Best Soundproofing Practices During a Retrofit Are Covered in a New Handbook

Retrofits offer a unique opportunity for clients to fix fundamental issues of their space. While there are many upgrades that can be made during tenant occupation (such as IT, AV, aesthetic and other minor finishes), significant structural issues can often only be addressed during a major remodel.

Soundproofing, for instance, is dependent on the underlying wall system, primarily stud gauge, spacing and thickness, but is also affected by soundproofing materials under the surface of the finished drywall. As such, soundproofing improvements can generally only be undertaken when studs are exposed or significant retrofit options are available (unfortunately, there is no soundproof wallpaper or paint). This is the ideal time to install soundproof membrane over the studs and beneath new drywall to improve the STC of partitions.

Typically, after occupancy, clients recognize when soundproofing is an issue. This is something that is often overlooked during the initial build-out, either because it’s missed by building inspectors or because acoustics were not considered during the design phase.

However, there is a silver lining: While sound issues are often swept under the rug during initial design, existing tenants are overwhelmingly familiar with the sound issues that plague their space. Between retrofits, facility managers may be able to cost-effectively add acoustic treatment and sound masking systems that can address reverberation or speech privacy concerns (although at a slightly higher price than during a renovation).

Industrial conversions can also be particularly challenging for acoustic reasons because you’re changing the initial acoustic needs of the space. STC requirements are generally 50+ for multifamily and hospitality projects, but much lower for commercial applications; offices generally require only a 40 or even less. Therefore when converting a warehouse to a loft or flat space, careful attention must be paid to the floor-ceiling assembly and demising walls to ensure that tenants have acceptable privacy.

An interesting Case Study that Commercial Acoustics encounters fairly often is hardwood floors in a warehouse that needs to be converted to an IIC/STC 50 but the client desires to keep exposed joists below. The wood truss or joist system with hardwood floors transmits significant amounts of sound and requires treatment for footfall and airborne noise to approach these baselines. Through trial and error—and confirmed with field test data—Commercial Acoustics has identified a dual-membrane system that can convert these older assemblies to meet the modern building code. In many cases the initial wood floor can be removed and reinstalled to achieve historical preservation and tax credits.

Fundamentals of Architectural Acoustics covers when and how one should properly soundproof or acoustically treat a space. It is meant to be the one-stop shop for soundproofing core principles and rules of thumb for architects and contractors, with a focus on practical approaches.

The handbook reduces the expanse of acoustical concepts to the core practical principles that can be implemented on each project.

About the Author

Walker Peek
Walker Peek is an industrial noise control engineer, president of Commercial Acoustics and author of Fundamentals of Architectural Acoustics.

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