Acoustics and WELL building standard

Shout about acoustics when aspiring to WELL

‘I can’t think in this place!’ We’ve all been there.

It’s a fact, poor acoustic conditions in the workspace can negatively impact individuals, sapping productivity and testing patience. Ground-breaking 2008 research by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health found that acoustic disturbances were the leading source of distraction in open offices, affecting tasks that require high levels of concentration.

This year our own survey of 2,000 UK workers, revealed similar findings. A massive 44% say they can’t concentrate when it’s noisy at work, and exactly half believe disruptive sounds and reverberations negatively affects productivity.

While a degree of uncertainty surrounds post-pandemic office design, it’s likely the overall interior acoustics will remain an important consideration for specifiers. The good news is, an improved understanding of the subject over the last decade has led to the development of innovative, unobtrusive and easy to specify solutions which can deliver aural harmony even in the busiest of environments.

Acoustics have moved up the WELL agenda

Certainly, 2018’s WELL Building Standard™ version 2, places considerable emphasis on sound quality.

This global standard encourages built environment professionals, and businesses, to create spaces intentionally designed to enhance human health and wellbeing, whether at work, rest or play. The V2 standard has a specific focus on fostering what it calls ‘comfortable and healthy sonic environments’.

This presents an opportunity for architects, building owners and office developers, to build more conscientiously and responsibly.

Taking steps to provide quality acoustics within commercial buildings, will directly improve the comfort and productivity of occupants. Simultaneously, progress can be made towards meeting the WELL Building Standard®, and other essential wellbeing and sustainability design certifications.

Factor in quality acoustic solutions, so adaptable they continue to be effective even if office space needs to be reconfigured, and you have a very attractive rental proposition, much needed as the recession unfolds.

Investec offices treated with SonaSpray K-13 mid grey. Credit to BW Workplace Experts.

Sound reducing surfaces score points

WELL recommends the use of acoustic materials that absorb sound ‘to support concentration and reduce reverberation’. As such, ‘sound reducing surfaces’ are listed in the WELL V2 accreditation document, which confirms that two points are awarded to buildings that have undergone a specialist treatment, such as an acoustic finish.

The document is clear about what WELL V2 certifiers want to see, namely: ‘spaces designed with sound reducing surfaces to minimise the build-up of speech or other unwanted sound’.

We’re really proud that our acoustic finishes were applied at the landmark HQ of Delos in New York, the company that founded the WELL Building Standard. The building’s architects Gensler recommended the product to the client’s specification team who were looking for acoustic spray materials with proven and accredited eco-friendly credentials. It’s no surprise that this building has been constructed to the highest standard of WELL and has achieved LEED v4 Platinum and Living Building Challenge certification. It’s a workspace worth aspiring to.

Meet sustainability requirements too

There are further wins from investing in sonic design features. By choosing a recycled acoustic spray or acoustic plaster product it’s also possible to satisfy sustainable design certification systems like BREEAM, SKA, Living Building Challenge and LEED. You can work towards WELL certification, while also ticking many boxes for indoor air quality.

If you are planning to spray or plaster with an acoustic finish, seek out products that consist of recycled, natural plant-based fibres and specialist water-based adhesives. These materials can effectively lower the carbon footprint of the building project by sequestering rich stores of carbon for the life of the structure or application.

Acoustics for flexible use of office space

It’s fair to say a sea change is occurring in office space planning due to COVID-19. It may well be larger rooms are required to ensure social distancing protocol is maintained. If this is the case, rooms might become reverberant, impacting on whether people can hear what’s going on, so acoustic solutions are essential. Architectural acoustic finishes allow designers to create calm and inviting spaces that ensure employees don’t struggle to hear or be heard.

Another way to make large, open plan offices sonically safe is to install pods and sectioned-off workstations inside the existing space. The beauty of acoustic spray solutions is they allow complete flexibility with Cat A & B configuration and reconfiguration, allowing for dividing structures such as office pods to be brought in without disrupting the acoustic spray finish on the ceiling above.

Added value of a building as we head into recession

Anyone not convinced that using acoustic solutions, to deliver on wellbeing and sustainability requirements, makes business sense should flip through property giant JLL’s recent report: The Impact of Sustainability on Value.

JLL analysed leasing activity for New Grade A office buildings in central London and found those with a BREEAM rating of ‘very good’ or better achieved higher rents than those without a rating. Further, the average rental premium on non-rated buildings over the last three years was around 8%.

They also looked at the leasing velocity of 120 central London development schemes (completed between 2013 and 2017) and found that those with an ‘outstanding’/’excellent’ rating tended to show a higher pace of leasing and have lower vacancy rates 24 months after completion, 7% compared to 20% for those rated ‘very good’.

With demand for office space likely to drop off in the coming year, it’s clear those in the office rental market need to offer spaces with added value and flexibility. Otherwise, they’ll struggle to get noticed in an increasingly competitive landscape.

Now is the time to shout about your outstanding office space. By offering stylish yet flexible interiors, a calm ambience and a fistful of wellbeing and sustainability accreditations, you’ll stand out in a crowded market. Workers returning to a calm and comfortable office will thank you too.

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Trust the acoustic specialists at Oscar Acoustics to help you find the right solution for your next project.