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NOVA Acoustics

BB93 and Acoustic Design in Schools: A Design Guide

The Government provides clear guidance on the acoustics, lighting and ventilation requirements for all school buildings in the UK.

It could be argued that the latter two are reasonably simple to quantify and control, however, effectively managing the acoustic environment of a busy education setting is a far more complex and taxing proposition.

The background to acoustic legislation

Studies show that having loud or inappropriate sounds while you are trying to concentrate is not just a source of distraction, it can also impact on aspects of your general well-being. For example; irritating noise can make your blood pressure increase, it can induce stress, and it can trigger headaches and fatigue. By designing a room effectively, a superior acoustic environment can be achieved, allowing for a healthier working environment.

Education 1

A properly planned and implemented acoustic design is not simply about eliminating or managing loud sounds. Effective acoustics in schools also ensures that teachers and students can communicate more easily, and that the spoken word is not so reverberant or dampened that it is a struggle to hear what’s being said. Such considerations are particularly pertinent when it comes to teaching young children, who have notoriously short attention spans. Distracting noises from outside the room or finding it difficult to understand the teacher due to poor acoustics can have a serious and long-term impact on their ability to learn.
Acoustics in Education is also an important discussion when considering equality of opportunity. It is commonplace to see ramps that make access in and around buildings easier, or large text to make it possible for the visually impaired to read more comfortably, but it is arguably just as important to consider students with a difficulty hearing or concentrating. For some students, suitable acoustics in schools could mean the difference between effective learning, and struggling to achieve their potential.

For these reasons, it is imperative that School Managers and Education Authorities fully understand what is required of them and where to find the appropriate acoustic consultancy services for help in meeting compliance obligations.

Design guide and Building Bulletin 93

The requirements for ensuring an effective acoustic design in schools are laid out in Building Bulletin 93 ‘Acoustic design of schools: performance standards’ (BB93, 2014) and ‘Acoustics of Schools: a design guide’ (IOA and ANC, 2015). These together form an updated and re-issued version of the original ‘Building Bulletin 93’ published in 2003.

The Guides state the acceptable levels of sound and reverberation that are appropriate in various types of room (depending on their function) and provide advice on how to design the spaces effectively for their function. Maximum levels of impact sound (such as footfall from a room above), and airborne sound from both inside and outside the building, are specified. The standards laid out in BB93 don’t just focus on protecting and helping students, but also teachers and other staff as well.

The types of education establishments that are covered include State and Independent Schools, Academies, Sixth-Form Colleges and Nursery/Community Education Spaces that are part of schools.

Is noise an increasing problem in modern schools?

The updated guidelines tackle some of the more recent factors that can impact acoustics in schools. These include; new standards for I.T. suites, specific sound levels for special needs teaching spaces, and updated acceptable noise requirements for gymnasiums. Also, with an exponentially increasing student population, schools are often moving towards using more open, communal spaces. This, in a lot of ways complicates the issue of good acoustic performance further. Controlling noise and reverberation levels in larger spaces can often lead to having to find much more complicated solutions.

These points are a definite indication that this is an issue that requires constant evaluation, and robust acoustic solutions must be found in order to fully commit to learning equality. Compliance is a journey not a destination.

Solutions for compliance for school buildings

The starting point of ensuring that a school is meeting its obligations to BB93 is to commission a qualified acoustic consultant to assess noise and reverberation levels in rooms around the building. The data can then be used to make informed and robust improvements if required.

The measures needed to ensure a school falls within acceptable levels can be found in ‘Acoustics of Schools: a design guide’ (2015). These may include retrofitting materials and structures that help control sound transmission or changing layouts and room usage to better suit the acoustic environment.

Assessments and support should be a regular feature of running modern schools.

For details and more advice on BB93 contact the team at NOVA Acoustics Ltd.

What should be considered when designing a building?

When it comes to designing a building, it’s important to consider some of the aspects that can have an impact on the acoustics. For example, partitions should be designed in such a way that they close against permanent walls.

When using base seals, they should be installed against a hard and smooth surface instead of a carpet because the fibres from the carpet will allow sound to travel through.

Gaps, cracks and holes allow airborne sounds to travel, and have an impact on the quality of the sound insulation of a building, so a building should be airtight to provide the best possible protection against flanking sound.

Design and construction are essential to acoustic performance

When it comes to insulating against both direct and indirect sounds, the most important phase of any building development is the design and construction. During this stage of development, it’s essential to consider the insulation for external, internal and separating walls.

External walls should limit the amount of sound that can be transmitted into a building, internal walls should be designed in such a way that flanking is prevented between rooms, and separating walls need to be considered in order to ensure two different areas within the same building do not suffer from flanking.

It’s important to remember that junctions between elements open up the possibility of flanking to occur, so the need to design and construct this aspect of a building carefully is essential.

When there are spaces that are adjoined, but have different uses, it’s imperative that the necessary steps have been taken in order to minimise or prevent flanking sound from occurring, so that the different areas within a building can be used for their intended purposes.

There are specific building regulations for noise and sound insulation called Approved document E which sets out the necessary requirements for sound insulation between different spaces, and gives guidance on how to separate elements in order to avoid the issue of flanking sound.

Just like direct sounds, indirect sounds can have a huge impact on the performance of a building, so ensuring buildings are designed within the constraints of the published regulations is an important part of the design and construction of a building.

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