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Considering acoustics and well-being in the workplace is now a common business need. A happy, healthy workforce is ultimately a more engaged and productive one, which can lead to increased business performance. Acoustics and well-being is a core principal of the new WELL Building Standard. The standard was created by US-based consultants Delos and is steadily gaining importance in the design of UK office buildings. Its aim is to ensure that a building will guarantee a healthy environment for the people who work there. How can glass partitions help to create an acoustically comfortable environment? Moreover, how will lead to more content, and ultimately more productive, employees?

Acoustics and the WELL Building Standard

The WELL Building Standard measures health and wellness, using evidence-based medical and scientific research to improve the design of buildings. Put simply, WELL concentrates on the people. It addresses seven factors which can increase occupant health; one of which is comfort. Good office design has a significant impact on employee well-being. Overlooking sound can have a detrimental effect on an employee’s ability to work creatively, collaboratively and productively. However, a well-designed workplace that solves sound transmission issues, will feel comfortable to employees. In turn, this will ultimately have a positive effect on a business’s bottom line.

Designing for acoustics and well-being

Acoustic problems are a number one grievance and a leading source of dissatisfaction within the environmental conditions of an office. WELL requires designers to consider shaping spaces to reduce unwanted noise and therefore enhance productivity. One of the biggest challenges in designing for acoustics is striking the balance between noise and silence. A little-known fact is that acoustic privacy and comfort levels can actually suffer if background noise levels are too quiet. From the outset it’s important to use materials which will achieve good acoustics and solve any sound transmission issues. The designer must not only satisfy the legislative requirements but should also meet the client’s requirements for privacy and reduced noise transfer between offices.

In order to manage noise, it’s important to look at both keeping the noise out and keeping the noise in. In other words, we need to prevent noise intrusion from a busy circulation space into a private office, whilst at the same time preventing privacy loss from the office to external space, or from one office to another. Informal, open-plan and flexible spaces look great when compared to the more formal, enclosed and private rooms of the past. However, all this flexible working ends up having a knock-on effect: increased levels of occupation and noise levels can, in turn, hinder productivity.

The acoustic effectiveness of glass partitions

Consequently, there is a growing need for quiet rooms and meeting rooms where confidential conversations can take place. Glass partitions are frequently used to create offices, meeting rooms and quiet rooms because of their ability to provide good levels of sound reduction whilst at the same time allowing natural light flow and visual connectivity across a workplace. The acoustic effectiveness of glass partitions has therefore become a key factor in noise reduction.

The acoustic effectiveness of the partition is also known as the sound insulation or sound reduction performance and is measured by the sound reduction index (SRI). This is the ability of a partition to reduce the level of sound passing through it. To measure the SRI we test a partition sample in an acoustic laboratory and express the result in dB (Rw).

Installing glass partitions and doors on-site may cause a number of factors to affect their performance. Whilst the installation may have been carried out as closely as possible to the standard and quality of that in the laboratory test, there are a number of components in a finished fit-out that can cause the apparent performance of a partition to be poorer than the specified value. This is known as Flanking Transmission and can occur through the ceiling plenum, floor plenum, curtain wall mullions and abutments, around the partition via penetrations and around the door leaf. Taking care on site is important when dealing with flanking sound transmission in order to maximise acoustic effectiveness and in turn provide the best levels of acoustic comfort for the workforce.

Finding the balance

The WELL Building Standard puts the focus on reducing physiological disruption and distraction and facilitates comfort, productivity and well-being. With acoustics so important, it’s essential that specifiers strike the right balance between ambient noise and improved privacy in the modern office environment. Glass partitions help to mitigate unwanted noise levels, allowing specifiers to create private spaces for concentrated work which offer good levels of sound reduction. Addressing acoustics and well-being within a workplace will allow employees to feel more comfortable, which will, in turn, result in a happier and more productive workforce.

To find out more about noise management, acoustic performance and how to ensure you deliver on site, you can book our new RIBA Certified CPD, Understanding Partition Acoustics. Please visit our glass partition CPD seminar page.

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