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Part III: Acoustics for performance

March 2021

Sarlon Modul'up - 409  black & white doodle

In this 3-part series from Forbo, we will be exploring the influence and effect of sound in buildings, and how acoustics can be controlled and manipulated for optimal outcomes in specific environments.

The third in our series, this blog focuses on the acoustics challenges present in the education and commercial sectors.

Marmoleum in education

Sound has an impact on our quality of life, whatever environment we find ourselves in: whether it’s a place for working, learning, playing, relaxing or healing.

In our previous blog, we established two overarching goals for acoustics management in buildings: Reducing unwanted noise and making wanted sounds clearer.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to noise. Specific settings have specific requirements, and therefore deserve specific acoustic treatment. What’s more, it is important to remember that various zones within a single building may also require a different acoustic approach. Considering what each part of a building is used for – receiving people, connecting people, concentrating, recharging – will help illustrate the ideal acoustic environment for a space.

Commercial building acoustics

Design has the ability to both reflect and affect the way we use a space. The rise in popularity of open plan design is evident both at home and at work, with open plan kitchens having become the new norm alongside open plan offices and work spaces.

Whilst this design encourages a more open and collaborative work approach, when it comes to sound, open plan can be problematic. In our first blog in this series, we saw how noise pollution and excess sound can be problematic to human health, impacting on both wellbeing and performance. One office study shows that interruptions from noise result in 10-15 minutes of lost concentration, equating to productivity losses of 10-15%.

In an open plan office setting, cleverly engineered acoustics can increase speech intelligibility between employees, whilst dimming out unwanted background noise. Similarly, proper sound insulation can ensure that, when called for, private meetings are kept private in enclosed rooms.

Sarlon | Modul'up, 761 | steel concrete, 4804 | copper stardust
Acoustics for playing

Education acoustics

School design has also changed with the times to accommodate more incidental learning approaches. It has been shown that the learning environment has a direct impact on how school pupils and students feel; this in turn has an impact on their results. Managing noise levels and defining the acoustic characteristics of these educational spaces is key to creating environments in which children and other learners can thrive.

The ability to focus and concentrate, as well as the ability to follow what a teacher addressing a group is saying, are paramount. Besides lapses in concentration, excessive noise in and around the classroom can lead to early onset hearing loss, feelings of tension and anxiety and increased aggression in children.

The spaces typical of school buildings – large halls, corridors and dining halls – often have high ceilings and feature hard materials, making them prone to reverberation. This makes following what a teacher / speaker is saying more of a challenge and harder work. Incorporating materials that absorb echoes in these rooms can enhance speech intelligibility. However, an individual addressing a group still needs to be audible to all in those the room. As we have seen previously, the right acoustics are often a question of balance.


Two architectural features that educational buildings and office buildings tend to have in common are multiple storeys and corridors. Floor-to-ceiling noise transmission is a common phenomenon in multi-storey buildings, as is noise from footfall in corridors adjacent to other spaces. Both of these are forms of impact sound.

An effective way to address impact sound is to install acoustic flooring. Flooring tackles impact noise at the source by absorbing kinetic energy from impact (as opposed to trying to limit how well the noise travels once it has been made).

By just how much a given floor covering reduces impact noise is tested by striking a concrete floor slab using a hammer. The resulting sound level (S1) is recorded in dB. The floor covering is then laid on top of the concrete and the same impact is applied to the floor. This second sound level (S2) is recorded. The difference between the two sound levels recorded is known as the ‘impact sound reduction’. The impact sound reduction of our Sarlon and Modul'up acoustic vinyl flooring products is 19 dB, making it ideal for fitting in offices / schools, and particularly suitable for high-traffic areas such as corridors.

Sarlon acoustic vinyl

We hope you have found this Ear to the ground series on acoustics useful. If you missed our introductory Ear to the ground blog explaining some basic acoustic principles, you can read that here. If you’d like to read about issues relating to healthcare, residential and leisure & hospitality buildings, read part II in this series, here.

Of course, we can help you find the right acoustic solution for your specific needs. For tailored acoustic information and advice on your project, our acoustics engineers are here to help, so feel free to get in contact with us.