Workplaces suffer from speech privacy limitations and high sound levels without proper infrastructure, leading to debilitating outcomes. Unfortunately, people realize that maintaining confidentiality in professional settings is impossible, primarily due to the increased use of open-plan layouts. Still, most ignore this. And private offices with enclosures typically remain ignorant even if they face speech privacy problems.
They assume wall enclosures and doors bar sound from travelling outside. But wouldn’t you agree that even tightly-closed conference rooms give away some critical information? You can blame it on the lack of noise insulation, the loudness of the conversations, etc. No matter what, you cannot deny it’s a problem that needs efficient handling. Technologies like sound masking can ease your concern, but you may be stuck with the cost. Let’s understand its utility before judging it based on economics.
How private are private office spaces?
You can analyze your space in various ways to determine this. Let’s start with the doors you trust to prevent sound from leaking. To the uninitiated, weak door assembly is a common phenomenon and a culprit. To unravel this, you can refer to the Apparent Sound Transmission Class (ASTC) rating. Most office doors enjoy 20 points. These are low-quality and less isolated enclosures. Good-quality soundproof doors want 40 points. But this is a rare quality to expect from doors. Gypsum walls can block sounds better with their performance, enjoying 40-55 points on ASTC rating. Glass walls are also better. The next component you rely on is the ceilings. Ceiling tiles rated 35 CAC points can efficiently mitigate sound by 35 decibels. CAC stands for Ceiling Attenuation Class. Thirty-five points indicate good performance, while anything below CAC-25 needs your attention.
Some vouch for raised flooring for its performance in sound isolation. While it’s better than most regular walls and ceilings, you still need more. The sound will find its way to overflow to the other areas through the partition and other surfaces. Furthermore, if you know the pin drop syndrome, you would understand if it’s good to have a too quiet place. In such an environment, one can hear others breathing. A drop of a pen can also steal attention and distract workers. To be precise, the slightest hint of a sound can be trouble. Imagine what this environment would do to your sensitive conversations, even with closed doors.
How does sound masking help?
Sound masking distributes quietness across the office with the help of the increased background noise that stifles the sounds of the conversations. Yet, the new sound source remains hidden from the ears. Modern sound systems deal with pin-drop syndrome by adding a perfect sound spectrum layer. It masks the tones of the speeches with lower background noise frequency. It avoids unnecessary or sudden frequency jumps. Your room’s ambient noise helps the system to fill the void to make the sound curve rise to a comfortable level. It tames the sharp frequency peaks caused by HVAC and other machines. Besides, you can control different locations per their needs with this system. Also, every corner faces fluctuating noise levels. If you choose the right equipment or technology, it will consider the baseline noise range to smooth it out wherever required.
Some mistakenly opine that sound masking elevates walls’ ASTC rating. While it helps with enhanced speech privacy, it doesn’t make structures highly ASTC-rated. However, it achieves the results that a higher ASTC score indicates. Installing sound masking can improve your office’s ASTC rating by at least five to ten points. To be precise, sound masking performs like the walls, doors, and ceilings with high ASTC scores.
Is the sound masking system expensive or affordable?
Now, let’s tackle the main concern – how much does a sound masking system cost? Most technology-related decisions hinge upon finances. Hence, such curiosity is a given. If you analyze the equipment cost, cabling, calibration, installation, and commissioning, your expense per sq ft can be around USD $4. The range can increase with the project’s complexity, office space, etc. Experts say that larger areas pay less for the technology. And your ROI can be even better as you notice an improvement in your workers’ productivity and attention levels. For clarity, you can compare two situations.
Suppose your office is 30,000 square-foot, where 200 people work on an average yearly pay of USD $65k. The décor and everything is top-notch. But sonic distractions would cost at least USD $585,000 yearly due to lower productivity and lost time. Your bottom line severely suffers even from 21.5 minutes of daily distraction. Studies show that North American businesses witness 86 minutes of low productivity due to poor attention caused by noise levels. If you invest around USD $50-75k in a sound system for the same area, you can improve your gains by USD $585,000, which you otherwise lost due to productivity issues. Surveys have shown that sound masking helps achieve higher productivity levels (about 10-25% more).
If you have a 5000 sq ft office, you can assume the cost to be USD $1.25-1.40. A ten thousand sq ft space will cost USD $1.15-1.30. A workplace covering 20,000 sq ft of area will require you to spend USD $1.10-1.25 per ft. You can estimate the sound masking system to cost USD $1.50-2.00 per sq ft.
A quick consideration
Sound masking can help all shapes and sizes of businesses. But companies with modest earnings can find this technology expensive and stay away. You can still do something about this situation. Instead of installing speakers in every corner, you can select corners that need them most and eliminate others. For instance, mechanical rooms, bathrooms, and stairwells can function without them. But the main sitting area will require them.
If you think sound masking is expensive, please investigate what you lose without this technology. People in the office feel constantly stressed due to high sound levels in the background and lose focus. It increases the chances of errors and loss of productivity. You have already seen what productivity loss does to your business. So, think again!
Also Read: How to Soundproof Apartment Ceiling