By Dr Kenneth P Roy, PhD Building Acoustics 

Recent World Green Building survey results (Oct 2016) (R2) puts the top four factors contributing to ‘Healthier and Greener Offices’ to be indoor air quality, thermal comfort, daylighting, and noise/acoustics. Who knew acoustics was such a big issue? Everyone needs privacy and focus to get their jobs done - right! Today, buildings are designed according to green rating systems (e.g. LEED, Greenstar) and the Well Building Standard. Together, these are summarised as a requirement to build buildings that are “healthy and productive for the occupants, as well as energy efficient and sustainable for the environment.”

So, it’s about the people, and this is especially so in offices where, over the long haul, space per person has been squeezed. Offices are built for people to work productively, meaning such buildings are for people.

Why is this important? In an earlier World GBC research study [R1] the cost of energy use in the life of a typical office building is about 1% of the total cost of doing business, building cost 9%, and staff cost near 90%. This explains why it is so important that the Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ), which is represented by the 4 factors previously listed, is fundamental to working productively. An office requires communication and concentration, and so, managing speech intelligibility and speech privacy are vital arteries to acoustic comfort and work place productivity.

With noise/acoustics rated in the top four priorities in modern buildings, I’m a believer that acoustics is more significant than air quality or thermal comfort as these are both ‘enabling factors’ that contribute to good work performance, but neither helps you to hear speech or not be distracted by noise.