Sound Control in Buildings: Finding the Best Solution
Is there an enticing bar or restaurant you avoid because you can’t hear yourself think? The owner may have ticked every box on the business plan other than sound control for the unbearable restaurant noise.
Whether you’re in a vintage Victorian, a rehabbed loft, an industrial space, or a brand-new building, you can influence the ability of occupants and visitors to communicate, work, or socialize effectively through optimized building acoustics and retrofitting solutions.
Discovering the best methods of control and reduction of excessive sound in buildings is a key part of creating a safe and effective commercial environment.
What Is Sound Control in Commercial Buildings?
Heels and dress shoes on marble floors, extreme-height ceilings in impressive entryways, crowds of people moving and talking at once—commercial spaces can be devastating to your ears.
Within work zones, you may have echoing group work and gathering spaces, high-volume machinery, or dining and entertainment spaces where the collective sounds drown out your ability to hear the person next to you.
Sound control in commercial buildings refers to the process of reducing noise levels and improving room acoustics for optimal acoustic comfort. It involves using materials, products, and noise reduction techniques to:
- Block out external noises
- Reduce unwanted noise transmission between rooms and floors
- Absorb sound wave reverberations and sound energy to reduce echo and improve clarity
- Minimize overall noise pollution
The goal is to create a comfortable and safe environment for people to go about their business––which is where acoustical design comes in.
6 Factors to Consider for Sound Control
What classifies as good acoustical design? Like any aspect of building construction or modification, acoustic needs and fixes must be carefully planned. From impact noise to background noise, consider the following before making an investment in sound control:
- Levels and locations – Unless it’s a library, you don’t need the same level of sound control throughout the entire building. (Actually, even with a library, you’ll need more control of closed meeting rooms, maker spaces, media rooms—librarians need more than a “shh” for noise control.) Think through location-specific acoustic needs throughout the building. Sound control requires considering each discrete area within a building as well as its overall structure.
- Building age and construction – If you’re starting from the ground up, you’ll have the ability to influence each decision in materials and construction that impact sound control. For businesses in established locations, there are many options to boost acoustic control in buildings besides starting from scratch.
- Exterior noise – What excessive noise occurs outside of your building? Are you near an airport or highway, schools, bars and nightclubs, or industrial parks? Identify what sounds you’ll need to address during current or potential business hours.
- Internal noise – Loud machinery, water-cooler gossip, a call center department, visitors in the mood to party—what will your internal noise level challenges entail? Consider both room constants and periodic or occasional noises, from the hum of HVAC to your loudest events.
- Balancing priorities – If sound control was your one and only interest, you could create a beautifully silent building. In reality, you’ll need to balance acoustic concerns against other priorities. How much natural light you want in the business, where to place key entrances, what kind of construction is best for the local weather, and environmental noise concerns—each of these may conflict with the highest level of acoustic protection. Working with a sound control specialist alongside other team members—such as a commercial designer, business planner, contractor, or architect—will help you make choices that best cover your total concerns.
- Cost – An unlimited budget is a rarity, so whether you’re planning a new build or addressing noise level challenges in a current building, cost will be a factor. On a tight budget, implement lower cost changes first, learn more about how sound control affects your bottom line, and work with an acoustic professional to come up with a right-sized plan.
Construction Method for Enhanced Sound Control
How can you decide what to commit to without solid measurements? To make effective decisions, it helps to understand the acoustic parameter used in construction: sound transmission class (STC). STC ratings provide a scientific method, so you’re not stuck choosing based on marketing descriptions of materials like “super-duper-silent” or “sound-softening.”
STC relies on decibels to measure how much a material or product will reduce sound that travels through it. For instance, if you need to keep a school study room at 45 decibels, but a neighboring classroom often hits 70, you’ll need a barrier with a combined STC rating of at least 25 between the two.
According to the EPA, the sound levels you need to speak with others and perform normal activities without annoyance or interruption are 45 decibels indoors and 55 decibels outdoors.1 Measuring current decibel levels environmentally or within your space can allow you to determine what STC level of performance is needed when choosing materials or acoustic solutions.
At each level of construction planning, from location to blueprints to materials, you can opt for decisions that achieve your sound control goals.
Wall Sound Control
Whether you’re learning how to soundproof a metal building or an apartment, wall sound control is key. External walls will be your first defense against external sounds, while internal walls will interrupt sounds traveling within the building.
