How lighting can improve acoustic control in the modern office environment



Acuity – brand function

How lighting can address acoustic control in modern office environments.

By Dirk Zylstra, VP Design & Development, Acuity Brands Lighting

One of the drawbacks of modern office design has been the unforeseen effects of noise, poor acoustic control, and lack of privacy, which can affect productivity in the workplace.

Modern office environments can present acoustical challenges due to design decisions related to physical arrangement, avoiding sound absorbing elements while emphasizing materials that exacerbate the situation. Some common architectural elements such as unfinished ceilings and less closed offices can significantly reduce the number of soundproofing elements in the area.

Most office workers switch fluently between the need for collaborative interaction and focused one-on-one work, and this is where the problem lies. A typical open office generates noise levels of 60-65 dB, while focused, concentrated work requires a significantly lower level of 40-55 dB. In addition, typical office workers are more or less split between individual employees and interactive employees who can spend more than 60% of their time working together.

Current scientific evidence suggests that we have the bandwidth capacity to process only 1.6 human voices at a time, and that this creates additional noise. High blood pressure, impaired cognition, and general lack of concentration are the result of a poor acoustic environment. In addition, offices and public spaces require a degree of language secrecy for both productivity and legal reasons.

How can lighting solve this problem?

In contrast to other office elements, lighting in both offices and public spaces is generally out of the direct field of view. At the same time, the lighting is perfectly positioned to control the acoustics.

The most common measure for evaluating acoustic properties is the NRC (Noise Reduction Coefficient), which is often used in specifications of ceiling tiles, office partitions, wall panels and now, lighting fixtures. The best way to control acoustics is to avoid sound reflections.

Since the lighting installed in the ceiling space and on the walls is outside the direct field of view, there is the possibility of adding sound-absorbing material while improving the overall aesthetics. In fact, proximity to walls and ceilings helps absorb sound as sound tends to get trapped between the sound absorbing surfaces and the building structure.

There are many approaches and technical solutions for integrating sound absorption into lighting fixtures, but not all solutions are great for lighting. When it comes to materials that absorb sound, there is a wide range of felts, fabrics, foams or pulps. The greater challenge is to structurally integrate these materials in such a way that the luminaire design is effective firstly as a lighting fixture and secondly as a sound-absorbing device.

New, innovative lighting with acoustic technology

Acuity Brands recently received a patent for the innovative design of its Absorb H acoustic family of lights from A-Light ™, which combines high performance lighting with acoustic technology. It is designed to reduce noise in open spaces and areas with high ceilings while providing functional lighting. Typical applications are schools, offices, reception areas, lobbies, conference rooms, auditoriums and convention centers.

The unique double-walled hollow core shape of the wings enables the Absorb H luminaire to efficiently absorb sound. The felt-like horizontal polyester panels of the lamp consist of at least 40% recycled PET bottles for end users and are completely recyclable. With a large surface area, the acoustic panels limit the reverberation time and have an inherent sound absorption rating of 0.75 NRC (Noise Reduction Coefficient). Luminaires are available in 30 different acoustic colors.

More information is available at

By Dirk Zylstra, VP Design & Development, Acuity Brands Lighting

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