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Office Soundproofing

How to Soundproof an Office

Author: Sturgeon Christie

Last Updated: February 9, 2024

Read Time: 7 Minutes

How to Soundproof an Office

Author:

Sturgeon Christie

Last Updated:

February 9, 2024

Read Time:

7 Minutes

Author: Sturgeon Christie

Updated: Feb. 9, 2024

Read Time: 7 Minutes

Sometimes even being in an office with a noisy neighbor or a few dozen coworkers can sound like you're in a zoo with hundreds of people. The sound of music, typing, printers, phones, conversations, office chairs and Margaret “the sniffler” over in HR all combine to create enough noise to drive you crazy in 8 minutes, let alone 8 hours. If you want to have a productive and happy team, you can't let these noise issues go untreated. A little soundproofing is money well spent!

In the article below, we'll go into detail about how to solve the two most common office soundproofing problems: (1) noise traveling between rooms or from neighbors and (2) excessive noise in an open office design. Both of these problems are very common, and easily solved with a little help from our team. Keep reading to learn more, or give us a call to speak with a soundproofing professional!

Sometimes even being in an office with a noisy neighbor or a few dozen coworkers can sound like you're in a zoo with hundreds of people. The sound of music, typing, printers, phones, conversations, office chairs and Margaret “the sniffler” over in HR all combine to create enough noise to drive you crazy in 8 minutes, let alone 8 hours. If you want to have a productive and happy team, you can't let these noise issues go untreated. A little soundproofing is money well spent!

In the article below, we'll go into detail about how to solve the two most common office soundproofing problems: (1) noise traveling between rooms or from neighbors and (2) excessive noise in an open office design. Both of these problems are very common, and easily solved with a little help from our team. Keep reading to learn more, or give us a call to speak with a soundproofing professional!

 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Soundproofing an office can increase the productivity and comfort of employees by reducing distractions. Soundproofing can also provide necessary speech privacy for personal and confidential conversations.

  • For room-to-room noise in an office with closed rooms, there's a basic 3-step process to soundproof each room which involves treating poorly sealed walls, doors, and dropped ceilings. Full details below!

  • For an open office design, you'll need to focus on sound absorbing materials like acoustic panels, acoustic ceiling tiles, and ceiling baffles to reduce reverb and echo. Soundproofing treatments for cubicles is another critical component of open office design.
  • Sound masking is another technique that can help make an office more productive, reducing distractions and making it seem quieter.
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Popular Solutions for a Noisy Office


Sound Lock™ Door Seal Kit
CelluZorbe™ HD Ceiling Tile Backer
BlocknZorbe™ EZ Drop Ceiling Tile

Why Should I Soundproof My Office?

There's a clear business case for soundproofing an office. It's an investment in employee productivity and satisfaction, and has numerous been studied pretty rigorously across a number of studies.

For example in a meta analysis evaluating 20+ studies on the impact of sound on productivity, people performed 10-25% worse on a variety of tasks including basic office tasks, proof reading, memory, and reading comprehension. The more cognitivitely demanding the task, the more that speech tended to reduce performance.

In another study looking at employee satisfaction, sound issues were 2 of the top 3 issues causing employee dissatisfaction. Open offices were by far the worst, with 50%+ of employees dissatisfied with the sound privacy levels and 25%+ dissatisfied with the overall noise level (#1 and #3 respectively).

There's not a business that doesn't want more productive, satisfied employees. And that's before we even get into spaces that absolutely REQUIRE speech privacy, such as doctor's offices, therapist's offices, law offices, or employees handling sensitive conversations like those in HR.

If you feel like you have a sound issue, you probably do. And the sooner you can shift to thinking about soundproofing as an investment in your business, employees, and customers - the sooner you'll get the problem solved!

How to Soundproof an Office (Closed Rooms)

Think of sound like you would think of water. It flows to the weakest point and will always find an opening. Imagine your office space being filled with water and think of every gap that it could get through. You should focus on plugging those gaps to keep sound contained. For your closed, commercial office there are 4 simple steps to soundproof any office.

  1. A dropped ceiling is almost always the biggest problem to fix. Add the CelluZorbe HD Ceiling Tile Backer Board to your existing ceiling tiles.
  2. Be sure you have a solid core door. Soundproof the door with a Sound Lock Door Seal Kit.
  3. Seal all gaps and penetrations in the wall. Your #1 tool here is acoustical sealant. In a commercial building, the most common issue is a gap behind the plastic base molding.
  4. If you have exterior noise (traffic, construction, etc), you need to soundproof the windows. Install our Fantastic Frame window inserts to reduce noise through a window by up to 80%.

Those 4 steps will cover your office soundproofing needs. We go into more detail below, or you can get a conversation started by calling or emailing one of our Second Skin soundproofing professionals!

Step 1: soundproof the dropped ceiling

If you want to soundproof a dropped ceiling in your office, you should start by lifting up one of the ceiling tiles and see if the walls between rooms go all the way up to the ceiling. Often with dropped ceilings, the partition walls don’t go all the way up to the roof deck. A standard ceiling tile blocks sound about as well as a piece of cardboard, and although it helps some as an echo absorber, it isn't blocking anything. Because your room basically doesn't have a ceiling, sound goes right through the tiles and over your “walls” and bounces off the roof deck down into other rooms.

