean and professor of mechanicalengineering at John Hopkins University, Baltimore, discovered that sound pressurelevels in hospitals have risen an average of 0.40 decibels per year since 1960. In fact,the volume of noise transmission has increased so much that average sound levelsat Johns Hopkins Hospital, as measured through Busch-Vishniac’s research (http:// www.aip.org/asa_laypapers2011/Mahapatra.html), had exceeded the 45 dB(A) to 50dB(A) range that is the volume at which normal conversation takes place. Another study, this one conducted by University of Kansas researchers in 2000,found that the average speech intelligibility rating in U.S. classrooms was 75% or less. That means that a quarter of what those students were meant to hear actually wentunheard. It is likely that such conditions are prevalent in many schools.Fortunately, good acoustics as a component of indoor environmental quality (IEQ)
By C.C. Sullivan and Barbara Horwitz-Bennett
After reading this article, you should be able to:
Understand issues of acoustical performance, howsound is transmitted, and best practices in acousticdesign for enhanced occupant/user health and wel-fare and indoor environmental quality.
Describe strategies for reducing decibel levels andunwanted noise, absorbing and isolating sound, andcontributing to whole building sustainability.
Illustrate conflicts between acoustic and sustainabledesign strategies and how they can be resolved.
Compare products and materials used for acousti-cal performance and their contribution to occupanthealth and welfare and indoor environmental quality.
Learning Objectives
A combination of fiberglass tiles and asuspended metal cloud provides bothgood acoustics and a pleasant aestheticfor this pavilion at the University ofUtah Hospital in Salt Lake City.
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are now receiving more attention in today’s buildings. However, thiscomplex discipline requires an understanding o how sound is transmit-ted, acoustical properties o dierent materials and systems, and whereand when particular products and solutions make sense.
 While all interior suraces actor into the resulting acoustical peror-mance in a particular space, ceiling system design plays a most signifcantrole. With its large, exposed surace area, the ceiling will usually eitherabsorb or isolate sound, although sometimes it is expected to do both. When speech intelligibility is a priority, such as in classrooms orconerence rooms, or where reverberant noise buildup needs to becontrolled—in atriums or caeterias, or example—sound absorption isthe goal. In such cases, products with a high noise reduction coefcient(NRC) o more than 0.5 on the NRC scale o 0.0 to 1.0 are recommend-ed. (The higher the NRC coefcient, the greater the noise reduction.)Popular options include fberglass ceiling tiles, which rank high ataround 0.90, and mineral fber tiles, which oer NRC values in therange o 0.70, according to Ryan Bessey, PEng, an acoustical engineerin Stantec’s (www.stantec.com) Toronto ofce. The porous qualities o these materials are what produce such high levels o sound absorption.However, some designers have concerns about the look o ceiling tiles.“From an aesthetic perspective, designers are oten seeking materials toprovide smooth and monolithic suraces that look like drywall,” says Je-rey L. Fullerton, INCE, LEED AP, director o architectural acoustics at Acentech (www.acentech.com), Cambridge, Mass. “These days, there area number o surace-applied products that might satisy this visual objec-tive. These products consist o troweled-on fnishes that are able to beinstalled over large areas with minimal joints and architectural reveals,looking much like drywall.” The downside o these surace-applied solutions is the price, whichoten tops $25/s o installed system. As an alternative, Fullerton, whocontributed to the development o acoustical credits in the LEED 3.0Commercial Interiors rating system, recommends perorated stretchmembrane and abric products, or—at even lower cost—tiles that can besuspended individually rom the ceiling to break away rom the typicalceiling grid look. Vertically hung baes also do a creditable job o sound absorption inthat both the ront and back suraces are exposed, absorbing noise. Many Building Teams also appreciate the aesthetic value that vertical baescan bring to a project.
