Acoustics Driving the Ceiling and Sound Masking Field
If there's one contemporary development that stands out with ceiling and sound masking products, it is the variety, capability, and complexity of what facility managers can now put into their ceilings. Making the decision may involve considering everything from environmental factors to aesthetics to energy efficiency. But it is acoustics that is driving the field, with the biggest impact on occupant productivity.
When done well, says Nathan Baxter, associate marketing manager for Armstrong World Industries, ceilings produce acoustics that help foster good conversations and productivity in offices, good learning areas in schools where students can hear their teachers, and speech privacy in healthcare environments.
One indication of how important acoustics is to occupants comes from surveys about green buildings. "If you look at some of the studies done on occupant satisfaction," says Niklas Moeller, vice president of K.R. Moeller Associates, "you'll see that while occupants tend to like almost everything about green building designs, acoustics is not one of them. That's predominantly to do with distraction — from people that are around you, phone calls, conversations."
Some green spaces, he notes, remove the ceiling — thereby removing sound absorption. Lower partitions allow daylighting, sight lines, and reduced use of materials — but acoustically impact occupants who no longer have substantial physical separations. Alternative HVAC strategies further lower what were already low background sound levels. The overall effect, he says, is "a kind of unintended and accumulative negative effect on acoustical performance."
In any space, green or not, the ceiling plays a key role in determining acoustical quality. And ceiling companies are paying special attention.
One development is ceiling tiles that not only absorb sound but block it. "You have a singular panel that is really functioning (to tune) the space, and absorbing sound and then blocking it from transmitting into other areas," Baxter says. In other words, there is more focus on a single panel having both high NRC (sound absorption) and high CAC (sound blocking). "What this does for the customer is give them more flexibility around the design of the space and makes it simpler and easier for them to choose a product that in other respects meets their needs for multiple areas of a space," such as closed-plan offices, conference rooms, and open-plan workstations.
Another development: turning ceiling drywall into an acoustic product. Robert Marshall, manager of marketing technical services for CertainTeed, says small geometric perforations are put in gypsum panels, which can then be taped, spackled, and painted like regular drywall. Besides providing good acoustics, he says, the product allows shapes because it can be made curved, convex, or concave, and provides a like-new look with simple repainting.