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How sound (of all things) can make a building healthier

How sound (of all things) can make a building healthier

We’ve all had a night where we just can’t sleep. Right now it’s mostly down to the heat but often it’ll be noises that are keeping you up; it could be because of the neighbours, traffic, or a noisy fan on a hot night. Or, there might be some days where you just can’t focus in the office because of the low hum coming from the breakroom or street.

These phenomena aren’t just annoying, they can be damaging to your health, productivity, and mood. However, they’re not inevitable. In fact, building design can play a big part in controlling “noise pollution” with building acoustics. Let’s take a brief look at how this works.

Why are acoustics important in building design?

Noise pollution is harmful or annoying levels of noise. This may have a bigger impact on health than one may realise; certainly, being deprived of sleep is a serious problem. However, it can also impact our health more generally. Consistently being in an irritated state can lead to high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and migraines.

It can also harm productivity. If we are constantly distracted, it naturally affects our output. According to a study from the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), 70% of office workers reported that noise affects their productivity. With this in mind, optimising acoustics has the potential to create a lot of value for companies. But how do architects and engineers achieve this?

How do building acoustics work?

In buildings, there are two types of noise. This might sound like a strange concept, but it touches on how noise travels: it’s either airborne or structure-borne. Structure-borne noise is affected by the volume and geometry of a space. The position of the walls will impact the transmission and reflection of sound. Materials will also play an important part, as some absorb sound better than others, thus reducing noise.

Other design features will also play an important part in managing airborne noise. Some of the main culprits in most offices are:

  • Noisy HVAC systems.
  • Improper partitioning of areas.
  • Poor acoustic insulation.

However, there are steps that architects and engineers can take to control this noise. Even before a site is chosen, they can monitor environmental noise to assess whether or not a site is suitable for the project. Aeroplane noise, for example, could be a significant factor to consider.

For example, modelling and simulations can help to estimate a building’s acoustic function. Using insulating materials is another useful strategy, as well as testing and measuring sound levels on site. This enables architects to fine-tune the design at the construction phase.

Equipment selection will also play an important role. Often, budget options could produce unwanted noise; however, there are design steps that can be taken to reduce noise and vibrations from HVAC systems.

A healthier building in every sense

When we think of healthy building design, we often think of air qualitysustainability, and light. However, sound is an important factor that may be overlooked. As we’ve discussed, it can have a significant impact on the end user’s well-being, so should be carefully considered. Designing healthy buildings should consider all of the users’ needs and senses, and sound is more important than you may think.

 

 

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