In our chaotic world, finding an oasis of peace and quiet is incredibly important. For many, quietude is more than a luxury–it’s a necessity. Nowhere is this more true than in healthcare settings, where the restorative powers of silence may well mean the difference between life and death.
In fact, an increasing number of studies are substantiating the beneficial impacts of soothing sounds, from white noise to music to nature sounds, on recovery. Researchers have found, for example, that patient outcomes following profound injury or highly invasive procedures were improved when patients were exposed to soothing sounds during treatment–including those undergoing mechanical ventilation and lower limb surgical procedures (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
Conversely, the evidence suggesting the detrimental impacts of noise pollution on health and healing is growing (6, 7, 8, 9, 10). For example, research has shown that preterm and low birth weight infants exposed to the chronically high noise levels of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) exhibit significant signs of physiological distress, including potentially harmful spikes in heart rate and blood pressure. At the same time, these infants also experience reduced respiration and oxygen saturation as well as a substantial decline in sleep quality (11, 12, 13, 14).
Simply put, scientific research is proving what humans have intuited for hundreds, if not thousands, of years– not only that sound has the power to improve well-being, but also that noise has the power to disturb and distress, and even destroy health and healing. This means that, as important as effective sound treatment is for any commercial building, the need and the implications are particularly profound for healthcare facilities. This article describes strategies architects, interior designers, and healthcare facilities can use to create ideal sound environments for hospitals, clinics, and treatment centers.
The Basics of Environmental Sound Treatment
One of the most significant factors contributing to noise pollution in healthcare settings is the abundance of hard, flat surfaces, which collect sound waves and reflect them back into the environment (and the ears of healthcare workers, patients, and loved ones). This means that sound mitigation efforts should begin with the attempt to prevent echoes and reverberation.
We understand hard surfaces are easier to keep clean and maintain than soft porous surfaces that absorb sound, and we want to explore solutions that can do both while minimizing the impact on patients, slowing their recovery.
There is an important method for doing this: sound absorption. As the name suggests, sound absorption refers to the intake of sound waves into a material surface, where the wave’s energy is diffused through the material’s cellular structure and helps it dissipate. What doesn’t get absorbed bounces back into the environment.
Smooth surfaces, both curved and flat, are notorious for creating echoes and reverberations. Furthermore, reflected soundwaves coalesce or accumulate at a distance, which often amplifies sound (and explains why sounds in a large room with high ceilings may be louder further from a noise source than beside it). By breaking up planes with ridges, cells, and absorptive materials, you can reduce noise.
Starting at the Top
Perhaps not surprisingly, effective sound mitigation often begins at the top. Ceilings are a major culprit when it comes to environmental noise, and, in general, the higher the ceiling, the more amplified the ambient noise. So to counteract soundwave accumulation, echoing, and reverberation, you need to focus on materials and structures with a high noise reduction coefficient (NRC).
F-Sorb’s Quietgrid ceilings, for instance, offer significant sound absorption due to the porosity of the material. At the same time, their cellular structure both increases the surface area on which sound waves may be absorbed, even as the irregular surface helps to break up and diffuse the sound molecules that are not absorbed into the panels and tiles.
Noise reduction isn’t just a matter of choosing materials with a high NRC. Your installation strategy can also make a profound difference in the efficacy of your sound design. Completely covering the ceiling will provide the greatest sound reduction. For example, when a ceiling is entirely covered with ½ inch thick F-Sorb acoustic panels, you’re going to get a noise reduction coefficient of 0.50, meaning that sound levels are reduced by 50%. Then, if you suspend the ceiling and thereby create a pocket of air behind the panel, you’re going to get an NRC of 0.70 or a 70% noise reduction. However, when you change the design from a flat panel, you gain greater sound absorption. In this example, when the same amount of material is used in Silentline baffles, the NRC is raised to 0.75, and if a Quietgrid cellular ceiling is constructed, the NRC is raised to an astounding 0.95.
Wall It In
In addition to reducing environmental noise by increasing sound wave absorption and diffusion in the ceiling, it’s also important to focus on sound mitigation along the walls. In general, the greatest amount of noise reaches patients’ and workers’ ears between 3 and 7 feet above the floor. This is where you get the sounds of people talking, equipment beeping and humming, and devices ringing and buzzing.
This is the level where you want to install a higher concentration of sound-absorbing materials. The ½ inch F-Sorb panels are designed for walls and ceilings and have an NRC of 0.50, meaning that noise levels are reduced by half when the sound wave reaches, and is absorbed into, the acoustic panel.
Outfitting the interior perimeters of a room is an ideal way to significantly reduce environmental noise levels but, again, it’s only the first step. Maximizing the placement of absorptive materials by installing them in areas where the largest amounts of sound waves reach the materials will work best to minimize stress-inducing noise and create greater privacy for patients and medical personnel.
Quite often, a combination of absorptive materials on both the ceilings and walls will provide the greatest noise reduction. When you have a very large room or a tight space with lots of noise, such as an emergency waiting room, materials designed for sound mitigation, such as F-Sorb’s linear Silentline baffles and Quietgrid ceilings, will significantly reduce ambient noise. These serve both to diffuse sound waves from multiple angles and absorb them in a more efficient manner than a simple panel, reducing or even preventing the echo and reverberations.
Outfitting the Space
In addition to prioritizing sound mitigation in the permanent structures of a building or room, it’s also helpful to consider how equipment, furnishings, and fixtures may contribute to ambient noise. Again, hard, uniform surfaces tend both to produce more noise and don’t absorb sound, contributing to sound wave reverberation. Thus, simply by exchanging metal, cement, or hard plastic with softer materials, you can significantly enhance the overall sound environment. For instance, trays and carts featuring rubber wheels tend to produce far less noise than ones with plastic or metal wheels.
Additionally, thoughtful placement of phones used by nurses can reduce noise that reaches patients. This can be as simple as placing the phone next to some acoustic material or in a location where it is not in the direct line of sight, so the noises aren’t experienced as much by the patients.
How F-Sorb Can Help
At F-Sorb, we are proud to offer a wide array of innovative, eco-friendly, and highly customizable solutions to meet your sound mitigation needs. We specialize in products designed for commercial use, including “quiet room” designs ideally suited to healthcare settings. Contact your local F-Sorb dealer today to discuss how our unique array of products can help you create a truly healing sound environment for your next health facility design project.
At FSorb, we are motivated by improving human health and do so by creating eco-friendly acoustic products. Our mission is to help designers build beautiful spaces that reduce excess ambient noise while calming the human nervous system. With over 25 years in the acoustic business we stand behind FSorb as a durable, environmentally friendly, and low-cost product. If you want an acoustic solution that is safe to human health at an affordable price, then we are your resource.
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