4 Types of Sound Absorbent Materials For Schools
Updated April 27, 2023
Children are precious and hold the future of humanity in their hands—but it’s no secret that they can get loud. School is already hard enough for students (and teachers), but it becomes increasingly difficult when raucous noise interferes with everyone’s ability to concentrate.
The World Health Organization (WHO) found excess noise reduces students’ performance in the classroom and is linked to negative social behaviors.1 Luckily, unwanted sound doesn’t have to overtake study and derail students’ academic careers.
Outfitting schools with sound-absorbent materials can reduce ambient noise to provide the best learning environment possible. Take your seat, get out your notebook, and prepare to learn as we review the best acoustical materials to keep classrooms, cafeterias, and common spaces calm and quiet.
Distinguishing Between Sound Absorbing and Soundproofing
Pop quiz! What’s the difference between the terms soundproofing vs sound absorbing? If you were absent the day your school taught acoustic materials (or they shamefully neglected to touch on the subject), here’s a little refresher:
- Soundproof – Soundproofing materials completely enclose noise within a space and are mostly installed during a building’s construction process. Consider the theater or woodworking shop of a school. These spaces (and the materials used to make them) are often soundproof—so, even if there’s a raucous inside, you can’t hear a peep right outside of their doors.
- Sound absorbing – Sound absorbing materials dampen noises by, as their name suggests, absorbing sound. They take on many shapes and sizes, but are generally applied externally to a building’s structure, rather than embedded in the floors and walls. Classrooms separated by noise-reducing partitions are prime examples of sound-absorbing materials in action.
So, since most schools won’t be building anew or breaking into their walls to solve their sound issues, that leaves sound-absorbing materials to work with. Don’t daydream or doodle just yet, because we’re about to learn which are best to use in the classroom and around campus.
#1 Acoustic Wall Panels
The average noise level on the inside of a classroom is around 76 decibels (dB).2 That’s in the same range as operating a vacuum cleaner or taking in a classical music performance at an intimate theater.3
Noise like that doesn’t stay contained on its own, and that’s evident to anyone who’s been in a school that’s poorly insulated against sound transfer. Luckily, even if the insides of an institution’s walls don’t do much to prevent noise transmission, there’s an external solution.
Acoustic panels are an effective way to increase the sound absorbing potential of a wall partition. Acoustic wood wool and polyester panels are affixed to existing walls to boost their Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC) ratings. STC ratings determine how much sound is blocked from going through something, while NRC measures how much sound a soundproofing material absorbs.
While there are several different types of acoustic wall panels to choose from, they all follow a similar installation process:
- Measure your walls and materials to plan how your paneling will fit into place. When it comes to absorbing sound, volume coverage is most important, rather than fixating on covering an entire wall.
- Cut any pieces to the necessary sizes and ready your tools and materials.
- Choose how to affix your regular acoustic panels or acoustic foam panels to the wall. Most can be mounted with clips or a high-quality adhesive.
- Mount your first panel and place the rest in line with it, freestyle a (tight) pattern, or cover your walls entirely.
The size, noise level, and aesthetics of a space can help determine the kind of panel to choose.
For classrooms, visually-pleasing options such as patterned wood wool shapes or custom-printed fabric-wrapped fiberglass can quell unwanted noise while creating a stimulating academic environment.
For larger areas where coverage and sound-absorbing capability trump aesthetics—such as cafeterias and auditoriums—there are other options. Compressed polyester and bonded acoustical cotton are both superb choices for large, spacious rooms with copious wall space to cover.
Like math, it’s integral to cover walls in schools to facilitate academic excellence. In the same vein, however, paying attention to only one piece of the puzzle isn’t conducive to success.
#2 Acoustic Ceiling Tiles
Noise travels in all directions, including upwards. When sound hits the ceiling, it’s important to have something to absorb it, rather than send it eternally bouncing between the roof and the floor.
Fortunately, drop ceilings—lightweight tiles suspended from a building’s structure that dampen rising sound—are already standard in many schools. Unfortunately, a lot of academic institutions haven’t changed their ceiling tiles since the days of overhead projectors.
Technology has advanced leaps and bounds since then—and not just in the field of electronics. There are now several different types of ceiling tiles to choose from to create a quiet classroom environment:
- The classic fiberglass rectangle – Schools nostalgic for the standard style that defines drop ceilings can rest easy knowing it’s still available—albeit highly improved from its original 1950s version.4 Modern, top-of-the-line fiberglass ceiling tiles boast a whopping .95 NRC rating—a standout score that significantly dampens a raucous room’s refracting decibels.
