Both strategies worked well for us when renovating our new suite, but more was needed. In this post, let’s consider some additional measures.
Insulate your light switches and power outlets. Beneath the cover plates in both are recessed boxes, usually metal, that can serve as amplifiers, transmitting sound to the other side of the wall. Consider having an expert add a putty-like product to these sockets to dampen the vibration.
Insulate above office walls. Most office suite walls go only as high as the suspended ceiling rather than to the concrete pad of the next floor. Lift a ceiling tile and you can see above the office next door. Sound travels up through the acoustic ceiling (and through vents and lighting panels), over the tops of the walls, and down into adjacent offices.
One strategy is to have a builder add sound-dampening drywall up to the next floor slab. An easier (though slightly less effective) strategy is to stuff the gap above each wall with sound dampening insulation (such as Roxul's SafeNSound). Make sure there are no gaps, and don’t skimp. Use full-width pieces (12 to 18 inches wide) so they extend at least a few inches on either side of the top of the wall above the suspended ceiling.
Inspect continuous windows. Many office buildings have continuous panels of windows all the way around the building, each pane separated by a metal frame. Walls between offices in these buildings typically step down to the width of the window frame, creating a narrow separation with excellent sound-transmitting qualities.
Stand in the middle of one office and speak directly to the centre of the wall. Have a colleague next door listen to where the sound seems to come from. If it seems to come from the windows, the frame is likely transmitting your voice. One option is to stuff the stepped-back portion of the wall between offices (the narrow bit by the windows) with foam. An easier alternative that we discovered was to use black foam tape designed for wrapping and insulating pipes. This is available from most hardware stores. We got a width that matched the window frame and installed it from top to bottom on both sides of every window frame that divided offices.
Insulate your doors. Knock on your office doors to determine whether they are solid-core or hollow. Solid doors are more soundproof. Consider replacing hollow ones. On the top and open side of the frame, install weather-stripping on the jamb that the door strikes as it closes. On the hinge side of the door, install the weather-stripping on the side of the frame so that the edge of the door doesn’t peel it away as it closes. You’ll have to close the door more firmly to get it to latch, but it will give a satisfyingly secure thunk that will tell your clients that the room is reasonably private.
Install door sweeps. Sound can obviously travel under your doors if there is a gap. Consider installing a door sweep on the bottom of the door so that the gap is minimized or eliminated. There are various types of these; the one you want will depend on the size of the gap, your carpet, and your budget.
Have wall to wall carpet. Most office suites come with wall to wall carpet, but some don’t, and some clinicians like the idea of a scattering of area rugs. Nice concept, but bad soundproofing. Carpet absorbs sound.
Add white noise. No matter what you do, you probably won’t make your offices completely soundproof. Adding white noise to your waiting area will help mask louder voices. You can buy white noise generators, but you can just as easily use an air purifier in your waiting area that will do the same thing while performing double duty. Add a sound system playing gentle music in your reception and waiting areas, and you will make it even more difficult to make out voices in your consulting rooms.
Is there more? Of course. You can spend tens of thousands of dollars making your space absolutely soundproof. But with these measures you will reduce the sound transfer in your suite by a significant amount. Your clients will sense it and will feel a little more comfortable discussing their private matters in your office.
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