Viktoras Mekas: acoustic comfort – only when the market recognizes its true significance
The need for acoustic comfort has grown alongside acoustic building regulations. However, according to Viktoras Mekas, an acoustic expert from the company “Akustika plius,” consumers still do not fully understand what it is – often confusing it with the energy efficiency class of a building or not distinguishing between room acoustics and sound insulation. Furthermore, construction specialists who should help ensure sound insulation lack specialized knowledge.
The construction technical regulation (STR) governing acoustic comfort, titled “Protection of Building Indoor and Outdoor Environments from Noise,” was enacted in 2004. However, over nearly 20 years, the situation in the market has changed only slightly. According to Viktor Mekas, this has happened for two reasons: first, there is a critical shortage of specialists in this field in Lithuania, and educational institutions that prepare professionals with at least basic knowledge of acoustics are nearly nonexistent. Second, consumers, particularly homebuyers, often confuse sound classes with energy efficiency classes (in part due to real estate developers). If a high energy efficiency class is determined, it is assumed that acoustic comfort will also be ensured. Energy efficiency requirements were actively communicated by the state because they are directly related to national interests, while sound class was somewhat neglected. Mandatory sound STR was developed and applied, and mandatory natural measurements were introduced, but even after 20 years in existence, participants in the construction industry still struggle to properly interpret and apply this document. The head of a company with over 15 years of experience providing architectural acoustics, sound insulation, and noise control solutions emphasizes that expecting quality results without a clear understanding of what acoustic comfort entails is naive.
Market Novices or Systemic Neglect?
Acoustic specialists visiting construction sites often find themselves puzzled because it’s not pleasant to suspect deliberate carelessness among builders. “We observe situations where, for example, in schools or preschool educational institutions, rooms are rearranged to avoid applying acoustic measures. Thus, classrooms become playrooms – reverberant, noisy, and highly unfavorable for the educational process. Meanwhile, adjacent common spaces are filled with acoustic materials,” shares V. Mekas. Similar situations are seen in commercial properties: clients declare their desired acoustic comfort classes, but they do not understand that regulations do not define specific requirements for administrative, commercial, entertainment, or similar buildings, so the loudly declared class remains theoretical rather than practical.
Or take the classic case in multifamily residential construction where, after initial natural measurements, ventilation openings, sewer pipes, or electrical outlets are temporarily sealed. The cost-cutting route in the construction sector, often involving the use of lighter materials, leads to the same painful results – inadequate sound insulation, where mass and tightness are key requirements. In V. Mekas’s words, the most crucial aspects of ensuring noise control are appropriate fundamental architectural and structural decisions. Proper room layout based on function, using suitable types and masses of constructions, provides the foundation for sound insulation and noise control solutions. Minor mistakes can be corrected with special “acoustic” materials in some cases. However, if the foundation is flawed, such as an inappropriate floor structure or an erroneous partition design, rectifying the mistake is complex, sometimes impossible, or requires sacrificing space, and this is measured in meters, not millimeters.
Design, or the Devil Is in the Details
Acoustics is not just about absorbing sound materials and their arrangement; it is determined by room layout, the mass and tightness of barriers – constructions.
“Correct acoustic solutions begin with room layout. If, on one side of a partition, a living room with a wall-mounted TV is planned, and on the other side, a neighbor’s bedroom with a bed against the wall is designed, a problem is built-in. Or if the elevator shaft is placed next to a residential unit’s wall, or ventilation ducts are directed to the neighboring building’s roof,” notes the acoustic specialist, pointing out common mistakes. The key element of a high-quality construction is details, and as V. Mekas points out, it’s the level of detail that acoustic specialists often miss. There is often a lack of detail on how to connect one wall to another or how to connect walls to floors. The devil, as V. Mekas observes, is in the details, so the involvement of an acoustic specialist in the process can help avoid many problems.
Why the Plus Matters When Classifying Sound
The acoustic specialist argues that solutions in Class A do not solve all problems. Therefore, he uses an analogy with energy efficiency classes and suggests an A+ sound class or additional solutions that help address what the classification does not define. If you want quality, you need to look beyond the STR because, in the words of the acoustic specialist, general regulations do not cover all possible cases. The impetus for this comes from the increasing popularity of international sustainability standards like BREEAM, LEED, and the development of the LŽPT (Lietuvos žaliųjų pastatų taryba) standard in Lithuania. Although these standards themselves do not guarantee good results, they draw attention to this area.
“Akustika plius” prepares interior acoustic and noise pollution assessment reports according to these standards, performing initial assessments, providing consultation, and assisting in achieving specified acoustic credits. Since there are no accredited acoustic specialists in Lithuania, the company was granted this privilege based on its experience in this field. Sustainability standards, when it comes to sound insulation, noise control, and creating acoustic comfort, look at it from a slightly different angle compared to STR. They assess the context and thus promote a responsible approach to important details (e.g., how to orient a building so it doesn’t worsen the situation for neighboring buildings, doesn’t have a negative impact on the environment, etc.). When implementing sound insulation requirements, these standards encourage going a bit further than what the normative acts require. Therefore, striving to certify buildings according to sustainable standards is also an effort to implement higher quality standards than current regulations demand. This way, a chain or sequence of actions is created that encourages seeking professional knowledge, in this case, acoustic professionals, gaining additional competencies, building with quality, responsibility, and several steps above what STR requires. It requires a willingness to do better, explains the true essence of sustainable standards that elevate building quality, which in turn takes sound insulation to a higher level, according to V. Mekas.
More Inquiries, Fewer Realized Projects
When designing architectural acoustics based on geometric acoustics and wave sound theory, the timely involvement of an acoustic specialist is particularly important. This is because these specialists prepare soundproofing solutions, select constructions (the required barrier constructions and their optimal masses), calculate sound insulation parameters, specify additional requirements, and potential errors.
“We conduct comparative calculations of insulating properties, advise on possible material changes and their consequences, prepare tasks for sound insulation requirements, perform calculations and simulations to evaluate possible noise propagation through constructions and the expected noise levels in adjacent spaces. We select solutions and requirements according to relevant STR, BREEAM, LEED, and best practice recommendations,” explains the benefit of specialist involvement, whose company has participated in implementing the first multifamily residential building project in the Baltic states to achieve an A sound class.
As the head of “Akustika plius” notes, inquiries about the A sound class have increased, but consultations rarely turn into realized projects. Builders calculate potential costs and come to the conclusion that the buyer is unlikely to pay more for the work, leaving them with a C sound class. Acoustic comfort in rooms, buildings, and cities is a quality indicator that requires the timely efforts of investors, designers, contractors, government institutions, and, of course, a critical mass of consumers who understand what level of comfort they want.