- Sleek metal-lined squares – Consider this avant-garde design for a more refined, contemporary approach to drop ceilings. Customizing the color and pattern of these effective noise-absorbing tiles makes matching them to a school’s current aesthetic an easy A+.
- Extremely high-performance tiles – When eliminating sound takes precedence over all, highly effective noise absorbers such as the NOISE S.T.O.P. Sound Barrier that boast NRC ratings well above 1.0 cancel chatter while still fitting into standard drop ceiling grids.
While high-quality acoustic ceiling tiles do a fantastic job of reducing reverberating noise in a space, they can be further aided with a few more lofty additions.
#3 Hanging Baffles, Clouds, and Banners
Drop ceilings aren’t the only overhead noise absorbers that can hush overzealous student spirit. A variety of items can be suspended from the ceilings of theaters, gymnasiums, and other spaces to further their noise-reducing capacities.
Baffles, clouds, and banners absorb and filter sound, reducing unwanted noise and making speech easier to understand. They’re simple to install and, with the right equipment, can be quickly repositioned to suit the needs of a specific performance or speech.4 Consider taking the school’s telescopic ladder out of storage and putting up:
- Noise S.T.O.P. Sonowave Clouds – The whimsical design of these almost literal clouds make them perfect for schools—not only because of their superior ability to mitigate reverberation, but for their brilliant aesthetics as well.
- Sound Silencer Baffles – Baffles hang from ceilings in rows to disperse soundwaves as they travel upward. Extremely lightweight materials–such as those in the Sound Silencer line—are exceptional choices for the job, as you don’t have to worry about them falling or putting undue stress on a building’s structure.
- Acousti-Banners – Banners work in much the same way as baffles and clouds to break up soundwaves and dampen rumbling noises. They bring a unique flair to spaces, however, especially when they’re customized to match a school’s team colors.
Speaking of teams, they’ll need a court or field to practice on if they plan on making it to state. And even if they’re outside, noise from friendly scrimmages can make its way into schools and overwhelm concentrating students. Thankfully, there are sound-absorbing materials for the great outdoors as well.
#4 Exterior Sound Absorbers
The persistent grunts of a tennis match or the hollow bouncing of a basketball can get extremely annoying after a while. Luckily, unless you’re on the court, you don’t have to hear any of it.
Absorptive Exterior Grade Acoustic Curtains have a thick fiberglass core to contain sound and a soft, quilted exterior to absorb it. They’re ideal for outdoor courts and pitches as they provide padding to hard surfaces and UV protection in order to hold up over time. Plus, they follow an extremely simple installation process:
- Hang the curtains from an existing fence, covering as much exposed space as possible.
- That’s it!
The sides of acoustic curtains are lined with grommets, making them plain to place on any partition. The basketball court is the most obvious spot to put them to use, but with the addition of a few small hooks, they can absorb sound all over campus.
Despite being rated for exterior use, acoustic curtains can also be hung in classrooms, gyms, auditoriums, offices, or anywhere else you may need them. Then, if you decide on a more permanent sound-absorbing solution, they can easily be taken down and moved to another location.
If you’d like a little help determining those more permanent solutions, consult a room acoustics expert to guide your path to a quieter campus.
Schools Sound Better with Materials from Acoustical Surfaces
These are some of the most effective sound-absorbing solutions to implement on campus, but they are by no means an exhaustive list. There are a plethora of ways to customize noise canceling solutions for your space, and that’s why it’s imperative to consult an acoustics professional such as Acoustical Surfaces.
Our experts know what materials absorb sound better than others in different situations. After a quick review of your specific needs, we can tell you how to get the best sound (or silence) out of your gymnasium, classrooms, and other spaces.
Don’t delay, because summer vacation will fly by faster than you can blink. Contact us today to get the best sound out of your school.
- World Health Organization. Noise. https://www.who.int/
- National Library of Medicine. Is the Level of Noise in a School Environment be Harmful to the Hearing of Teachers?. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
- Yale University. Decibel Level Comparison Chart. https://ehs.yale.edu/
- Google Patents. Accessible suspended ceiling construction. https://patents.google.com/
- Ball State University. Sursa Performance Hall. https://www.bsu.edu/