Promoting Student Health Through Noise Control

Rodney Davidson, Head of Specification at Acheson + Glover (AG), discusses creating a safe and healthy built environment in schools

With recent headlines highlighting that sound pollution has a lasting negative impact on health, it’s an ideal time for those who work within the building for the education sector to reflect on whether they are up to date with current standards for acoustic requirements of school buildings.

According to a new review in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, high levels of noise may be bad for your heart. The authors found a strong connection between noise pollution and cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, stroke and heart failure. The new review suggests that noise disrupts the body on the cellular level inducing stress responses and activating the sympathetic “fight or flight” nervous system reaction. This causes a spike in stress hormones, which can eventually lead to vascular damage. The paper also highlighted growing evidence that chronic noise can also cause mental-health diseases (including depression and anxiety), and can impair the cognitive development of children.

Why is this relevant to building in education?

Recent findings linking noise pollution with bad health affecting those involved in the building for education sector two-fold. Firstly, they should carefully consider whether they are using the correct building products to control noise pollution and safeguard the health and wellbeing of the school’s surrounding community and local residents. Secondly, consideration should be given as to whether they are specifying the correct building products to instil adequate acoustic control when it comes to limiting the extent sound transfers from one area of the building to another as well as dealing with sound absorption with the space itself. For example, a gymnasium housing a loud basketball game with cheering crowds should not be heard in nearby classrooms where lessons are taking place. Beyond the obvious distraction to students, proven hormonal responses to loud, unpredictable sounds suggest that students exposed to chronic loud noises over time are at risk of damage to their general health and mental well-being, not to mention academic performance.

What are the current standards?

BB93: February 2015 sets out, minimum performance standards for acoustic requirements of school buildings. The overall objective of the performance standard is to ensure that the design and construction of school buildings provide acoustic conditions that enable effective teaching and learning.

All parties involved in the build have a responsibility to ensure the products used successfully help to control reverberation time and meet the performance standard set out in section 1.5 table six of BB93: 2015.

Achieving the right reverberation characteristics is critical to the acoustic performance of an interior space, particularly in school buildings. Good acoustics reduces distraction from airborne noises and makes it easier to hear people speak, which is critical in a learning environment and helps aid and enhance pupils’ learning capabilities.

Ensuring building compliance

Specifiers and contractors can choose from an extensive range of acoustic products to reduce airborne noises and excess reverberation and ensure a building complies with current standards while also meeting critical structural requirements.

What are the key questions you should ask when procuring acoustic blocks to ensure you are getting a quality product at a reasonable price?

1. Has the product been independently tested?

Sometimes manufacturers will claim that their product meets acoustic performance standards based on their own testing procedures. While they may be correct, it is always best to use a product that has been tested in an independent laboratory. For example, AG’s Alphacrete Acoustic block is independently tested by Sound Research Laboratories (SRL) to verify that it meets the acoustic performance standards for a Class D sound absorber according to BB93:2015. Procuring a product that has been Independently tested means that you can rest assured that the product will be fit for purpose long term.

2. Is the product suitable for the space?

Soft acoustic panelling is often used as a solution for controlling acoustics within multipurpose halls. This frequently becomes an issue as these halls regularly host high impact sporting activities such as cricket or hockey which can easily damage soft panelling. Therefore, careful consideration should be given to the full spectrum of activities that will take place in a given space and whether a stronger more robust product is necessary.

3. Should a particular colour be used?

Sport England’s prescribed guidance states that walls in gymnasiums should give sufficient contrast to any sporting accessories. In light of this, we tasked our innovative developers at AG to produce a block that would fully comply with Sport England’s guidance whilst remain aesthetically pleasing. The result was our ‘sporting green’ acoustic blocks which have proven particularly successful in gymnasiums. When procuring acoustic products careful consideration should be given to the impact a chosen colour will have on activities. In general, pale blues and greens are said to be calming and soothing colours in contrast to bright and bold colours which can prove to be overstimulating and distracting in a learning environment.

Using a company that can show it has achieved professional recognition in its field and demonstrated expertise on industry standards is invaluable in achieving maximum aesthetic value along with the necessary on-site acoustic control.