Next-Generation MLV: Mass Loaded Vinyl’s Potential Applications

Soundproof Media Room

While Mass Loaded Vinyl has been a dependable and competitive product to improve STC in industrial settings for decades, there has been little improvement in the product itself in recent years. As we’ve discussed before, Mass Loaded Vinyl is a PVC-based product that adds a cheap filler, usually Calcium Carbonate or Barium Sulfate, to provide superior sound ratings. The initial versions of MLV included Lead as well but was replaced over the years due to health concerns.

The focus on product development has been on how to make the product cheaper, and thus more applicable to residential and commercial settings. This has led to a number of improvements in manufacturing and a search for cheaper filler alternatives.

However, the PVC-base of the product has not changed – until recently. After several years of product development, followed by 18 months of fire and acoustical testing, Commercial Acoustics has developed an EVA-based Mass Loaded Vinyl soundproofing membrane that has improved the performance without sacrificing cost competitiveness.

One major difference is that PVC is a naturally rigid material (think exterior panels for housing or fences). In order to make it flexible, you need to add a softening agent, known as a “plasticizer”. The downside of this is 1) added cost, and 2) the plasticizer migrates out of the product over time, causing the PVC to become brittle. This is why older plastic toys break easily if left outside for a few weeks.

While Wall Blokker is equally heavy as other types of Mass Loaded Vinyl, the improved flexibility also improves the sound-blocking capacity, on both Wood and Metal stud walls.

Regardless of your needs, Commercial Acoustics has years of experience installing Mass Loaded Vinyl and Wall Blokker products, to offer our a clients a full range of solutions for their unique problems.

Hotel Soundproofing – Hyatt Clearwater

Commercial Acoustics Hyatt Condo Soundproofing

The Hyatt Condo in Clearwater, Florida needed help soundproofing their ceiling on the penthouse floor. Directly above, dozens of patrons used the rooftop bar at night and during the weekends. While the penthouse suite affords the best views in the hotel, it is also the closest to the nightlife noise, and therefore often in need of additional soundproofing.

As we’ve discussed in the past, there is little regulation in STC and IIC ratings for soundproofing hotels. However, most of them have a brand standard that ranges from 55-60 points, and can be above 60 for luxury suites. By setting aggressive STCs and monitoring proper installation techniques, hotel management can expect to reduce customer noise complaints considerably.

The Hyatt Clearwater ceiling used a double-rack design with soffits to hide unsightly pipes and electrical, but this did not improve the sound attenuation rating of the assembly. Furthermore, treating the floor above was not an option, since the deck was already and completed, and beyond the waterproof limit of the hotel.

In order to achieve acceptable sound ratings, the client turned to Commercial Acoustics to provide soundproofing membranes that could be installed on the ceiling above. By implementing a heavy-duty soundproofing membrane along the ceiling, known as the Wall Blokker PRO, the team was able to provide significant decoupling of the ceiling while also adding additional mass to reduce airborne transmission. Ultimately, soundproofing installation on ceilings is the most difficult, and took a team of four almost one week to cover the nearly five thousand square feet. For best results, Commercial Acoustics recommends applying ceiling-bound membranes to the backside of drywall to expedite installation.

Commercial Acoustics Hotel Soundproofing Ceiling

Check here for more hotel and hospitality soundproofing case studies.

MLV Barrier: When to Use Mass Loaded Vinyl

Mass Loaded Vinyl MLV Sound Barrier Soundproofing

What makes Mass Loaded Vinyl (also known as MLV) effective and what are its limitations? While it’s been around for several decades there is still a lot of misinformation about MLV within the construction industry. First and foremost, it should not be considered a “panacea”. While effective in many assemblies, it may not be as effective in some.

