How buildings can influence our health and wellbeing has received much attention over the past decade—heightened of course by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders that saw us collectively spend more time inside than usual. There is a wealth of proven design strategies architects can employ to foster a positive experience within their projects, from increasing natural light levels to spatial plans that encourage inclusive community connection. However, one force that can be too often overlooked is sound.
We have all experienced it. As we begin to drift off to sleep, focus on a task, or try to interact with someone, a noise from outside or somewhere else in the building disrupts our flow. This could be from traffic passing by, movement or conversations from occupiers in adjacent spaces, or the sound of mechanical equipment within the structure. This is becoming an increasingly common issue as we construct more mid- to high-rise, multi-occupancy workspaces and residential complexes in the heart of bustling cities, where life continues around us day and night. In addition to being frustrating, this unwanted interior noise, even at low levels, can have wide-reaching implications on our physical and mental condition— as this blog, inspired by World Architecture Day 2022’s theme of health and wellbeing, will explore.
Even when wearing ear plugs, the human auditory system is always on, picking up on various signs and signals from our environment. Scientific studies and surveys have shown the negative impact consistent exposure to noise within our buildings in all kinds of circumstances can have, including residential, workplace, education, and healthcare.
For example, the ‘Possible Health Effects of Noise’ article (Spreng, M., National Library of Medicine, 2000) reported that noise exposure from air and road traffic causes the release of different stress hormones (e.g. cortisol), especially when detected whilst still asleep. Increased levels of cortisol, especially over a long period, is linked with poor immunity, cardiovascular disease, intestinal problems, and more.
In addition to external noise, sound from adjacent rooms within a building can affect a person’s comfort in a space. Low frequency noise at moderate levels can impact our cognitive performance and ability to concentrate, especially if we are highly sensitive to it. In Remark Group’s 2019 ‘Noise and Wellbeing At Work Survey’ of 1000 office workers, 65% reported that noise in the workplace affected their ability to complete work in an accurate and timely manner, 44% felt that noise had a negative impact on their overall wellbeing and 40% said it made them feel stressed. Similar effects were reported in a 2014 study into ambient noise exposure and school performance, which found that for every 10-dB noise increase, students scored approximately 5.5 points lower on average in language and math tests.
Also, as much as hearing is a problem, so is overhearing. 64% of Remark’s survey participants said they have overheard confidential or sensitive information and 41% saying it made them worried to share issues due to the risk of being overheard. Acoustic design is an obvious concern in places like schools and hospitals too, where private conversations happen every day.
Like many factors affecting health and wellbeing, exactly meeting the acoustic comfort of every building user can be a challenge. Individual people will have different sensitivity to noise and tolerance levels, and every building will demand a different approach depending on its use, location, and spaces. However, it is vital that designers take a holistic approach that considers both how to limit the impact of noise-generating building elements, such as the HVAC system, and how to prevent unavoidable noise from external and internal noises travelling within the internal spaces.
To do this, designers and developers must consider both the structural and sound absorption properties of building elements and partitions, and how to treat the voids that will occur between them and provide a ready path for noise to travel room to room. This includes voids within suspended ceilings, raised access floors and in the partition abutments to the building facade system. The latter is particularly important to consider with curtain walling. Hollow, lightweight aluminium framing elements which hold in curtain wall glazing provide an open-air gap which noise can easily travel through and into adjoining spaces. Mechanical connections between these elements, such as unbroken mullions can also transmit structure-borne noise.
Specialist acoustic solutions can be employed to reduce the noise transmission through these paths. Their ability of an individual product or system to do this is quantified by their Sound Reduction Index (measured in dB Rw). Whilst the exact performance requirements and product selection will depend on the project, choosing solutions which have been designed, developed, and tested for noise control applications can help to reduce noise transmission and ensure good acoustic performance.
With over 50 years of experience in the field, Siderise Special Products have developed a range of interior acoustic solutions suitable for use in all kinds of building types and designs, including residential properties, offices, and health and educational settings.
All Siderise products are made from robust materials and have been subject to rigorous testing, ensuring robust solutions that are designed to last. With decades of experience, our skilled Interiors Technical Team can also support designers in finding the most appropriate solutions to meet their project aims, whether solely related to acoustics or including passive fire protection too.