Comfort and safety

Renovation plan offers unique chance to improve acoustic well-being of public buildings

By Knauf Insulation
October 07, 2021

Well-being should be put at the heart of new plans to renovate Europe’s public buildings. Knauf Insulation’s acoustic insulation specialist explains why.

The European Commission’s new proposal to renovate 3% of all Europe’s public buildings every year offers an unmissable opportunity to radically improve public acoustics for everyone, says Maro Puljizević of Knauf Insulation’s Acoustic Core Research & Development Department.

The Commission’s new proposal included in a major revision of the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) is seen as a significant milestone on the road to achieve the European Union’s ambition to be the first zero carbon continent in the world by 2050.

Buildings are responsible for generating 36% of Europe’s CO2 but only around 1% of buildings are renovated every year. The EED revision aims to accelerate this renovation rate and is focused on retrofitting all public buildings — from village, town and city properties to municipal and regional buildings — to ensure they achieve near zero energy standards (NZEB)

 

Acoustic challenges of public buildings

“There has never been a better time to improve our acoustic well-being on an international scale,” says Maro. “In addition to making our public buildings more efficient and reducing their environmental impact, this is an opportunity to find solutions to many of the acoustic challenges facing these buildings."

Publicly owned properties make up an estimated 20% of Europe’s building stock ranging from office space, hospitals, prisons and museums to community centers, sports arenas and schools.

“The acoustic insulation challenges of public buildings are as significant and are varied as the buildings themselves and we are all familiar with their challenges,” says Maro. “In sports halls or venues there may be too much reverberation so it is hard to hear properly.

“At stations, public address systems may be distorted, in museums it may be impossible to hear your guide, in mosques or churches sound may be garbled and in schools, lessons may be ruined by poor sound proof insulation.

“In a multi-functional building such as a town hall there may be a wide range of challenges from the need for privacy in public-facing facilities, to efficient work spaces for public office work to good acoustics in meeting rooms and public spaces.”

 

Noise pollution impacts well-being

The impact of poor acoustics on well-being and health has been widely documented. Pre-pandemic, around 20 million Europeans were found to suffer from ‘high annoyance’ caused by external noise such as traffic with issues ranging from irritation to cardiovascular problems.

Maro Puljizević, Acoustics Project Manager

Such external annoyances combined with internal challenges such as clanking utility systems or noisy colleagues as well as badly designed acoustic spaces undermines productivity in offices, learning in schools, positive social interactions, healing in hospitals and the success of public functions.

"The Energy Efficiency Directive (EED)’s widespread renovation of public buildings is a unique opportunity to improve public well-being,” says Maro. “We should grasp this opportunity with both hands. Our hope is that this revision paves the way for showcase buildings that are renovated to the very highest sustainable standards. These buildings should provide a long-lasting legacy of well-being of which we can all be proud."

 

Maro’s acoustic tips for public building renovation

 

Factor in acoustics from the beginning

When carrying out a public building renovation there is compliance with thermal and fire regulations. It is best to factor in good sound proof insulation from the beginning. If you don’t and building occupants complain about traffic noise later, you have got an expensive problem.

 

Do not fix acoustic boards directly on flat surfaces

Even the best sound proof acoustic board in the world will not live up to expectations if it is fixed directly to a flat surface such as concrete. These heavy and rigid boards are excellent sound insulators, but fixing them directly to a wall reduces the sound insulation thanks to resonance effects. To improve sound insulation, Mineral Wool should be installed to act as a separating layer between the wall and board. By carrying out this work using Mineral Wool there is the double benefit of not just better acoustics but also a significant improvement in thermal performance resulting in increased energy efficiency. In other words, a great renovation result.

 

Do not jeopardise quality

Boards which offer good sound insulation are acoustically reflective which means they bounce sound back rather than absorb it. In a space with such ceiling and walls, sound will reverberate. People next door may not be able to hear you, but you will not be able to hear those in the boarded room. Board isolates sound and stops it leaving the room, but you need sound absorption as well. So, add absorptive surfaces, like clouds or baffles.

 

Learn about bad sound from public address systems

Everyone has experienced PA announcements that have been difficult to understand. Often this is because the building interior is one vast volume of flat reflective surfaces bouncing sound around. When Maro goes to airports he checks the ceiling features small holes. A board that combines insulation above needs to have perforations to allow the sound to be absorbed by the insulation. With perforations the sound quality is transformed.

 

People don’t live in laboratory conditions

People buy sound solutions based on ‘outstanding performance’ but once they are installed in an office, classroom or hospital, for example, they adapt them, holes may be drilled for electrical items such as speakers. Suddenly, the acoustic performance, deteriorates. Drilling a hole in a sound solution will undermine acoustic performance straight away.

 

Look for hidden problems

Below the fold of a ceiling, for example, everything can look good, but above, the range of mistakes can be boggling — cables added, holes drilled, lights installed — it’s always the penetrations, the services, the add-ons. People think that things can simply be hidden in the ceiling, but if we damage the sound proof insulation of a ceiling it is no longer effective.

 

Don’t mix and match quality

The best possible acoustic system is installed in the wall — its performance has been verified and audited by the manufacturer. If a door with unknown performance is then bought from elsewhere and added the overall performance goes down. Focus on installing quality acoustic solutions, everywhere.

 

Knauf Insulation solutions for public buildings

 

Find out more information about our solutions for acoustic challenges on our website.

 

Would you like to learn how good Sound Insulation of the building can bring you more Green Building Rating System points.

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Picture in the header represents Heraklith solution in Outstanding acoustics at the Atlas Theatre in Emmen, The Netherlands.