December 3, 2018 | Written by: Kristen Murphy | Original Publication: High Profile

Sustainable Design Criteria for Acoustics

This article, written by Kristen Murphy, LEED AP, WELL AP, was originally published by High Profile in their annual Green Supplement. For a link to the original article, click here.

The positive relationship between proper acoustic design and sustainable design is a true win-win for designers and end users alike. As many already know, this largely stemmed from the synergy of acoustic strategies with eco-friendly and energy efficient design practices. Energy-efficient HVAC systems with lower velocities and smaller loads are great at keeping background noise levels down; energy-efficient, tightly sealed building envelopes are great at reducing both air and sound infiltration; and there are many acoustical products and finishes that meet requirements for VOCs, environmental product declarations, regional and recycled content, etc.

While those considerations are still very important, sustainability has broadened to ensure spaces are healthy and comfortable for their occupants, where proper acoustics is key. There have been many recent studies supporting how thoughtful acoustical design can reduce workplace stress and distraction, improve information retention in schools, speed up recovery time in hospitals, and much more. As time goes on, experts have taken notice of these benefits. Therefore, the requirements for noise control and room acoustics are increasingly formalized in many of the widely-used environmental and wellness related rating systems.

So what specific rating systems look at acoustical design? Some of the most significant in the industry, for starters:

  • LEED – In general, many LEED v4 rating systems and project types offer the Acoustic Performance credit (1 point) for interior acoustic conditions and have an open pilot credit (1 point) for controlling the amount of exterior noise generated by the project. In addition to those general credits, LEED BD+C: Schools, Healthcare, Homes and Multifamily Midrise have specific language favoring good acoustic design. LEED BD+C: Schools has one prerequisite and one credit (1 point) for acoustical criteria based on ANSI S12.60-2010. LEED BD+C: Healthcare has one credit for acoustic design (up to 2 points) based on the 2010 FGI Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities. LEED BD+C: Homes and Multifamily Midrise have a pilot credit (1 point) for acoustic comfort in living spaces.
  • WELL – in WELL v1, there are two preconditions and four optimizations (New and Existing Buildings) addressing a wide variety of topics including exterior noise intrusion, internally generated HVAC noise, sound absorptive treatments, sound blocking constructions and sound masking.
    In the soon-to-come WELL v2, there are many changes to the classification and requirements of acoustic criteria. For one, Sound is graduating from its place within the Comfort concept to become its own concept. This concept has one prerequisite, and four optimizations (up to 11 points). In addition to this huge shift, many of the acoustic metrics are changing from v1 and many space-specific requirements have been added for different project types (including living spaces and classrooms).
  • Fitwel – For Multifamily Residential projects, there are two strategies related to acoustics in the Indoor Environments category (2.25 points each) – one strategy dealing with controlling noisy exterior spaces and one strategy for controlling interior sources of noise.

Although it is exciting to see this push for better acoustics for human comfort and sustainable design from design authorities, architects must also keep a watchful eye on how other aspects of these rating systems can negatively impact acoustical outcomes for a given space. For instance – incorporating fitness spaces is a great way to provide occupants convenient access to exercise, but high-impact activities can transmit throughout a building. Operable windows allow fresh air but also outdoor noise; daylighting is wonderful for energy reduction and occupant satisfaction, but the wrong type of glazing can significantly impact sound isolation.

As you can surely tell, this has only been a brief introduction to bring awareness of the large number of criteria that now directly reference acoustic design. We understand it can be a large learning curve to keep these acoustic needs and their implications straight, but we are well-trained and ready to assist!

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