I tuned into an episode of the Modern Built Environment Podcast with Tom Dioro discussing the importance of project acoustics and found the discussion pretty thought-provoking. Charles Salter, an acoustical consultant, was interviewed and shared his thoughts on environmental noise analysis that can easily become lost within a busy project.

Charles pointed out the challenge with the subjectivity of a client’s perception of “noisy.” Everyone wants to have happy clients. How does he get there? Push for a definition of noise based on their existing environment. This often works; however in a corporate/LEED environment, there is a difference. Industry standards for noise tie into the building code – however in terms of building code, buildings are built to accommodate minimum code requirements to be “passing.”

For example, Charles once worked with a client who told him he didn’t want to hear noise in his study. This presented a situation where a knowledge void had to be addressed. Acoustics are often a statistical phenomenon. If you measure the environmental noise for a day, the max level could be 70, then the next day could be 60. What statistical level should I design to? Every time go up 5 decibels, you double the cost of construction. It’s a matter of having these conversations and having clients understand the basics of acoustical design to gain a space that best suits their needs.

How do you educate owners/architects/builders on the importance of acoustics?

Often, PMs establish that they cannot provide for acoustics. Charles stressed that it’s important to share the downside risk of this thinking. In one situation he encountered, he sought to mitigate plumbing noise in an apartment project’s new construction. To stress the importance of tackling acoustical concerns early on, he explained that if there are complaints once the project is finalized, the cost of fixing it after is 20x more than addressing the issue in design or pre-construction phases. If you paint a clear picture that is unambiguous, this helps drastically.

One takeaway from this chat is the importance for all parties involved in a project to communicate clearly. Charles sometimes has to boldly assert tenant spaces as being “unrentable” due to noise to architects to advocate the importance of these concerns clearly and definitively.

In a recent conversation with a colleague from Acentech, the same sentiment seemed evident – a successful acoustic environment is far from an accident. “One of the bigger misconceptions for designers and builders when thinking about acoustics is that it can be ‘slapped on’ after a building is already constructed, like a fresh coat of paint or a throw rug. Sound waves are large physical phenomena, in some cases up to dozens of feet in size. Particularly when it comes to sound isolation and noise control, the design team needs to make decisions about the building on that scale early on to produce the best results – just ‘putting up some panels’ isn’t going to cut it.”

Our team mantra is peeking through, as applicable in several other project considerations, but especially acoustical controls in design – with thorough planning early on, almost any project challenge can be met proactively.

Sources Referenced

Modern Built Environment Podcast; “Why are project acoustics important? With Charles Salter of Salter.com,” April 2020

Colin Worrich, Acentech; Insight on Acoustics