When a project is first conceived of, whether it be a renovation, addition, or completely new structure, most often the client has a specific idea in mind of how the project should look.
We hear opinions about windows and natural light, surface materials and wall colors, even ceiling height and door styles.
Flooring may not be as high-profile as these features, but oftentimes it has more of an overall impact on a space than many of these other components. Flooring considerations — at the earliest stages in project planning and design — are vital to the success of the project’s goal.
In addition to how a floor makes a room or building look, it also impacts how it sounds.
Acoustically, floors play a very important role in the overall feel of the room, which needs to be taken into consideration depending on the type of structure being built.
The J+J Flooring Group white paper, “How Flooring Affects Acoustic Performance,” which appeared in School Planning & Management, points out that flooring, “one of the most abundant finishes in the built environment,” has a great ability to positively, or negatively, impact the space from an acoustic point of view.
Specifically, in educational settings, the article points out that “High noise levels . . . hinder teaching and learning in schools [but] . . . An environment with good acoustical control supports the activities and goals of that space, such as . . . effective teaching and learning in schools.”
Students are not the only ones negatively affected; while background noise may worsen their reading and spelling efforts, as well as distract their attention, teachers must put forth more effort to increase their volume, which can contribute to personal and overall classroom stress.
The white paper goes on to state, “All types of flooring, hard and soft, have merit for the right place and right population. Acoustics is an important consideration when specifying flooring and should be evaluated based on the needs of a particular environment.”
In fact, the acoustics do come to the forefront of consideration when working on a project that has a musical or other auditory focus. For example, the flooring used in MIT’s Music and Theater Arts Renovation Project (a current Acella Construction project) highlights the importance of flooring selection, in this case in both a musical and educational setting.
The project is located on the ground floor of the low-rise section of Building 24. The department “provides courses and resources for undergraduate students to learn, develop, and refine talent in music and performance arts.”
With that in mind, the design focused on balancing the requirements of the original rooms with the need to achieve high levels of acoustic performance. Jones Architecture, the architectural firm for the project, specifically chose a bright accent floor as a result of the limited access to natural light. In addition to offering the appropriate acoustical backdrop, this selection “unifies the spaces and serves as a branding and wayfinding element.”
Flooring considerations are also important for facilities other than those with an education or music focus. A floor plan for good acoustical control has been shown to positively impact overall care and patient satisfaction in healthcare facilities, and improved worker productivity in offices. Additionally, the hardness (or softness) of a flooring material can be critical to the structure’s purpose. Kitchens in restaurants, for example, will want to feature a surface that absorbs sounds, is easy to keep clean, and is forgiving enough to allow people to stand on it for hours without painful side effects.
In the process of a construction project, it is important to weigh flooring choices carefully, and to do so near the beginning of construction. Many times, for projects — especially school projects, when the bulk of the work is set to be completed during the short summer break — specialized colors or finishes are selected. In order to ensure that optimal flooring choices be accommodated, clients should take the flooring into consideration early in the design process.
A structure’s floor is its foundation. Take the time to plan flooring materials to support the goals and activities of your space.
Saul Schrader is a senior project manager at Acella Construction Managers in Norwell, Mass.