Standard Mass Loaded Vinyl is known by many trade names, though it is largely the exact same product extruded from the same few manufacturers in the US. Some of the trade names include MLV BlokkerTuffMass, AcoustiBlok, and Vinaflex, but many others are similar or equivalent. The polymer is an extruded Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) which is “mass-loaded” with a cheap filler, typically Calcium Carbonate or Barium Sulfate. When considering an MLV supplier, it is critical to ask for performance data (lab and field) and compare pricing. While these products typically cost around $0.30/sf to manufacture, the retail prices vary widely from $1.00-$8.00/sf.

The product is most useful on steel-stud walls that can benefit from some additional weight while not needing significant decoupling (i.e. double-studs or resilient channel), but can also be effective in industrial settings.

 

Pros & Cons of Mass Loaded Vinyl

Pros:

  • Pricing: Numerous suppliers of near-identical polymers makes it easy to shop around for best price
  • Field Performance: While many products test well in the lab, but underperform in the field due to grounding issues (i.e. Resilient Channel), mass loaded vinyl tends to perform near its lab value even when installation conditions are not ideal

Cons:

  • Installation Difficulties: Can be challenging to install due to high weight, flexible material. Installers should ask for detailed installation instructions and/or a complimentary site visit
  • Tear Strength: Low tensile strength makes tears common without proper support. Long sheets may require washers
  • Off-gassing: The plasticizers in mass-loaded vinyl can off-gas at room temperature over time, diminishing its acoustic performance

 

Tips when selecting Mass Loaded Vinyl:

NOTE/DISCLAIMER: Commercial Acoustics offers both PVC-based Mass Loaded Vinyl as well as Ethel Vinyl Acetate (EVA) soundproofing membranes, and numerous other types of soundproofing products (including acoustic gypsum, resilient vibrational products, and mineral wool, among others). By offering several approaches to achieve STC targets, and always supplying lab-tested supporting data, we believe that customers can compare apples-to-apples performance data with price comparisons in order to determine the best material for their projects.

For projects that have significant cost restraints, MLV might be the only option to increase the STC without breaking the bank. However, for long-term projects that can afford a 20% cost premium then Wall Blokker provides superior performance and results.

 

Consensus on MLV and Soundproofing Membranes:

Ultimately, Mass-Loaded Vinyl and other soundproofing membranes can be most effective when used in tested assemblies where STC performance is critical. Using MLV is often much more effective than double-stacking layers of drywall, but contractors and installers should be sure to ask for performance data (not just marketing material) and ensure that pricing is competitive.

Restaurant Acoustics – Sarasota, Florida

restaurant acoustics commercial acoustics speaks

Determining the Restaurant Acoustics

Speaks Clam Bar in Sarasota, Florida opened 2 months ago, and with the high-end marble finish and tile floor, noted that they were experiencing sound issues. Specifically, they had excessive reverberation in their restaurant that made it difficult for patrons to converse easily. Losing what we call “Speech Intelligibility“.

This is a very common issue Restaurants and other entertainment venues encounter when they have many flat, reflective surfaces and large, open spaces.

By performing a basic reverberation assessment, and modeling, it’s easy to determine the exact issue in the space.

Acoustic Treatment for the Restaurant

After performing an initial site visit, Commercial Acoustics manufactured and installed custom acoustic panels per the client’s needs, and the reverberation time in the space decreased from 1.6 seconds to below 1 second. This is an ideal reverb time for restaurants that are looking for a lively, but intimate setting.

Acoustics for Schools

commercial acoustics school soundproofing acoustics

Imagine trying to learn integral calculus with the drumming of a mechanical room next to you. Or trying to memorize Shakespeare lines or capials in the Far East capitals the band plays a marching tune above. This is a situation that many students in our nation’s schools encounter every day.

Designing and building schools for the proper acoustics is a challenging task, but one that is critical to allow the students to focus on curriculum rather than be distracted by poor reverberation or cross-talk from neighboring classrooms and areas.