For new construction, consider:
- Thicker total walls and wall layers
- Denser material (i.e., concrete over wood)
- Multiple materials and widths (i.e., wider concrete and thinner wooden layer)
- Integration of wider spacing (or “cavity”) between wall layers
- More wall layers and wall spacing cavities
Besides wall design—the thickness, number of layers, and materials—you can address sound control through:
- Type and amount of insulation inside wall spacing
- Use of sound-absorbing blankets inside wall spacing
- Increased stud spacing and staggered stud locations between wall layers
- Incorporation of resilient or semi-resilient materials between studs and panels
- Sealing of all cracks and edges
Working within a finished space? You can augment what’s in place:
- Put up additional internal layers to walls
- Install cellulose or denim sound insulation
- Consider moveable panels, carpeting, or heavy curtains to fit your space
- Use acoustic sealing around wall perimeters and any cracks or breaks
Window Sound Control
If you build a perfectly sound (controlled) wall and then cut holes in it, are your efforts out the window? You might struggle between sound and temperature control on one hand, and beautiful natural lighting on the other, but implementing sound control related to windows may include:
- Fewer and smaller windows
- Window arrangement to reduce directional exterior noise
- Permanently sealed windows
Window panes best control sound with:
- Multiple layers, including insulating spacing between layers
- Thicker window glass
- Window glass laminated with shatter- and noise-resistant plastic
- Addition of custom-sized acrylic inserts to add to current windows
Discover our soundproof windows to learn how you can control window sound for your acoustics project.
Door Sound Control
Unlike windows, you can’t permanently seal doors to your commercial building.
With new construction, one way to control door-related noise is to consider placement. If business allows, integrate primary entrances on building sides that encounter less external noise. Similarly, stagger or plan internal entrances to avoid opening toward higher-noise zones.
You can also open up these door soundproofing opportunities:
- Solid doors rather than hollow core
- Consider door material density, thickness, and sound insulation
- Automatic closures that prevent doors from slamming shut
- Door seal kits or products to address air/noise leakage at edges
Floor Sound Control
Floor materials, design, and coverings make a significant difference in how sounds reverberate as well as the amount of vibration and noise created by people walking through spaces. Consider:
- Thick concrete floor base
- A floating wooden or concrete floor attached to the existing floor with resilient materials
- Carpeting over thick padding
- High-traffic mats and floor coverings
Ceiling Sound Control
As with walls, ceiling design that takes acoustics into account requires consideration of the type, number, thickness, and spacing of layers. Dropped ceilings using acoustic tiles, panels, and grids reduce echo and can help mitigate the spread of potential unwanted noise like impact noise or airborne sound. As a bonus––dropped ceilings can also enhance the visual design of your space.
Learn more about how to soundproof a ceiling in larger spaces.
How to Find Your Solution for Sound Control
Having a good acoustical design may require customization—there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
To get started, measure current external and internal decibel levels over the course of a week. You can opt for a tool such as a sound level meter, noise dosimeter, or octave band analyzer, but a simple app download may be all you need. The CDC recommends the NIOSH Sound Level Meter App, available for free download on any mobile iOS device.2
Next, you can:
- Identify decibel needs throughout your building (if other than 45 at the maximum)
- Connect with our team at ASI as your acoustic control partner
- Find out current building structural details or new build options
- Initiate a sound control plan with your architect, contractor, or building manager
Once you implement the sound control plan:
- Re-measure decibel levels after your modifications are complete
- Revisit sound control as your space ages or its usage changes
- Monitor materials and surfaces key to sound control
- Address any cracks or holes in walls and windows immediately
How Acoustical Surfaces Can Help
Acoustical Surfaces partners with businesses to identify solutions that fit your needs. Your building, your business, your team, and your customers—they are all unique, and we’re ready to work with you to find the right-sized plan, from sound absorption to sound isolation.
Our team can help you identify and provide a combination of noise control tools and products for your space. We know the ins and outs of sound and vibration absorption, blocking, treatment, and proofing, and what will get the results you need within your budget.
Browse our collection today to get the ball rolling on sound control for your building.
- US Environmental Protection Agency. EPA Identifies Noise Levels Affecting Health and Welfare. https://www.epa.gov/archive/epa/aboutepa/epa-identifies-noise-levels-affecting-health-and-welfare.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NIOSH Sound Level Meter App. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/app.html