Open floor plans are all the rage in office configurations. Experts point to the increased levels of collaboration and relationship building that they encourage. From a purely financial standpoint, they also boast reduced construction costs.
There’s a downside to all of this openness, however. It’s noisy! Fortunately, there are steps you can take to keep that noise to a minimum, no matter what your office layout is.
Why Bother Soundproofing an Office Space?
When an environment is too loud, it can have a detrimental effect on productivity. According to one study, a noisy office space can inhibit productivity by 66%.
Not only does productivity suffer, but your staff can feel the effects as well. Too much noise can reduce employee satisfaction and harm their health. In Germany, a study found that prolonged exposure to 65 decibels (the equivalent of a classroom or open office floor plan) can increase someone’s heart rate to heart-attack levels.
Soundproofing won’t eliminate all the noise in an environment, but it can dampen it to healthier levels and prevent employees from complaining that they can’t hear themselves think.
Another, often overlooked, reason to soundproof an office space has to do with other people’s impressions. If you host clients or are trying to attract talent, people visiting your company should be greeted with a professional hum around the office, not a cacophonic symphony rivaling a playground.
Office Soundproofing Materials and Methods
Over the years, soundproofing solutions have evolved, and you have more choices than ever when it comes to reducing office noise. Here are some ideas to consider:
Acoustic panels: These absorb sound like a sponge in large spaces. Acoustic panels are great for open office plans where sound can bounce around and seem to magnify. They easily mount on a wall, just like a painting or they can be suspended from the ceiling. They can also be made to look like art and can be made in any shape, size or design configuration, so they’re often considered functional art.
Sound masking: This method adds sound to the environment, which serves to drown out other sounds around you. It’s a form of ambient noise delivered through a speaker system. The noise has the same frequency as human speech, and you can choose pink noise, white noise, and other types of frequencies. It’s kind of like camouflage for sound.
Soundproofing paint: This invention is relatively new however it’s an effective and affordable way to reduce sound from traveling between offices. Soundproofing paint, such as the product from SoundGuard is an easy and non-invasive solution for increasing the STC rating of a shared office wall.
Carpet and upholstery: Large open spaces tend to bounce and magnify sound. Upholstered items like furniture and carpet can absorb sound and keep an area quieter.
How to Soundproof an Office Space During a New Buildout
If you’re creating a new space, it’s helpful to look at not only the design and functionality but also the sound. We recommend that you start by evaluating your current needs and business model. Does your business rely on people being on the phone throughout most of the day? They may need separate offices. If you’re set on an open floor plan, consider adding other barriers to block sound travel.
Here are some other tips:
- Look for materials with a high NRC (noise reduction coefficient). This number ranges from 0 to 1, and has a rating that reflects the percentage of sound that the material absorbs. For example, an NRC rating of .8 means that it blocks 80% of the sound. Ideally, look for materials with an NRC between .5 and .9.
- Place electronics strategically. Anything that makes noise like a television, video conferencing system or phone should be placed in an area that won’t be distracting. For example, avoid putting these devices next to people who are on the phone a lot.
- Determine if you need window coverings. If there is a lot of street noise, install double pane windows. If you’re near the ground level or in a corridor that echoes sound, you may even need to add curtains as a sound dampener.
How to Soundproof an Existing Office Space
You may be able to swap out materials that allow too much noise to circulate with quieter options. For example, you could upgrade old doors, cubicles or wall dividers and replace them with materials with a higher STC rating.
STC is short for “Sound Transmission Class,” and it will provide you with a reference of how effectively materials such as interior partitions, ceilings, floors, doors, windows, and exterior wall configurations attenuate airborne sound. Each material has a different STC range, and the higher the number, the more noise it will block.
Here are some quick tips and fixes to employ:
- Add thicker carpeting
- Add soundproofing paint to both sides of shared walls
- Add couches and large plants to absorb noise
- Place partitions in open spaces to insulate noise to smaller areas
- Add a suspended ceiling with ceiling tiles that absorb noise
- Place acoustic panels on the wall
Soundproofing Commercial Walls
While soundproof paint is a fantastic place to start, it might not be enough to keep sound at bay. Other strategies to employ include packing the walls and ceilings with sound absorbing materials. Sometimes adding a second layer of drywall can help. Sometimes spraying additional insulation into the walls can help. The problem with both of these options is the hefty cost and added time to the commercial build out.
Examine your walls and look for any cracks and holes that will allow sound to enter. Make sure to plug them, mud them, caulk them or whatever else it takes to make sure they stop leaking sound transfer.
It’s very common in office buildings, even Class-A properties, for the walls to be non-demising which means the walls don’t go all the way up to the deck. If you see a suspended ceiling, also known as a drop ceiling, it means the walls are non-demising. This construction method is much cheaper to install than a finished ceiling however it creates more acoustic problems because those ceiling tiles are often very thin and not great at stopping sound and the sound that does get through them is very likely to travel over the non-demising walls and into nearby offices or conference rooms.
The two best ways to deal with these unfinished ceilings are to spray the ceiling tiles with a soundproofing paint or to hang layers of insulation over the non-demising walls. These two options together should help your office noise problems.
How to Choose the Best Soundproofing for an Office Space
As you evaluate these solutions, consider your unique situation. Ask yourself the following:
How noisy is my office? Do I need a complete sound overhaul or just a slight reduction in noise?
How large is my office? Larger spaces can create additional sound issues like echoes and magnification, so you may need to employ more advanced soundproofing mechanisms.
How much control do I have over the building? If you’re renting, you may need to have any tenant improvements cleared with the property manager. Or, you may be restricted by zoning or other municipal laws.
What is my budget? Some of these methods are significant investments, while others cost relatively little. If you’re on a budget, start with the less expensive solutions first and go from there.