Optimising your workplace acoustics

Recent studies have demonstrated that the acoustics of a room have a correlated effect on the well-being of those using the space. Hearing has been found to be one of the most strongly determinative senses of our emotions, health and cognitive function. Hospitals with poor acoustic design for example, are being proven to impede on patient recovery due to sleep deprivation and speech interference between staff [1]. Therefore, architects and interior designers have a critical responsibility to ensure their designs acoustically support the well-being of its users and minimise adverse effects.

The drastic shift in working environment for many throughout the pandemic has made the quality of the workplace experience a timely conversation to be had. Claims of higher levels of productivity and concentration when working from home than in the workplace have ignited debates questioning the suitability of the traditional office for the modern workforce. Research has found that the productivity of workers can plummet up to 66% when exposed to noise disturbances [2]. It is understandable that employees may feel apprehensive about returning to an office with this issue. As an employer, you may be considering acoustic treatment of your office space, read on to discover design adjustments which offer the potential to significantly boost employee productivity and well-being.

If you find yourself working from home more often and would like to improve the acoustic experience of your home office, consider reading our article on How to reduce noise while working from home.

3 effective design features to consider for achieving optimal acoustics in your workplace

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Royal Institute of the Tropics [KIT], Amsterdam, Netherlands. Designed by AKKA Architects

Despite the fact that the recommended noise level for an office is 45 to 55 decibels, many modern offices operate within the range of 60 to 80 decibels [3]. Exceeding advised limits can have detrimental effects for employees over long-term exposure, such as burnout, disrupted focus and absenteeism.

1. Acoustic Panels

Acoustic panels are designed to reduce background noise in a space. The materials used specifically limit reverberation and echo via the absorption of sound energy. Panels are available in a range of materials and styles dependant on the required function. For example, perforated wood panels can provide additional privacy and a desired aesthetic whereas fabric-wrapped fibreglass panels generally provide the highest degree of sound absorption. There is also great flexibility in regards to their location in the office, panels can be installed against walls, on the ceiling or even act as free-standing dividers of the space.

2. Acoustic Furniture

Furniture which is engineered to absorb sound energy is another effective solution, a particular benefit being that it is highly adaptable within any given space. The market offers stylistic furniture like meeting pods, lamp shades, chairs, stools and sofas. The nature of this solution is low commitment, the furniture can be moved easily to expose an open-plan space when desired. Although all furniture is absorptive to a degree, opting for acoustically designed furniture means less pieces are required to achieve the same effect, thus maintaining a spacious office which is also acoustically appropriate.   

acoustic workplace
3. Retreat Space

One of the greatest contributors to a distractingly noisy office is the prevalence of calls and video conferencing. Now so more than ever since the pandemic, hybrid work involving in person and online communication within a company means there can be a lot of simultaneous discussions in a space. If you are looking to make more significant adjustments in a renovation of your space, a great acoustic solution could be to create a retreat space. Having an acoustically treated room placed into an open space not only provides an ideal area for calls to be made in which sound is contained, but it also reduces the overall reverberation time of the room.

To ensure incorporating these design features into your office has the most cost-effective result possible, we recommend seeking the advice of a professional. The choice of location and type of materials used is highly dependent on the specific context of your space. Acoustic specialists or an architect, for example, would be able to guide you in this respect, ensuring your office space meets workplace acoustic standards in accordance with official building rating systems (for example: BREEAM- Hea 05 Acoustic Performance).

As an employer or business owner, acoustic treatment might not initially seem like the highest priority. However as we have seen, the acoustic experience of a work environment significantly affects how users perform and tend to feel about returning to the office. Acoustic panels and furniture are very simple solutions. They can improve the quality of work by enhancing communication and focus, but also support the overall well-being of employees in offering greater privacy and even unique aesthetic value. For additional ideas on how to make your office space a better place for your employees, check out our article: Four tips to elevate your employees’ well-being.

If you are considering acoustic treatment of your office space and/or are constructing or renovating your workplace altogether and would like some help, get in touch with us. We would be happy to help with any questions you may have.

Part II: Making your home more sustainable; improving your self-sufficiency.

Many people across the world this year may find themselves relieved as the summer begins to draw to a close. The global prevalence of extreme weather conditions which resulted in devastating flash flooding and forest fires could not go unnoticed, particularly by regions with historically very neutral climates. In early August the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report which characterises these significant environmental shifts as the effect of climate change. Although deemed to be a ‘code red for humanity’1 by the UN Secretary-General, this report also provides the evidence which proves there is time to help regulate global temperatures. In other words, there is hope.

News on climate change is incredibly overwhelming, with the sheer scale of the problem leaving many of us thinking what can I do that would actually make a difference? The simplest answer to that question is to reduce your personal carbon footprint. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is currently at a dangerously high and unsustainable level, minimizing your contribution to it in any way possible is valuable.  

