Office Noise Pollution

One of the more common complaints I hear from tenants is that sound based disruption, or ‘noise pollution’, in their offices is hugely distracting, and likely impacting their productivity. Since I am routinely asked about ways to mitigate noise pollution, I thought I would highlight common problems and share some potential solutions.

Problem # 1: Speaking Walls
We have all walked into a separate room for a private conversation only to discover we can hear everything our neighbour is saying. These ‘speaking walls’ result from inadequate insulation and open gaps in the a room. Ideas to address the ‘speaking wall’ phenomena include:

Increase the amount of fiberglass or cellulose insulation in partitions;

Use a wider stud for partitions to increase the width of the wall, and in turn the air pocket between sheets of drywall;

Use a double sheet of drywall on a single side or both sides of the wall;

Use solid core doors instead of hollow core doors;

Attach a door sweep at the base of doors to eliminate sound emitting gaps;

Use sound batt insulation above a suspended ceiling where there are shared walls, or;
Construct walls from the floor, through the suspended ceiling, to the underside of the deck.

Problem # 2: The Echo Effect
Although many companies like the aesthetic of hard floors (concrete, laminate, tile etc.) vs carpet , open ceilings vs suspended ceiling tiles, glass vs drywall, and laminate / metal workstation panels vs fabric workstation panels, hard surfaces reverberate sound creating an echo effect. As such, it seems like you are placing calls from a cave…or worse, a washroom. Potential solutions to consider include:

Hang pictures, paintings, fabric, cork boards etc. to help absorb sound;

Add plants (they are natures sound absorbers);

Use soft materials like fabric on the interior of workstation panels;

Use carpet instead of hard flooring surfaces;

Look for space with good quality suspended ceilings.

Problem # 3: Background noise
When background noise is constant, like the hum of a buildings air handling system, we adapt to the sound and no longer recognize it as noise. When sounds are more intermittent, like a neighbours conversation, foot steps, rolling chairs, copy machines, etc., they tend to disrupt our concentration. Some ideas to help reduce background noise in an office include:

Minimize hard surfaces to limit the deflection of sound;

Ensure high quality seals for all glass sidelights and glass walls;

Consider using sound proof glass (typically laminate covered / dual panel);

Orientate workstations so people don’t face each other (think angled clusters rather than linear benches);

Use higher (60″+ panels) to absorb conversations in workstations;

Install a sound masking systems (they produce low level ambient noise that drowns out much of the standard sounds of office space).

Problem # 4: The Wrong Building, The Wrong Location
You can implement all of the solutions that I have listed above but if you are in the wrong building, or wrong location, they may not help. Simple things to consider when assessing for potential noise pollution of a space include:

Wood frame buildings (think old low rise buildings) usually transfer more sound than concrete construction;

Check the current tenant mix and ensure the existing uses are compatible (e.g. is there a fitness centre below you? Call centre next door?);

Speak with existing tenants about the noise they experience;

Be aware of future construction plans for the building and surrounding area.

If you are currently experiencing high levels of office noise pollution, some of the solutions I have mentioned may help. However, others are construction-heavy and may be best tackled during lease renewal negotiations or relocations. Either way, there is usually a solution.

For comments, questions, or suggestions for future posts, please contact me directly.

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