Classroom Acoustics on a Budget
Sound quality and understanding speech in a classroom environment is obviously something of importance. If students are not able to clearly hear instruction in a classroom they are not able to learn – or learn nearly as effectively as they should. If this is the case, the room needs acoustical treatment; there is no way around that. But what if the budget for the project is limited – or non-existent? Believe it or not, there are options.
I received a call from a man in California named Jason who reported that he had voluntarily taken on the task of finding out how to control the echo and reverberation of a classroom at his child’s school. I can’t recall whether or not this was being done simply to make the space more comfortable and improve the sound quality and speech intelligibility in the room or whether there was a special needs student that needed this treatment, but either way, something needed to be done in the classroom and there was an EXTREMELY limited budget if there was any at all.
Jason explained to me that these classrooms were common in the fact that they had a hard, VCT tile floor, painted sheet rock walls and a hard sheet rock ceiling. When the classroom was filled with young, noisy and excited children it continued to get louder and louder and louder to the point of discomfort. I’ve been in rooms like this and I know exactly what he was experiencing. I usually refer to problems like this as the “cocktail party effect” where people continue to increase their voice level so they can be heard over the background noise and this causes the background noise to rise which means they have to talk even louder to be heard – and the problem continues.
Because the budget for the project was so limited, there were only a few options. It was decided that the Echo Eliminator panels made from recycled cotton were the only likely choice. Because these panels are made from recycled cotton, they are one of the lowest cost, class A fire rated products on the market. They not only very cost effective but they are also very effective at absorbing sound. Most of these panels are installed by adhering them directly to the structure, but, in this case, the teachers and administrators did not want such a permanent solution. Jason decided that he was going to install some grommets and use some hooks hat he had seen which was a great idea.
Although the Echo Eliminator panels are some of the most cost effective panels on the market, due to the EXTREMELY limited budget for the job Jason and I had to explore some thrifty options. Performance was more important than aesthetics in this case which is why we looked through the available inventory on our Discount Soundproofing website and found a few boxes of product in good enough shape to be used. This inventory fluctuates on an almost daily bases as product is sold or is added and there are often quite a few boxes of product that we have not had time to install yet, but we were able to provide panels at a 50-70% discounted cost for this job which is truly the reason there are sound panels in the room now.
The cotton panels are not the most “finished looking” or “aesthetically pleasing” products on the market, but honestly, third-graders don’t really care. Their understanding of spoken word and physical comfort is, or should be, much more important than how pretty a room is. These panels are not ugly, they are simply not as finished as other products on the market. The teachers and administrators were not a huge fan of the aesthetic at first, but after the panels were installed and they were able to experience the change of the sound quality and feel of the room, all of the sudden these panels weren’t so bad… In fact, I received a call a short time later asking me for a quote on a second set of panels for an additional classroom. I can’t remember the exact dimensions of the classrooms, but twenty-two panels of the 1” #3lb Echo Eliminator were used.
Below is a short E-mail that I received from Jason shortly after the panels were installed into the first room as well as pictures from both. If you have any questions, need any information, or if you would like to discuss a similar situation, please feel free to contact me.
JASON – If you ever read this, you’re awesome! Thank you for the pictures and the little write up, this simple information has the potential to help hundreds of people. Thank you.
The hanging of the panels was a success. The room is glossy paint over plaster and lots of bare walls – it was very BRIGHT sounding. As soon as we did one wall, I noticed a difference on each side – quieter, warmer, less bright, more cozy (?) sounding. Kids, teachers, administrator all noticed a difference. Of course, we could have used more panels, but cost was a factor – so this is a big improvement. Here’s some pics from the job. As you can see, I punched two grommet holes and hung the panels on the walls (you can see all the fire sprinklers on the ceiling.) We used Ook brand picture hanger hooks – they have very slim nails that went straight in and the 30 pound hooks were big enough to hold the 1/2″ grommets. Plus, if there was any alignment issue, we could pivot the hooks on the nails a bit to adjust. (Sorry some of the pics are a little blurry, I was hurrying to get the classroom back to the kids…)
The pictures below are of the SECOND classroom that needed treatment. We did not have any more overstock beige panels but we did have enough light gray.
Please do not try to adjust your monitor, the swirls are intentional.