Unfortunately, there is very little regulation in this arena, leading designers and builders to wonder where to turn when questions arise. Luckily, with careful research and review, there are a few leading sources to determine best practices and guidelines, and they’re available to the public.

One of these is ANSI S12 American National Standard Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements, and Guidelines for Schools, Part 1: Permanent Schools. This standard provides numerous guidelines for designers, especially STC’s and IIC’s for how much sound walls should block between various room adjacencies. For instance, well classroom to classroom partitions need only to block 45 dBs, classroom to hallways require 50 and above and classroom to mechanical room require STC’s 65 and higher.

Furthermore, this ANSI standard provides reverberation criteria in both classrooms and auditorium or assembly settings. By providing an allowable reverberation range, often 0.4 – 0.6 seconds, the standard addresses the difficulties students face when trying to focus with poor room acoustics. Best of all, the standard is free and available for public download. Please find it here.

DoDEA Department of Defense Education Activity, similar to the ANSI standard but less specific, the DoDEA standard provides similar target ratings for walls and floors. It is a good reference for military and large government education facilities.

Once these target STC’s are determined by the designer the next step will be to decide exactly how to hit each rating. This is often best done with the help of a consultant or acoustical expert – and many suppliers (including Commercial Acoustics) offers design-assist support free of charge.

By referring to these public resources designers may benefit from past lessons learned and best practices encountered by those most experienced in the issues when acoustics fall short in our schools.

Sound Masking Demo in Tampa

Commercial Acoustics Sound Masking Tampa

Commercial Acoustics has installed a sound-masking demonstration at its headquarters on Cypress St near downtown Tampa. A newer technology, aimed at providing speech privacy in open offices, Sound Masking is a tool that is typically most helpful in open office spaces or areas requiring long duration focus (libraries, classrooms etc.). Commercial Acoustics has installed sound masking systems in various local businesses, but now having a system installed at their own facility interested customers can visit the space to see the power.

Sound masking is a technology that deploys pink noise speakers typically above the ceiling grid to raise the ambient background level in a space. By raising the background noise, loud distracting sounds become less apparent to the “receiver”. For a list of sound masking case studies check here:

As you can see, the need for sound masking varies widely but is a good resource when sound isolation alone does not solve the problem.

Stadium Soundproofing – Atlanta, GA

Falcons Stadium soundproofing

Commercial Acoustics works with a variety of entertainment venues and sporting arenas nationwide, most recently assisting the Atlanta Falcon’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium in their stunning $1.5 billion stadium (complete with solar panels, fan plaza and retractable roof).

Inside the stadium in the premier seating will be ‘Super Suites’, private and personal boxes to accommodate fans looking for priority game day access and extensive catering and wet bar options. With all the perks and VIP access within the Super Suites, enhancing the game day experience by reducing sound transfer into the space was a top priority. During construction the architect and contractors researched sound-dampening options, choosing Commercial Acoustics Wall Blokker soundproofing membrane to be hung on the ceiling of the suites above the Acoustical Ceiling Tiles to deflect soundwaves and create privacy.

Using soundproofing membranes and techniques is becoming a more common feature in high-end venues when privacy is highly-sought.

Central Florida Hospital – Sound Study

Solving Hospital Noise Complaints

The management from a hospital in central Florida requested an assessment and potential solutions to improve their sound rating scores in their facility. Specifically, the intent was to study and improve the HCAHPS question of whether patients find their environment “Always Quiet at Night”, and the corresponding improvement in patient care quality.

Commercial Acoustics planned and executed an acoustic study on premises, and completed related research, to outline an appropriate mitigation plan for the hospital noise levels. All measurements in this sound study were completed with a Class 1 Sound Pressure Level (SPL) meter and included time- and spatial-logged data to determine exactly when and where the various noise sources are occurring. Furthermore, all events were classified by type, and any anomalies were noted.

By addressing the leading causes of sound and implementing a Noise Reduction Program, the hospital is on its way to delivering exemplary patient care in regards to sleep (in addition to other patient satisfaction metrics).

