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Office Soundproofing

How to Soundproof an Office

How to Soundproof an Office

Sometimes even being in an office with a few dozen coworkers can still sound like you're in a zoo with a few hundred people. The sound of typing, printers, phones, conversations, office chairs and Margaret “the sniffler” over in HR all combine to create a cacophony of noise that can be unbearable for 8 minutes, let alone 8 hours. Not to worry, read on for tips on how to soundproof your office and improve the acoustics so you can get through your day easier, and maybe even have a nice conversation with Margaret about her weekend.

Sometimes even being in an office with a few dozen coworkers can still sound like you're in a zoo with a few hundred people. The sound of typing, printers, phones, conversations, office chairs and Margaret “the sniffler” over in HR all combine to create a cacophony of noise that can be unbearable for 8 minutes, let alone 8 hours. Not to worry, read on for tips on how to soundproof your office and improve the acoustics so you can get through your day easier, and maybe even have a nice conversation with Margaret about her weekend.

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Popular Solutions for a Noisy Office


Sound Lock™ Door Seal Kits
Green Glue™ Noiseproofing Compound
BlocknZorbe™ EZ Drop Ceiling Tile

Why Should I Soundproof My Office?

The most obvious need for soundproofing is preventing distractions. How often have you been in the zone at your desk and then immediately disrupted by someone’s phone call or loud typing. Reducing the amount of noise in an office can increase productivity and overall comfort of your employees as well as clients that may be in the office.

Another often overlooked problem is speech privacy. Many of the conversations happening in an office are confidential, whether it’s about a secret project or a discussion between a manager and their report, not every employee needs to be privy to every topic. Not to mention if you’re an office that’s often frequented by patients or clients, such as a medical or law office where confidentiality is vital. Not providing enough privacy for sensitive information could get you into legal trouble.

Anyone that’s worked in an office can relate to these issues, but luckily, we have solutions.

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. Sticking foam or cheap 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 acoustics material is 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.

How to Soundproof an Office

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 typical closed, commercial office there are 4 major areas you want to pay attention to.

Dropped ceilings

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 of this, sound simply moves right through the tiles and over your “walls” and bounces off the roof deck down into other rooms.

If you have the time and money, you can solve this by extending the partition walls all the way up to the roof deck and sealing it off. But this is a time consuming and complex option that would require heavy construction. Chances are you can’t interrupt your business for that long.

Another strategy is to use ceiling tile backers. This backing material added to the top of the existing tile adds density which turns your previously porous ceiling tiles into an effective sound barrier. You could add the ceiling tile backers in just one room, but to maximize effectiveness of your soundproof ceiling you should add them to any areas that are either the source of noise as well as where you want to keep noise out of.

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 them 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!

There are some door jamb kits you can buy at a hardware store, but frankly they’re often flimsy and don’t fit well. For a truly soundproof door, we recommend a 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.

Acoustic Ceiling Tiles

Drywall Gaps

In most commercial construction when drywall is installed, it’s typically lifted about ½” off of the floor. This is per code, and not unusual at all, however it’s not great for soundproofing as now you have this gap throughout your building for noise to get through. 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 can 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.

Exterior Noise

If you’re experiencing noise coming from outside your building, chances are 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.

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. Depending on how many windows are in your office could save a substantial amount on heating and cooling costs. Window inserts tend to be especially helpful when looking for a more soundproof home office.

How to Effectively Use Acoustic Panels in an Office

As we mentioned earlier acoustics and soundproofing is not the same, however they’re both important. Acoustic materials are designed to absorb sound so noise doesn’t bounce around your office. Effectively installing acoustic panels in your office will reduce echoes and limit sound carrying throughout your office space. This will make it easier to hear your coworkers, and yourself, even when there’s still a lot going on.

CLOSED OFFICES

In a closed office you will probably want to improve the acoustics inside specific rooms, most likely conference and meeting rooms where multiple people will gather. Ironically if you’ve soundproofed these rooms well, it will actually create more acoustic issues - not less. This is because all the gaps that used to let sound leak out have been blocked and now there’s more sound bouncing around INSIDE the space.

To make sure you get enough coverage, follow the Rule of 40%. Take the length of room x width of room x 40%, the number you get is the square feet of acoustic paneling you should install. So if you’re in a conference room that’s 20 feet by 10 feet, that would be 20’ x 10’ x .40 = 80. This means you’d want about 80 square feet of acoustic panels for a 20 foot by 10 foot room.

When installing your panels don’t lump them all in one place. It’ll reduce noise some, but sound waves still have 3 walls to bounce off of. Make sure to add acoustic panels to at least two adjacent walls to effectively reduce reverb. Imagine a billiard ball bouncing around a pool table, it rarely just goes back and forth off the 2 same walls, it usually bounces at an angle and knocks around a bit before finally coming to a stop.

office soundproofing with divider and acoustic clouds

OPEN OFFICE

Open offices are inherently loud, but they don’t have to be noisy. 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. Acoustic panels as well as other strategies such as soundproof office cubicles can help control noise so you can effectively work and chat with coworkers despite people creating noise all around you.

There are 3 key methods for improving acoustics in an open office.

1. Partial height barriers or screens

Screens help by interrupting the direct path of sound between workstations. These screens are usually covered with a fabric, sound absorbing material. By placing them throughout your open office, ideally next to desks and work areas, you can interrupt sound waves and keep them from traveling as far.

2. Background masking noise

Install an electronic background masking noise and play it uniformly throughout the office. This often takes the form of white noise and shouldn’t exceed 50 dB. Although adding noise to a room sounds counter-intuitive, this low, unobtrusive sound acts as a blanket for the rest of the crowd noise happening in your office.

acoustic treatment on office walls

3. Add sound absorption to the ceiling, walls, and other surfaces

Imagine you’re in a massive field with no walls or structures in sight and you yell loudly up at the sky. The sound will travel in all directions away from the source (your voice) and quickly dissipate as it gets farther away from you. This is called a ‘free field’. Now imagine a massive metal wall drops a few feet in front of you and you yell at that. The sound of your voice would immediately reverberate off the wall and bounce back to you. In an office, sound from people and equipment bounces off the walls, ceiling, tables, and other surfaces in all directions. You may even want to look into soundproof flooring. An office space would be considered a ‘reverberant field’. By adding sound absorbing materials to these surfaces and stopping the sound from reverberating you can drastically reduce the noise in a space.

Let's talk a bit about how you can treat those surfaces.

ADDING ACOUSTIC PANELS TO THE OFFICE WALLS

Depending on the size of your open office and the layout, some parts of the wall may be reflecting more sound than others. These reflective surfaces are where you should focus. Place panels around face level throughout the office to catch more of the conversational noise.

Similar to our advice when applying acoustic panels in a private room, don’t concentrate all of your panels in one place or one wall. For a large open office, the specific strategies can vary due to space, building materials, layout, and more. You’ll need to contact us to tell us more about your space and get a custom recommendation.

BlocknZorbe 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. BlocknZorbe on the other hand will help reduce noise transfer by adding both absorption and creating a barrier. This dynamic combo is what makes BlocknZorbe one of most versatile sound panels!

  • One of the few acoustical materials with both an STC and NRC rating
  • Cut to fit easily into an existing ceiling grid
  • Lightweight and easy to clean
  • Water resistant, impact resistance, and tackable
  • Charcoal and white color options

ContAct the experts!

For your typical closed office, 95% of tenants can run through the 4 soundproofing steps we discussed above for a DIY solution. Combine soundproof panels with some acoustic panels, and you can solve the sound issues in most any commercial office. 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?

Call us at 1.866.570.5440