Acoustic ComfortNew Residential
What is Acoustic Comfort?
Acoustic comfort refers to an occupant’s experience related to sound in a building or a specific space within a building. A space with excellent acoustics has a minimal echo and controls excess noise from outside sources as well as sources within the building. Three common noise issues include excess noise from outside, noise from adjacent spaces, and noise control issues within a space. Controlling these aspects of sound can help improve indoor environmental quality (IEQ). Achieving a high level of indoor environmental quality is an important component of residential construction. Adopting sound absorbing materials can enhance indoor acoustics and provide a better quality of life for building residents.
How to Improve Acoustic Comfort
Reduce unnecessary noises originating from poor insulation by implementing high Sound Transmission Class (STC) walls between high noise areas inside and outside the building. STC is a numerical rating system that measures the ability of a wall, floor, window, or ceiling to minimize sound transmission. Hire an acoustical engineer to achieve the ideal acoustical conditions.
Noises can also originate from too much reverberation (sound reflecting off various surfaces). Reverberation can be addressed by strategically installing acoustic materials that either absorb or diffuse noise. For example, soft padded furniture helps reduce reverberation and absorb unnecessary noises. It is also worth considering the option of installing carpet or utilizing area rugs in large open areas. In contrast to hard flooring materials such as tile and wood, carpet is particularly effective at reducing noise caused by reverberation. When choosing carpets and rugs, make sure to select eco-friendly products that are made with natural fibers or recycled material and do not compromise the indoor environmental quality (see Sustainable Materials).
Extraneous and distracting indoor noises may also stem from household heating and cooling equipment. Mechanical equipment such as a building’s HVAC system can become too noisy and undermine indoor comfort.
An integrated design process is key to achieving a high level of acoustic comfort. Project goals related to security and sustainability, for example, are sometimes perceived to conflict with acoustic goals but involving professionals from those areas of expertise from the start of the project, helps achieve synergistic goals.
Acoustic comfort can reduce stress, protect the health, and increase occupant satisfaction and productivity by contributing to a more comfortable environment psychologically and acoustically. Sound absorbent materials are especially beneficial in multi-family units to reduce adjacent noises from neighbors.
The cost of implementing strategies to achieve acoustic comfort varies depending on specific project goals and the approach taken. In general, doors, windows, and walls with higher STC ratings are usually more expensive than their traditional counterparts. A primary reason for added costs is that higher-rated STC products typically contain more materials, such as drywall, insulation, and studs. However, a higher STC rating can be achieved in numerous ways, from merely using thicker drywall or increasing the density of insulation, to utilizing specialized products such as soundboards and sound absorbent foams and glues. Overall, costs are primarily dependent on the construction methods and materials utilized to achieve a higher STC rating.
Acoustic comfort is a critical element of indoor environmental quality (IEQ) that affects the health and well-being of building occupants. In the event of a disaster or emergency, a high-quality indoor environment helps protect building occupants and contribute to a built environment that can provide protection and recovery from hazardous events.
 GSA. Sustainable Facilities Tool. Indoor Environmental Quality. https://sftool.gov/learn/about/1/indoor-environmental-quality-ieq (accessed December 26, 2018).
 NAIMA. Insulation Institute. https://insulationinstitute.org/im-a-homeowner/why-insulate/insulating-for-sound/ (accessed May 18, 2019).
 Architect Magazine. Sound Abatement Windows Can Help Make a House Hushed and Healthy. https://www.architectmagazine.com/technology/products/sound-abatement-windows-can-help-make-a-house-hushed-and-healthy_o (accessed May 18, 2019).