There's only one practical solution to fix a drop ceiling. Use our CelluZorbe HD Ceiling Tile Backer. This backing material is the most cost-effective solution (both for material and for labor), as it can go right over the top of your existing ceiling tiles to create an effective sound barrier. You could add the ceiling tile backers in just one room, but to maximize effectiveness of your soundproof ceiling we recommend adding the ceiling tile backers to both rooms. This is a very important step for soundproofing a therapist office or any other office dealing with sensitive conversations.

Step 2: soundproof the doors

Knock knock. No seriously, knock on your doors so you can check if they are hollow or not. Hollow core doors, like ceiling tiles, just aren’t built to block sound. Replace hollow doors with a solid core door that will more effectively keep noise from passing through it.

From there you should check the gaps around the door. Although it may not look like much, sound can pass through, under, and around doors that don’t have acoustic seals. On average a closed door has about 1 square foot of space around it. Imagine a 1 foot hole in the middle of your wall and think of how much noise that would let in!

To soundproof a door, you should install our Sound Lock Door Seal Kit. The kit is made up of 3 adjustable seals for the top and sides of the door, and 1 bottom seal. When the door is shut and the kit is installed, the seal will expand to apply pressure to the floor and edges to create a complete seal. The seal then retracts when opening the door so you don’t even notice it’s there. This will perform much better than thing products that are advetised as soundproof door sweeps, becuase these door sweeps offer very minimal sound reduction.

Acoustic Ceiling Tiles

Step 3: seal drywall gaps with acoustical sealant

In most commercial construction when drywall is installed, it’s typically lifted 1/4" to 1/2" off of the floor. This is per code, and not unusual at all, however that gap is a significant issue for proper soundproofing. To fix this, remove your base molding and use acoustic sealant to fully seal and close the gap along the bottom of the wall. Be sure to do this on both sides of any walls you’re treating.

In addition look for gaps elsewhere. Many buildings have full-length windows and in areas toward the edge of the building, both high and low frequency sounds an easily bounce off the glass and into adjacent offices through gaps between the drywall and windows. Small gaps around outlets, vents, and pipes on walls and ceilings leak more sound than you would think. Pipes can also be a source of noise within an office space so look into pipe sound into pipe wrap insulation if necessary. An ⅛” gap around six outlets adds up to be the equivalent of a four inch hole in your wall.

Remember earlier when we said sound moves like water? Find those small gaps and seal them up tight. You can also read more here on how to soundproof a common wall.

Step 4 (if necessary): install window inserts for exterior noise

If you’re experiencing noise coming from outside your building, the problem is with your windows. You could replace your windows, but that will most likely be extremely expensive and will mean there will be heavy construction happening in your building for a while. Plus, there’s no guarantee new windows won’t be installed with the same gaps as your old windows. Fantastic Frame window inserts will cut the noise through a window by up to 80%!

We recommend using window inserts to cover and sound proof windows. In addition to helping soundproof your office, they also are great for thermal insulation. When customers install our Fantastic Frame window inserts in an entire office, they typically save about 40% on heating and cooling costs. Window inserts also are great around the house and often used in a soundproof home office.

How to Soundproof an Office (Open Floor Plan)

An open office design is meant to inspire collaboration and creativity, but that doesn’t mean you’re always trying to have a discussion with the guy at the other end of the floor. When soundproofing an open floor plan, there are no traditional walls to stop sound from traveling between spaces. Open floor plans are also much more likely to have reverb/echo issues due to the size of the open room. Every open office requires some level of acoustical treatments to control noise. Our goal when soundproofing an open office is to add as much acoustic material as possible as close to the sources of noise (usually people). We have 3 common approaches to get that acoustic material into the open office space:

  1. Install acoustic material on the ceiling or walls. For a dropped ceiling, this means acoustic ceiling tiles (PolyZorbe Ceiling Tiles). For other ceilings or walls, we'll use acoustic panels or ceiling baffles.
  2. Install acoustic material on the cubicles. The cubicle is the closest we can get to the people making the noise. We like to use tackable panels, like PolyZorbe or BlocknZorbe.
  3. Add hidden absorption into the space. We often get creative hiding budget-friendly absorption (CelluZorbe or EcoVerb Roll). We can make huge sound quality improvements in many open offices with no impact to the overall aesthetic!

Depending on the office design and setup, we may recommend a combination of these 3 approaches or just one. The recommended solution will depend on a combination of achieving the best sound control and the client's desired aesthetic in the space. Call, email, or chat with a Second Skin soundproofing professional to learn more!

office soundproofing with divider and acoustic clouds

Option 1: install acoustic material on the ceiling or wall

Big rooms have acoustical problems. Rooms with high ceilings have acoustical problems. Rooms with reflective surfaces (glass, concrete, metal) tend to have acoustical problems. All three of these factors are very common in the modern open office. If you don't have acoustical material as part of the open office design, we don't need to do an acoustical analysis to know you're going to have sound control issues.

