are now receiving more attention in today’s buildings. However, thiscomplex discipline requires an understanding o how sound is transmit-ted, acoustical properties o dierent materials and systems, and whereand when particular products and solutions make sense.
THE CRUCIAL ROLE OF CEILING SYSTEMS
While all interior suraces actor into the resulting acoustical peror-mance in a particular space, ceiling system design plays a most signifcantrole. With its large, exposed surace 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 orconerence rooms, or where reverberant noise buildup needs to becontrolled—in atriums or caeterias, or example—sound absorption isthe goal. In such cases, products with a high noise reduction coefcient(NRC) o more than 0.5 on the NRC scale o 0.0 to 1.0 are recommend-ed. (The higher the NRC coefcient, the greater the noise reduction.)Popular options include fberglass ceiling tiles, which rank high ataround 0.90, and mineral fber tiles, which oer NRC values in therange o 0.70, according to Ryan Bessey, PEng, an acoustical engineerin Stantec’s (www.stantec.com) Toronto ofce. 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 oten seeking materials toprovide smooth and monolithic suraces 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 surace-applied products that might satisy 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 surace-applied solutions is the price, whichoten 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 perorated 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 baes also do a creditable job o sound absorption inthat both the ront and back suraces are exposed, absorbing noise. Many Building Teams also appreciate the aesthetic value that vertical baescan 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 speciy 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 perormance isnormally sufcient 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
AUGUST 2011 BUILDING DESIGN+CONSTRUCTION
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.
AIA/CES DISCOVERY COURSE