Sound Masking for Open Offices

sound masking commercial acoustics

In open layouts – whether it’s offices, libraries, or museums – noise often becomes a major concern. Without a proper background noise, loud noises are particularly distracting, due to the Dynamic Range that occurs (difference between quietest and loudest moments). Large dynamic ranges make it difficult for employees to concentrate or visitors to enjoy the space.

We apply the ABC (Absorption, Blocking, Cover) approach to many of our consultations, but open spaces often don’t allow for sound-blocking solutions, and additional absorption makes little or no improvement.

Sound masking is the addition of a white noise or pink noise system of light background sound. This particular frequency of sound essentially helps break up the silence and reduce audible distractions of human speech or impulse sounds. When used correctly, sound masking systems allow for greater productivity, increased privacy and comfort and a more enjoyable workplace.

Speech privacy and sound masking go hand-in-hand. Speech privacy is the ability of an unintentional listener to overhear and understand another person’s conversation. This is common in large ‘bullpen’ open office environments or in adjacent offices where walls don’t go to deck and sound has a clear flanking path to transfer in and out. Not only is a lack of speech privacy distracting it can also become a breach of confidentiality in law offices or physician patient rooms.

One recent project Commercial Acoustics treated was a library in Pinellas County, Florida. Readers were often distracted by a “Makers Area” where louder interaction was common. Since the wall didn’t go to deck and deck and it wasn’t possible to add a barrier between the areas, sound masking was the obvious solution. Masking consists of speakers that hang above the area (often concealed by ceiling tiles) that create a constant, homogeneous background noise at a decibel level that the visitors don’t notice but masks unwanted sounds. In this area, we spaced the speakers at 15 ft on center, and implemented a 45 dBA background (lower than most office settings). Within 2 weeks and at about $1 per square foot, the masking system was installed and calibrated, allowing the library to prevent future noise complaints and improve its visitors satisfaction.

Sound Masking Layout

Commercial Office Sound Treatment

soundproofing kForce

KForce’s international headquarters are located in Ybor City, near downtown Tampa. However, they have field offices throughout the country where dozens of employees work in an open office setting, creating a noisy environment. Nearby are conference rooms that require some noise reduction, and just beyond that are interview rooms, which require sound privacy – for both comfort as well as protection of sensitive information.

This is a common layout that challenges many corporate clients that need to balance square footage price constraints with the real need for privacy.

We consulted the KForce development team and determined the most significant cause of concern in future office buildouts – the transition area from the bullpen to office and interview area.

(While seemingly apparent, many commercial office clients have their greatest noise disturbances in the bullpen itself, where sound masking alone may be used to create a more cohesive atmosphere).

Because non-load-bearing metal studs were used, the Wall Blokker soundproofing membrane was sufficient to attain an STC of 56 on those walls at a reduced cost to the client. Meanwhile, several of the walls were not extended to the deck near the conference room. Since the design was already complete, it was easier to treat the ceiling tiles than to extend the walls. Drop Ceiling Noise Blokker was applied to each of the ceiling tiles in the transition zone to require the sound to increase its path by as much as 80% in this area.

After installation, significant noise reduction was achieved, with sound in the office transition zone to the conference room down by 65% or more, while the interview rooms exceeded their privacy index goals.

The total cost of the project was well below $10,000 and did not affect the critical path of the construction, resulting in no schedule impact.

If your commercial office space could benefit from sound masking or acoustical attenuation between sensitive areas, reach out to one of our technical consultants today.