In our previous article, we discussed ways to make your home more sustainable by Improving your energy efficiency. Those solutions require a bigger investment in time and money than most may be prepared for and are perhaps best suited to tackle as part of a renovation or new build project, a position which not everyone is in, even though they may wish to improve the sustainability of their home. Even though optimising your home’s heating systems and utilising more sustainable technologies are arguably the most impactful things you can do in terms of scale, they are by no means the only things. Tackling climate change relies on each and every one of us taking responsibility for how we live.

Self-sufficiency is defined as being ‘able to provide for or support oneself without the help of others’1. In environmental terms, this can be understood as reducing the pressure you exert on the earth for the resources you need to survive. In this article we explore home adjustments that the majority of us could make in order to live more self-sufficiently. Each change you can make, no matter how seemingly small, contributes to the overall objective: minimizing your carbon footprint.   

5 things to add to your home that will help you live more self-sufficiently and reduce your carbon footprint.

 Disclaimer: The products featured in this article do not constitute a recommendation or an endorsement. AKKA Architects has no affiliation to any of the suggested brands. We only mention specific products to illustrate our point and help give you examples.   

improving-self-sufficiency-home
1. Growing your own at home

The growth and transportation of foods around the world is responsible for over a third of all man-made greenhouse gases, each person’s intake on average generating 2 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually2. Try growing your own fruits and vegetables such as salad leaves, spring onions, potatoes, tomatoes, peas, onion, garlic, etc, and/or herbs like rosemary, coriander, mint, and chive, just to name a few. Doing so reduces the demand you place on the food industry, which is a key step towards self-sufficiency and lessening your overall carbon footprint.

Many people are discouraged from growing food at home because they lack the physical space required and/or the time to care for the produce. However the increasing availability of technology like LED growth lights and self-watering devices make it possible to grow things even in the most seemingly adverse conditions. You might even end up with a new hobby you love!

2. Composting

In theory, using a compost bin seems like a great idea, perhaps you have even tried having one before, but many of us become off-put by the consequent smell, mess and pests. However new tabletop composting devices like The FoodCycler™ , for example, have been developed to quickly and conveniently transform your food waste into nutrient-rich soil. This accelerated decomposition process is not only beneficial for you as the soil can be used directly to feed your plants but also beneficial for the environment. Recycling food waste yourself means you help to reduce harmful greenhouse gasses like methane that are released during landfill decomposition.

self-sufficient-water-savinf
3. Saving and recycling water

If you use the soil produced by your compost and harvested rain to water your garden, growing your own food can be a highly self-sufficient process. The simplest and most accessible way to collect water naturally is by using a rain barrel, which has possible solutions even for those who live in an apartment, (be sure to check any restrictions on water collection in your area and take the additional weight into consideration if you are using a balcony).

For conserving the water you use from the main plumbing system in your home, consider fitting flow regulators (such as Tap Aerators) onto your taps, shower, etc. This is a particularly effective solution if you have older fittings.

4. Drying clothes

Following the water heater, the washer and dryer are typically the most energy consuming appliances in the home (13%)3. Consciously choosing to hand wash some items and air drying your clothes as often as possible will make a significant difference to your overall energy consumption. However a bulky drying rack can make the home appear unorganised and can result in a stuffiness in the air, especially if you have limited square footage. To maximise your home’s space and aesthetic, opt for a retractable washing line which can be mounted to any wall of your

5. Energy saving technology

Getting things done without the use of fossil-fuel generated power is the number one goal when it comes to self-sufficiency, however this is not always possible. Thankfully there are many technologies available which allow us to significantly reduce our power usage.

  • Opt for energy efficient appliances. When choosing or replacing your dishwasher, dryer, refrigerator, etc, make sure to check and compare the energy rating labels for the appliance size you require. The scale typically ranges from A+++ (most efficient) to G.
  • Use wool dryer balls, they significantly reduce drying machine time by creating space between clothes that tend to get stuck together and are very inexpensive and sustainable.
  • Replace the standard light bulbs in your home with residential LEDs. LED bulbs have been proven to use at least ‘75% less energy and even last up to 25 times longer than incandescent lighting’4.

The suggestions in this article may appear to be minor in the context of your overall energy usage, but that is precisely what makes them easy to implement. In addition, if everyone committed in this way to reducing the pressure they personally exert on the earth’s natural resources, we would see large-scale changes. Part I and Part II of the ‘Making your home more sustainable’ article series demonstrates that everyone can do something. Whether you have the opportunity to fully renovate your home with solar panels or just to invest in a compost bin, you are contributing to the crucial overall goal of reducing your carbon footprint.

If you are considering making your home more self- sufficient, or are constructing or renovating your space altogether and would like some help, get in touch with us. We would be happy to help with any questions you may have.

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“We would like to express our gratitude for the time you invested in helping us get to a clear picture.  Anna and I really appreciated the call we had with you, your responsiveness, and the great empathy that you exhibited throughout – we certainly felt very “well taken care of” when engaging with you.  On the practical side, we especially appreciated that there was the option to obtain robust bottom-up cost estimates for the construction itself (not every design architect offers this).”

-Private Client of AKKA

 

 

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