Noise is a well-documented problem in hospitals. In a 2007 study of two facilities, no less than 86 different sources were listed, including patients, staff and visitors talking, and the cacophony produced by televisions, alarms, carts, and doors, along with medical and mechanical equipment.
In the last decade, sustainable, flexible, and collaborative design trends have systematically eliminated many methods of controlling acoustics. The percentage of open-plan space has grown and so have occupant densities. At the same time, partitions have lowered or disappeared altogether, and the use of absorptive finishes has diminished, allowing noises to travel further and last longer.
Closed offices and meeting rooms are built with the intention of providing occupants with both visual and acoustic privacy. While the first goal can easily be achieved, the second often proves elusive because of the many ways in which sound can transfer from one space to another.
Everyone has heard the old adage “silence is golden,” but just as with lighting and temperature, the comfort zone for the volume of sound is actually not zero. In fact, if the background sound level in a space is too low, conversations and noise can easily be heard, even from a great distance, impacting speech privacy and disrupting one’s concentration. Many organizations use a sound masking system to maintain an appropriate ambient sound level in their facilities, which is typically between 42 and 48 decibels (dB) in commercial interiors.