What’s new in WELL v2: Sound

What’s new in WELL v2: Sound

Thursday, October 11, 2018
/ By:
Ethan Bourdeau

WELL Concepts
WELL v2 Sound

When it comes to finding an environment that yields focus and productivity, perhaps a few things come to mind: a peaceful quiet space with minimal distraction from others, maybe some indiscernible background music, masking noise or headphones that cancel extraneous sounds. In a world where people are constantly on the move and urban landscapes are spreading far beyond the city center, finding quiet environments is becoming more challenging and the implications of noise exposure are more apparent than ever. With this in mind, the WELL v2™ Pilot includes an entire concept dedicated to sound (formerly embedded in the Comfort concept), with the focus on fostering comfortable and healthy sonic environments.


Hear Us Out

Acoustic conditions in the workplace have been noted in recent research conducted by the Center for the Built Environment as a leading source of dissatisfaction when compared to other elements that contribute to overall comfort such as office layout, furnishing, thermal comfort, air quality, lighting and general cleanliness. In a similar study conducted by Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, acoustic disturbances were not only noted as the leading source of distraction in open office but also affected tasks relying on working memory and verbal processes. The factors that typically contribute to negative acoustic environments in office spaces can range from loud mechanical equipment or appliances, lack of privacy between rooms or workstations, traffic or industrial noise intrusion or even spaces that are too quiet, which make focusing difficult when even the quietest sounds are made.

While the debate continues as to whether or not the open office is a conducive work environment, greater attention to acoustic design is needed in the spaces where we anticipate a degree of privacy. The places where humans are most susceptible to distraction may perhaps be in areas where privacy, focus, rest and recovery are intended. For instance, research has indicated that the presence of elevated background noise levels, ranging from sources such as exterior noise intrusion, alarms and impact noise, have negative effects on patient recovery times in healthcare settings. While evidence suggesting the relationship between noise and health continues to grow, institutions such as the FGI and HUD have set forth design criteria specific to acoustics and occupant well-being.


Commotion in Urban Settings

In recent years the world has noticeably experienced rapid urbanization. In 2014, the United Nations reported that for the first time in our history more than half of the world’s population (54%) now reside in urban areas, a number that is projected to rise to 68% by 2050. Urban areas can be characterized by high levels of environmental stressors, with air and noise pollution being the most prevalent. Urban planners and designers have a responsibility to ensure that these pollutants are managed and mitigated in order to foster healthy environments. The implications of broader control of urban noise suggest that a reduction in exposure level of 5 dB(A) across the U.S. would reduce the prevalence of hypertension by 1.4% and coronary heart disease by 1.8%, yielding an annual economic benefit of $3.9 billion.

Noise pollution becomes a major concern when noise transmits from outdoor environments to indoor environments. One study focused on the effects of environmental stressors on children in the U.K. found a relationship between exposure to chronic aircraft noise at home and impairment of reading comprehension and recognition memory at school. The same study also found a relationship between exposure to road traffic noise with increases in episodic memory in children. What research like this suggests is that the relationship between exterior noise and occupant reaction may be ultimately dependent on the construction of the building envelope in question. As such, the designers must consider the acoustical performance of the building exterior.


Sound in WELL v2

Attempting to control noise for the purposes of creating healthier environments can seem daunting when considering the infinite number of options that may be applied during the design and construction phases of any project. The Sound concept in WELL v2 addresses this concern by providing options for project teams to explore noise control and intentional acoustic design- ranging from general sound mapping and planning to HVAC and façade design, and down to the specification of products intended to increase speech intelligibility and/or acoustic privacy. In an effort to better characterize and design the interior noise levels of specific spaces, the concept combines the health implications noted by the WHO for recommended noise exposure levels with the best-practice acoustical solutions in HVAC design as established by experts within ASHRAE.

What sets WELL apart from similar rating systems is that features are third-party verified, including four features from the Sound concept. While supplemental documentation may be sufficient when verifying that the design of a space meets specific acoustical criteria, practitioners of WELL have notably appreciated the extent to which performance verification ensures that the implementation of specific Sound features meets the intent of WELL. Knowing this, the Sound concept now introduces performance verification requirements for features that previously required only documentation under WELL v1. For example, S03: Sound Barriers now requires a performance verification test to ensure that walls are constructed to perform to Noise Insulation Class (NIC) thresholds which take into account the actual performance of wall construction. It also ensures that the combination of background noise and construction of partitions, office fronts and doors ensures a minimum level of acoustical privacy between spaces.

Recognizing that not all projects may be capable of altering all components that contribute to the sonic environment of a given space, the Sound concept introduces a new precondition that expands on a previous WELL v1 feature. S01: Sound Mapping requires project teams to think creatively and consider the culture and needs of tenants during the planning and design of a given project. One example of how this can be useful is in the intentional planning of sensitive zones such as classrooms, bedrooms and wellness rooms in relation to zones or rooms where noise may be disruptive or obtrusive to surrounding areas, such as the location of amenities, mechanical equipment and traffic. Projects that plan for these existing conditions in advance of occupancy may have a greater chance of establishing a conducive sonic environment.

Delos Living Headquarters is one example of a workspace that benefits from intentional acoustic design. Careful consideration was taken to ensure that background noise from the HVAC beneath the raised floor, exterior noise intrusion from the nearby and visible highway, interior reflections of sound in both open and enclosed offices and the use of sound masking all work in harmony to foster an environment beyond the expectations of a typical New York City Class-A office space.


A new noise criterion

Traditionally thought of as a cosmetic or luxury aspect of construction, designing with acoustical comfort in mind has quickly become requisite to actively address the needs of occupants in spaces that demand productivity, focus and well-being. Under one roof, WELL provides an architectural world with the foundation necessary to ensure that all spaces take into consideration the effect that sound has on individuals.

Ethan Bourdeau joins the International WELL Building Institute with an experience ranging from WELL consultation, architectural design, and environmental research as it pertains to acoustics. He supports the Standard Development team in the continuous development of the WELL Building Standard and leads efforts devoted to the continued education and implementation of impactful acoustical design.