This is a problem that many, if not all, hospitals face – yet few address it comprehensively. A sound study is critical to isolate the source of each of the noise issues, then they are prioritized and mitigated individually. Many of the issues are addressed via behavioral change, while others may require architectural modifications. By implementing a mixed-approach, most hospitals may expect to achieve significant results within the first 3-6 months of a Noise Reduction effort.

Sheriff’s Office – Sound Masking

sound masking for pinellas county sherrifs office

The Pinellas County’s Sheriff’s Office was struggling with a number of noise complaints. Among other things, they were concerned with the sound privacy in interview rooms, to ensure that interviews were conducted in a confidential manner.

So they contacted Commercial Acoustics. After an initial site visit, we prepared a solution that would provide significant speech privacy without the need for a major construction budget. By pairing sound masking speaker systems with additional soundproofing wall membranes, we were able to increase the STC of the walls while also masking background noise.

The combination of the two approaches yielded impressive results: primarily, that officers no longer needed to worry about being overheard while they worked (and were not distracted by other conversations). While the sound masking system was installed, tuned, and implemented in a single day, the soundproofing membrane for the walls required an additional several weeks to complete each of the 10 interview rooms. This is a level of soundproofing that many law enforcement agencies do not require, but which provides superior soundproofing for a wide array of applications.

For many clients, the benefit of sound-masking cannot be over-stressed. The highly-tuned speakers provide an exceptional ability to mask background noise, and thereby reduce the “dynamic range” that so many office employees find extremely distracting. The speakers are hidden from view, concealed behind the ACT. They do not interfere with voice recordings, and actually enhance the speech privacy over phone conversations. Affordably priced, at approximately $1.00-$2.50/square foot, it can make the difference between a noisy workspace and an acoustically-treated office.

Lake House Acoustical Treatment

room acoustics

At the Lake House room in a luxury, master-planned community in Lake Nona, Florida, an unexpected issue arose.

The aesthetics of the room were impeccable. The room was adorned floor to ceiling windows along the walls, and custom chandeliers in the center. The hardwood floor was especially unique – charred in an oven for hours, then sand blasted to remove the marks – it felt more like tile than traditional hardwood. All of the mechanical devices were run by a single, wall-mounted flat-screen device, including the projector, room divider, and air conditioning.

However, regardless of the premium finishes and expensive electronics, one problem remained identified. With all of these hard surfaces, the reverberation time in the space was surprisingly long. While local residents use the room for meetings or yoga classes, it became very difficult to communicate with the echo that they experienced. A phenomenon known as “speech intelligibility”, this is a common issue experienced in gyms, auditoriums, and restaurants.

Unwanted reverberation or echo occurs when areas have large volumes and smooth, hard surfaces that reflect the sound back inward. When this happens, humans hear reflected noises as new words are being spoken, and have a difficult time identifying exactly what is being said.

The solution is to add soft, acoustical materials into the space, allowing the sound to be absorbed into its porous mass. The sound is then transformed into thermal energy and dissipated into the environment. The amount of absorption needed in a space is determined by the specific geometry and materials contained within.

For the Lake House, our production team custom-fabricated 100 2’ Wide x 4’ Long x 2” Thick Acoustical Panels, fabric-covered in the desired texture and color. Within 2 weeks the panels were delivered to site, and installed into the corrugated metal deck of the large room. Acoustical testing before and after the installation confirmed a drastic reduction in reverberation, from 1.5 seconds to 0.58 seconds.

This reduction resulted in a significant improvement in the perceived acoustic environment in the space. When previously conversation was strained, it was now smooth and neighbors had little difficulty understanding instructions and dialog.

Overall, the project took 3 weeks to complete, and the turn-key solution was provided at under $11,000.

room acoustics

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commercial acoustics acoustical consulting installation

commercial acoustics acoustical consulting installation

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