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Acoustical design is an element in an overall green design, and acoustic properties of tiles are an important piece in controlling noise in a building — one element of indoor environmental quality. But green interior designs can sometimes create additional problems for acoustical engineers as they try to control sound.
The problem comes when ceilings are eliminated in favor of an open-plenum approach. While that strategy does reduce the use of materials, it also introduces acoustical problems.
In the ABC equation for improving acoustics — absorb sound, block sound, and cover sound — ceiling tiles play the largest role in absorbing sound, explains Niklas Moeller, vice president of K.R. Moeller Associates.
Moeller notes that studies show that acoustics in open-plenum buildings "are not great," and that while people prefer a green design, they complain about the noise factor. Building owners and operators often fail to realize that they need all three pieces of the ABC equation instead of just one or two. For example, sound masking does not help with sound absorption.
Green design isn't the only reason that office spaces are more acoustically challenging than in the past. Design strategies like lower partitions between workers, less space between workers and open work areas with conference tables, in addition to the elimination of the ceiling, all create a more noisy work environment.
A ceiling also plays a role in hiding speakers and wires. If there is no ceiling, the appearance of sound masking speakers and electronic components becomes a consideration.
Ceiling companies have developed products to help absorb sound in open-plenum offices. These products, which are available in a variety of shapes, may be suspended ceiling products designed to be installed over parts of a space or may be mounted directly on the deck.