All too often modern designers tend to specify strong materials for offices because of their stylish appearance and durability but – because designers often lack training in acoustics – they don’t understand how “noisy” this kind of design can be, says international acoustics authority, Julian Treasure.

Treasure, chairman of the London-based The Sound Agency, says poor acoustics increase noise levels dramatically – and the louder the noise, the greater the negative impacts on staff’s output and health.

“Much of the sound in typical workplaces is undesirable: ringing phones, electro-mechanical noise, other people’s phone calls etc. This, to put it bluntly, is noise. Noise is bad for business – so it’s important for designers to have a thorough understanding of how this affects staff and how best to improve offices with optimal acoustic adjustments,” he states.

Flooring can play a major role in such acoustic adjustments, says leading SA flooring supplier, KBAC Flooring. The company – which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2019 – believes that important acoustical elements, such as the correct choice of flooring and furnishings, should be addressed right at the outset: at the design stage.

Neil Duncan, director of KBAC Flooring, explains: “Carpeting absorbs far more airborne sound that other flooring materials can absorb. Typically, the thicker and higher quality the carpet, the better it will be at absorbing sound – particularly high-frequency sounds.

“The acoustic requirements of an interior vary from project to project, and building to building. Improving the intelligibility of speech in a meeting space will require different solutions to those required to create a feeling of privacy in open plan offices. The size and shape of a room also plays an important role.

“Chairs being moved or footsteps on a floor are examples of impact noise. A good acoustic environment is always the result of many factors, including choice of ceiling and acoustic panels. But to effectively control noise from footsteps and other impacts, no flooring alternative is more effective than carpet,” Duncan adds.

Acoustics influence productivity in the office environment, says leading SA flooring supplier, KBAC Flooring.

He says wool carpets particularly can create more comfortable working environments. “Wool flooring dampens noise and reduces sound transmissions between floors and rooms. Sound is transmitted by the vibration of air molecules. The fuzzy porous structure of wool carpets and soft furnishing mean that sound waves penetrate the pile instead of being noisily reflected into a room. Wool carpets are extremely effective sound absorbers because the individual fibres, tufts and underlay have different resonant frequencies at which they absorb sound,” he comments.

KBAC Flooring distributes imported carpet tiles produced by Interface modular flooring, a global pioneer in sustainable flooring and environmental preservation. Hannetjie Smith, KBAC Sales  Consultant, says: “Interface has acknowledged that – although increasingly popular – open plan workspaces pose formidable acoustic challenges. The company is one of a growing number of carpet producers that has designed flooring that effectively absorbs sound and reduces impact noise at the source.”

Hannetjie says the backing of carpets is an important acoustical factor. “Interface has developed two acoustic carpet tile backing options: SONE and Interlay, which can be used across the entire workspace or limited to smaller, zoned areas with more complex needs. SONE is an integrated backing for more than 40 of Interface’s modular carpet designs. The backing enhances acoustics and softness underfoot and offers sound reduction of up to 33 decibels. Interlay is a resilient, loose-lay underfloor system for 50cm by 50cm tiles that can be used to enhance acoustics and comfort,” she adds.

Written by: Jan de Beer.