Essential Soundproofing Tips for Commercial Contractors
Protecting occupants from recurring, excessive noise and ensuring privacy has become a growing part of the renovation business, an area of expertise that can add revenue and even become a specialty for contractors.
This is particularly true for those working with doctors, dentists, lawyers, and business professionals, or with other commercial properties requiring a quiet workplace or an assurance that they will not be overheard through windows, ceilings or walls.
By reducing external noise intrusion and protecting privacy with some basic soundproof remodeling, contractors can not only generate more revenue but also improve and secure the work environment of appreciative commercial property owners and tenants.
"The current building codes do not require structures to be soundproofed anywhere near the level that commercial property tenants prefer," says Randy Brown, President of Soundproof Windows, Inc., a national soundproofing expert and manufacturer of window and patio door soundproofing products. "That opens the door for contractors to offer proven soundproofing solutions that can really quiet things down in the workplace."
Fortunately, by following a few proven tips in this regard, and by consulting with soundproofing experts, contractors can expand their business opportunities and create loyal, repeat customers for future jobs.
Noise can come from both exterior and interior sources. Locations near busy streets suffer from loud vehicle traffic, sirens, alarms, squealing tires and brakes, not to mention passing trains and airplanes.
Multiple studies have shown that 90 percent of exterior noise enters through windows, and for similar reasons conversations can just as easily exit through them as well. Such noise intrusion can be a particular problem for commercial properties located near outside street noise, transport corridors, or city centers.
Brown notes that much of the noise that enters or exits through windows comes through leaking window seals. With age conventional window seals fail, so any partial relief experienced by replacing windows may be short-lived.
To address these issues, some contractors and commercial property owners are turning to true soundproofing companies, like Soundproof Windows, Inc., that have expertise engineering products used in the most noise sensitive environments in the world, like recording studios.
The company has created a "second window" that can be installed easily in front of the existing windows. The product is designed specifically to match and function like the original window, no matter its design or whether it opens or closes.
This inner window reduces noise from entering on three fronts: the type of materials used to make the pane, the ideal air space between original window and insert, and finally improved, long-lasting seals. The combination can reduce external noise by up to 95 percent.
"The first noise barrier is laminated glass, which dampens sound vibration much like a finger on a wine glass stops it from ringing when struck," explains Brown. "An inner PVB layer of plastic further dampens sound vibrations."
Air space of 2 to 4 inches between the existing window and the Soundproof Window also significantly improves noise reduction because it isolates the window frame from external sound vibrations. It can also stop sound transmission out the window as well.
Finally, the company places spring-loaded seals in the second window frame. "This puts a constant squeeze on the glass panels, which prevents sound leaks and helps to stop noise from vibrating through the glass," explains Brown.
When choosing soundproofed windows, Brown adds that the most objective measure of sound reduction is the window's Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating. In this rating system, the higher the number the more noise is stopped. A typical rating for standard windows is 26 to 28, for example. The acoustic soundproof windows, by comparison, earn a 48 to 54 STC rating.
Ceiling and Wall Soundproofing
Protecting privacy is also essential for a number of professions. For medical professionals, in fact, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) requires data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information. Lawyers and business professionals also have private matters (such as client-attorney privilege, trade secrets, and negotiations). However, conversations overheard through shared ceilings and walls can compromise privacy
While noise coming through common walls is a frequent complaint, such sound "bleeding through" drop ceilings is actually a much worse problem, according to Ted White, President of Soundproofing Company Inc., a specialist in noise intrusion in walls, ceilings, and other building structures. Such ceilings are typically comprised of lightweight acoustic tile, supported by a metal grid, behind which lighting, ductwork, plumbing, electrical, and sprinklers are hidden.
"Drop ceilings account for about 90 percent of the "˜sound bleed' problem in commercial structures," says White. "Acoustic tiles are designed to keep sound from echoing, but do not block sound from exiting a ceiling. You could pop off the acoustic ceiling tile and there is basically nothing there. Insulation will not overcome the problem because it has no mass."
According to White, to reduce sound penetration through ceilings and walls, the place to start is usually by adding two sheets of traditional 5/8-inch sheet drywall to the structures. This adds mass to the ceilings and walls and acts as a barrier, which helps to limit sound vibration through them.
To further dampen sound vibrations through ceilings and walls, he recommends adding a material like Green Glue between the layers of drywall. The material, he says, can absorb vibration more cost effectively than other materials.
For more complete wall soundproofing, White says that a second wall stud can be added, with the double drywall on the exterior of each. He suggests a 1-inch to 2-inch gap between each wall stud to reduce sound transmission through the wall.
To diminish such sound penetration through ceilings, he suggests installing the ceiling drywall on its own independent suspension. This is typically accomplished with a clip and channel mechanism that oscillates and provides vibration isolation.
In commercial properties, another source of noise transmission can be large holes in the ceiling structure due to lighting or ventilation. The smaller the holes cut in the ceiling drywall or acoustic tile, the less sound is transmitted, particularly at lower frequencies.
For this, smaller diameter "can" lights can be used instead of large, fluorescent lighting boxes. For large HVAC ducting that can required 12-inch to 18-inch holes for ceiling vents, a better alternative is to redesign the system to feed multiple 4-inch to 6-inch holes.
While soundproofing techniques may be unfamiliar to many contractors, industry experts believe that remodeling efforts aimed at addressing noise and privacy issues will continue to gain traction with commercial property owners and tenants, who are working in tighter, more condensed environments.
"At some point, soundproofing should become a line item right along with plumbing, electrical, windows and floor treatments," concludes Brown. "These things are infinitely easier to put in if they are planned up front. Contractors who can guide commercial property owners through the process, and work with expert partners, will have an edge in the market."