Treating the ceiling is often an excellent option. You can add a huge amount of absorption to an office without impacting the overall aesthetic. In some cases, we'll enhance it! With a dropped ceiling, replacing standard ceiling tiles with an acoustic ceiling tile like PolyZorbe is an incredibly effective fix. For open ceilings, we can install acoustic panels or ceiling baffles. For drywall (ceiling or walls), we have a huge variety of acoustic panels we can use to improve the sound quality of the space. We have options ranging from the most budget-friendly to extremely high-end and decorative. Reach out to start a conversation with one of our professionals!

option 2: soundproofing the cubicles

There's a field of science called psychoacoustics. One thing we've learned in this field is that the louder someone perceives a space, the louder that person tends to talk. As people talk louder, the space gets louder, so people talk louder, so the space gets louder still... you see the problem here? By treating a cubicle with acoustical materials, we can reduce the amount of sound reflecting directly back to the speaker off the hard surfaces surrounding them. When less sound reflects to the speaker, they perceive the space as quieter and will then speak more softly. As people speak more softly, the space overall gets quieter. This positive feedback loop is important in dense cubicle environments where people are constantly speaking, like a call center.

We have a whole article on how to soundproof office cubicles if you want to go deeper on cubicle soundproofing. We go into more detail on partial height barriers, screens, optimal cubicle configuration, and more!  

option 3: add hidden absorption to the office

There are all sorts of places you can hide acoustical materials in an office. Acoustic material can be "hidden" under desks, chairs, and chairs, on top of cabinets, inside of cubicles, or behind design features. The key is that the sound absorbing material has a face that is exposed so that the sound in your open office can find it. Hidden absorption is an attractive option because it doesn't matter what it looks like. You can use extremely cost-effective, recycled acoustic materials and nobody will see where you've installed them!

acoustic treatment on office walls

other office noise control options

Acoustic panels are often needed in the closed rooms of an open office (conference rooms, meeting rooms, and individual offices). If you have room-to-room noise, the previous section on soundproofing an office by sealing up those spaces is the top priority. The next priority is acoustic panels to control reverb and echo as well as provide additional sound reduction. It's extremely common to need conference room acoustic panels to improve sound quality during meetings or conference calls. For rooms with glass walls, the treatments are a bit different so we've written an entire article on how to soundproof glass walls which goes into detail on that topic.

Another common strategy in an open office is to install electronic background masking noise and play it uniformly throughout the office. It's common to use white noise or relaxing music at a low level to "mask" sounds that are occurring at a distance. Masking noise should not exceed 50 dB or people will begin to talk louder to speak over it. Although adding noise to a room sounds counter-intuitive, this low, unobtrusive sound covers up distance noises and is a commonly used tool in an open office.

PolyZorbe™ EZ Drops Right into that Ceiling Grid

Your typical ceiling tile isn't going to do anything to block noise from traveling into your ceiling plenum. PolyZorbe™ is rated for BOTH blocking and absorbing noise. This dynamic combo is what makes PolyZorbe™ one of most versatile sound panels!

  • Solves both reverb issues and room-to-room noise
  • Pre-cut to fit easily into an existing ceiling grid
  • Decorative, lightweight and easy to clean
  • Water resistant and tackable
  • Available in white and a variety of colors by quote

Soundproofing vs Acoustics: What's the Difference?

The idea of soundproofing a space and improving the acoustics are often talked about interchangeably but they accomplish very different things and it’s important to know the distinction.

The most important thing to remember is that acoustic materials do not block sound. Adding foam or acoustic panels to the walls in your conference room will not keep out the noise from people hanging out in the break room next door. Acoustic materials do not soundproof.

To break it down, soundproofing material is designed to keep noise OUT of a given space, while sound acoustics materials are designed to improve sound INSIDE of a space. Soundproofing materials block noise by making a barrier more dense, more limp, or more airtight. Acoustic materials like sound absorbing panels can’t block sound, but they can prevent unpleasant reverberation while improving the quality of sound that you want to hear. For instance, if you were to hold acoustic foam up to your face and speak, it wouldn’t reduce the volume of your voice at all. However using acoustic foam on the wall of a recording studio or movie theater drastically improves the listening experience by reducing how reflective the walls are, so your ear hears each sound once.

difference between soundproofing and acoustics in an office

It’s important to identify what your noise problems are so you can apply the right solution. Does your office have several private offices and you're worried about sound leaking through the walls? You want to look for soundproofing solutions. Are you in an open office with too much crowd noise? You should find a way to improve the acoustics. In many cases, both strategies are needed. Let’s start with information about soundproofing.

Contact the Office Soundproofing Experts!

For your typical closed office, the 4 soundproofing steps we discussed above will solve almost any noise issue. For an open office, the approach involves soundproof panels to reduce echo and reverb to improve sound quality. We didn't cover it in this article, but some offices may need to take HVAC noise control steps due to the noise coming from the HVAC. Whatever your noise problem is, if you want to learn more or just want to discuss your office’s sound issues, let us know. We’re happy to help!

Have questions about your project?

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