 Yet another sound-savvy design strategy is fully suspending the ceiling,
either via ceiling tiles or by using drywall. “By having acombination o an acoustically absorptive ceiling layer and large airgap behind, acoustic absorption occurs at lower sound requencies,or longer sound wavelengths, and across a wider range o requen-cies,” explains Chris Field, PhD, a senior associate and acoustic andtheater consulting practice leader with Arup (www.arup.com), based inSydney, N.S.W., Australia.One approach, or instance, is to use vibration isolation hangers, which use neoprene or spring components (or both) to decouple theceiling rom other building elements, according to Andrew Mitchell, aconsultant with Acoustic Dimensions (www.acousticdimensions.com) in Addison, Texas. But Field, recipient o an Australian Acoustical Society Excellence in Acoustics Award, points out that suspended ceilings cancreate acoustic “short-circuits” that transmit sounds across wall parti-tions. This being the case, it is important to speciy ull-height, slab-to-slab wall partitions to ensure speech privacy.A typical lightweight suspended ceiling, such as acoustical ceil-ing tile on a grid, can block or contain only a limited amount o noise,especially at the low requencies typical o noise rom major HVACsystems,” explains Jonathan Lally, owner o Lally Acoustical Consulting(www.lallyacoustics.com), New York, N.Y. “Although this perormance isnormally sufcient or low-volume ductwork and small HVAC terminalunits, a common mistake is to hide noisier components in the plenumabove an occupied room, as high noise levels can pass directly through a
When Sound-masking StrategiesMake Sense
While the vast majority
of acoustical design initiatives involve strate-gies to prevent the transmission of sound, there are actually timeswhen background noise is desirable. In offices or healthcare spaces,for example, when speech privacy is desired, sound-masking systemscan be effective.Sound-masking systems have traditionally been installed as net-worked speakers in the ceiling area. They are usually calibrated toput out just enough noise to reduce speech intelligibility outside offace-to-face communication, thereby masking private conversationsfrom traveling to adjacent spaces. Individual speakers can be tunedbased upon need at any particular time; in some cases, they can beadjusted via the Internet.While it has been common practice to locate sound-masking speak-ers above suspended ceilings, “These older designs generated incon-sistent sound masking levels throughout the occupied spaces due toinherent acoustical differences of the ceiling conditions, such as returngrilles, light fixtures, and the variety of ceiling tile products,” accordingto Jeffrey L. Fullerton, INCE, LEED AP, director of architectural acousticswith Acentech (www.acentech.com), Cambridge, Mass.
Today, the generally accepted approach is to install “direct field”speech privacy systems at the ceiling plane so that the ceiling sys-tem doesn’t interfere with the masking operation.
While sound masking is a great tool, it’s important to approach it asone piece of the entire puzzle. “There seems to be a misconceptionout there that installing a sound-masking system will suddenly provideall the masking and privacy that is desired,” says Justin Stout, a con-sultant with Acoustic Dimensions, Dallas. “The acoustic environmentand the sound-masking system together provide speech privacy. Onewithout the other rarely, if ever, accomplishes privacy.”Ryan Bessey, PEng, an acoustical engineer with Toronto-basedStantec, stresses the importance of proper installation and tuning.“Basically, if it’s too loud or inconsistent, it’s going to annoy people,”he says.
lightweight ceiling.”Instead, heavier, rigid materials such as thick gypsum wallboard ona steel grid, or multiple layers o gypsum board or increased mass, arecommonly used or their optimized sound isolation properties.O course, the real trick is fguring out how to design a space thatboth absorbs and isolates sound.“For example, the suspended ceiling in a hospital neonatal intensivecare may need to both absorb sound generated within the nursery andblock the noise generated by airow valves located in the ceiling void,”notes Nathan Sevener, PE, LEED AP, INCE, a principal consultant withSoundscape Engineering (www.soundscapeengineering.com), Chicago.“This generally means compromising and selecting a ceiling tile thathas a mid-level Ceiling Attenuation Class [a measure o the tile’s ability to block sound] and a mid-level noise reduction coefcient (NRC), orusing a specialty ceiling tile comprised o a high-NRC tile backed withmass-loaded vinyl or gypsum board to increase the tile’s Ceiling Attenu-ation Class.” As an alternative, Lally recommends a heavy, rigid ceiling fnished with a light, porous treatment, such as a drywall suspended ceiling withan acoustical plaster system exposed to the room.
I you boil down the ideal sound isolation design or walls to a ormula,the three main ingredients would be
mass, air space,
air tightness 
. Butstriking that balance is not easily done.For instance, concrete and concrete masonry unit (CMU) block  walls oer more mass than stud-ramed walls, but double-stud wallconstruction allows or larger cavity depths—in other words, air
Sound-absorptive panels appear as slotted timber and are backed with a mineral wool absorptive layer in the ceiling of the University of Sydney Law Faculty Building inAustralia. With their large, exposed surface area, ceilings usually absorb or isolate sound, although in some cases they are expected to do both, say acoustical experts.
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