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What kinds of sound insulation do you need in an office?

Busy offices can be very noisy places, with just some of the constant sounds including colleagues talking to each other and customers, telephones ringing, keyboards clicking and doors opening and closing. Depending on where the office is located, there may also be a significant amount of noise coming from outside the building, with traffic, trains and pedestrians adding to the ruckus.

With so much noise to contend with, it can be difficult for office workers to concentrate and get their work done. While a lot of noise reduction will be up to the building occupants, landlords, interior designers, architects and other specifiers can also take steps to keep excess sound to a minimum in a building. 

Types of noise

The first step will be to understand the different types of noise that can be found in an office. These are:

  • Airborne sound - This is the noise we hear, coming directly from the source, such as a person talking or a telephone ringing.
  • Reflected sound - Also known as an echo, reflected sound occurs when sound waves hit a hard surface and bounce back. The sound can often become distorted, creating even more unpleasant noises.
  • Impact sound - Most commonly, impact noise comes from footfalls overhead.

Dealing with the noise

Once you've determined the different types of sound that you're dealing with, you can start taking steps to deal with them appropriately. For example:

  • SoundBoards - These tile-backer boards from Marmox are designed to reduce Impact Sound at the source. It effectively removes the solid link between where the impact happens (that is, a footfall on tile) and the ceiling by placing a layer of synthetic rubber in between.
  • Woodwool panels - The Heraklith range of thermal/acoustic panels are made from sustainably sourced timber and are often used in recording studios, theatres, schools, colleges and offices. They help to keep reflected sounds to a minimum.
  • Decor - Offices can be very sparse in terms of wall decorations or window treatments. However, these items, along with soft furnishings can actually help to reduce reflected noise and make an office environment quieter. That's because they help to absorb sound waves, rather than providing a hard surface for them to bounce off of. Consider hanging some canvas-based artworks, putting up thick curtains and carpeting the space.
  • Acoustic panels on desks - Open-plan offices can be particularly prone to excess noise, especially if your colleagues spend a lot of time on the telephone. Acoustic panels on desks, in the form of privacy panels between individuals, can help to reduce the amount of noise that travels from one person to another.
  • Double-glazing - If it's noisy outside, it's probably noisy inside too. Unfortunately, you won't have much control over what's happening outside the office, but ensuring the windows are double-glazed can help to prevent the noise from entering the workplace.
  • Building methods - If you're building internal walls, try to use stud partitions, rather than masonry. Stud walls provide better sound dampening qualities and you can also add insert acoustic insulation panels into the walls to cut down on noise even more.