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It’s well known that productivity, well-being and happy employees are all key considerations in the ideal office environment. So, where does sound fit into it? And how do glass partitions perform acoustically?

Without a doubt, overlooking sound in a design it can present lots of difficulties in the long term. High on the list of annoyances in the workplace, noise can change people’s behaviour and is a cause of stress. With acoustic performance so essential, what steps can designers and specifiers take to create an office environment which is quieter, whilst at the same time offering the right level of ambient noise and improved privacy?

Acoustic performance and design

The acoustic performance of office fit-out projects has become a key priority. Like lighting, it should be an integral part of good architectural design. When done well, it’s a significant contributor to the well-being and productivity of the office employee. Interestingly, acoustic privacy and comfort levels are often worse if the background noise levels at workspaces are too quiet. This suggests striking the balance between noise and silence is key to designing a successful work environment.

From the outset it’s important to use materials which will achieve good acoustics and solve any sound transmission issues. The designer must also meet the client or end user’s requirements for privacy and reduced noise transfer between offices.

With informal, open-plan and flexible spaces replacing the more formal, enclosed and private rooms of the past, the office has seen significant changes in recent years. Unfortunately, this flexible working ends up having a knock-on effect. Occupation levels increase, offices are noisier, and in turn productivity hinders. There is, however, a growing need for quiet rooms and meeting rooms where confidential conversations can take place. This is why the acoustic effectiveness of glass partitions has become a key factor in noise reduction.

So how do we manage the noise?

We need 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. At the same time, we need to prevent privacy loss from the office to external space.

The acoustic effectiveness of the partition is also known as the sound insulation or sound reduction performance and measured by the sound reduction index (SRI). This is the ability of a partition to reduce the level of sound passing through it. You can measure the SRI by testing a partition sample in an acoustic laboratory in accordance with EN ISO 10140-1 and 2. You then express the result in dB (Rw), in accordance with EN ISO 717-1, this allows specifiers to compare similar office partitions.

Furthermore, it’s also important to consider the acoustic performance of doors and ensure when fitting that the acoustic seals are efficient. Flanking sounds through floor or ceiling voids are another factor and can occur if partitions do not extend to the floor slab above, or alternatively, if ceiling void acoustic barriers have been installed, but have not been correctly sealed around services penetrations.

Acoustic terminology can be confusing, with technical terms and specialist jargon. However, when it comes to the design of offices, acoustic design has never been more important. To achieve good acoustic standards and solve sound transmission issues requires the same level of attention as other design elements.

Find out more about managing noise, what performance you need and how to make sure you deliver on site with our RIBA Certified CPD seminar, ‘Understanding Partition Acoustics’. To arrange for us to present a CPD seminar at your offices, just click here!

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