Improving Acoustics After the Fact
by Evan H. Ypsilantis
It happens every day — people eagerly move into their company’s new or renovated facility only to discover that they experience more noise disruptions and have less speech privacy than expected. Perhaps the building’s acoustic performance wasn’t adequately planned prior to construction, the consequences of various interior design decisions weren’t anticipated, or a particular area’s function has changed and so too have its occupants’ needs.
In any case, the question is invariably, “Now what?” What’s clear is that these deficiencies must be addressed in order to prevent further impacts on occupants’ productivity, privacy, and comfort. What’s at issue is how much of the organization’s budget can be allocated to solutions and the degree of operational disruption they can weather during implementation.
More often than not, the missing element is an appropriate ambient — or background — sound level, as Chris Fitts, president of Fitts Insurance in Southborough, Massachusetts discovered when his firm relocated to a new office.
“We were very pleased with the new space,” says Fitts, “but as we got to work, we realized one thing was missing: background sound. The new space was too quiet for the nature of our work.” Fitts adds that this type of environment was “not conducive to good workflow and created client privacy concerns as conversations could easily be overheard across the space.”
These pin drop conditions are addressed using a sound-masking system — a technology that distributes an engineered sound throughout a facility in order to raise its ambient level in a controlled fashion. The sound is similar to soft airflow, but specifically designed to mask the frequencies in speech, improving privacy. It also covers up other unwanted noises or reduces their disruptive impact by decreasing the degree of change between baseline and peak volumes within the space.
There are several factors that make sound masking an attractive retrofit solution. Budget pricing is low, particularly relative to other acoustic treatments. It’s usually far less disruptive to apply to an occupied workplace and can be used to improve acoustics in both open and closed plan.
Indeed, in Fitts’ case, his firm “invested time and effort in researching a solution and found sound masking to be the answer.” After prospecting several technologies, they chose to employ the LogiSon Acoustic Network in their space. “The result is a more comfortable, confidential, and productive workplace . . . and the best part is you can hardly notice the sound masking unless you are listening for it,” Fitts states.
Alex Lawner, senior manager, strategic projects, at EBSCO Information Services, had a similar experience when his company transformed a significant portion of their space into a more open environment designed for collaboration. “Upon completion of the first phase of this effort, we began to notice that our new space yielded less than desirable acoustic results. There was an increase in noise distraction and less speech confidentiality,” says Lawner. “Mobile partitions could not solve this challenge alone,” he adds. After examining several options, his organization also chose the LogiSon Acoustic Network for sound masking. “Since the first installation, our customer-vendor relationship has grown into a partnership with the continuous goal to improve customer/employee happiness and productivity,” Lawner states.
Though sound masking might not be the only improvement necessary to correct deficiencies in acoustic performance in all cases, for many organizations it provides the greatest opportunity for improvement while creating the least upheaval in an already occupied environment.