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Learn The ABCs of Acoustics


By Greg Zimmerman Facilities Management

Good acoustics in open office spaces is a fundamental part of making sure occupants are happy in productive. So fundamental, in fact, acoustics and sound control experts have developed what’s become known as the ABCs of good acoustics.

Absorb — Facility managers must choose products for ceilings, furniture, and even walls and carpeting that can help absorb sound. Manufacturers these days are becoming more and more sophisticated with these products, says acoustics consultant Felicia Doggett of Metropolitan Acoustics. Now there are even acoustical light fixtures – that have fins made of acoustical materials – and acoustical shades for windows. As well, there are spray-on acoustical treatments for ceilings and spray-in insulation that also has sound absorption properties. So there really is no shortage of options for interiors products to help make a space more acoustically friendly.

Block — Choosing furniture and layout in a space that not only can block sightlines between occupants, but also help block sound transmission is a huge step in getting good acoustics in a space. “When you block the line of sight, there is a reduction in sounds levels and intelligibility,” says Doggett. Both of those are important for helping occupants concentrate and avoid distractions.

Cover — Soundmasking in open office spaces has been gaining momentum for years. Soundmasking systems “cover” background noise in open offices by putting out sound from speakers in the ceiling (or sometimes in a raised floor) that match the frequency of voices. The result is that occupants are distracted by individual conversations from across the room, because the soundmasking systems effectively cover this noise – or so it appears to the occupant trying to concentrate on a task. “The point is to get even sound coverage,” says Doggett. “Obviously, you don’t want to hear all conversations in a room.”

Look for a story on the best ways that facility managers can work toward good acoustics in any type of space in the May issue of Building Operating Management magazine. In the meantime, check out this recent BOM story for more on how to prevent bad acoustics in open offices.

This Quick Read was submitted by Greg Zimmerman, executive editor, Building Operating Management. Read his cover story profiling Northwestern University’s vice president of facilities management, John D’Angelo.

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