Reducing Noise Helps Animal Health, Worker Safety

Animal health improved with reduced noise level.

Listen up.    

Architects report that they are getting more and more requests to control unwanted noise in veterinary hospitals they’re designing.

Photo courtesy of Rauhaus Freedenfeld

Sound panels installed at Plymouth Animal Hospital in Plymouth, Mass., improve acoustic performance.

Acoustic controls make working in and visiting a veterinary practice more pleasant, they say, and new theories on evidence-based design (EBD) suggest physiological benefits for patients as well.

“Animals boarding or staying in kennels are not psychologically calm when they are surrounded by noise, and their circadian rhythm is disrupted,” says Wayne Usiak, AIA, CEO of BDA Architecture in Albuquerque, N.M. “Adding a window with a view and natural light in an ICU has benefits. There’s also a balance that can be achieved when designing the arrangement of caging. All this can reduce noise.”

First and foremost, architects say, kennel rooms should be designed to allow conversations. It’s not uncommon, they say, to find kennel workers wearing headsets to muffle the barking. Some older facilities and workplaces built without consideration of noise reduction can be unsafe.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires veterinary and animal care workers who are exposed to noise exceeding 85 decibels for an extended time to wear hearing protection. The greater the noise and longer the duration, the shorter the permitted exposure.

Regional standards may apply to neighbors adjacent to the veterinary practice.

“Design can make a big difference in staff and patient happiness, a client’s perception of the hospital and the efficiency of the business,” Usiak says. “Architects without industry experience often overlook the noise-control issue and focus on kennel drainage and cleaning only.”

And the issue isn’t just kennels. Examination rooms should be designed to keep medical and financial conversations private, Usiak says.

Good First Appearances


Photo courtesy of BDA Architecture

Glass can be used in the construction of walls and doors to ensure effective patient monitoring.

Two ways to control high- and low-frequency noise transfer are to use certain materials and techniques, says Warren Freedenfeld, AIA, principal architect with Rauhsaud Freedenfeld & Associates in Boston. The proper selection of material for air ducts, walls and ceilings can help control noise without contributing to moisture absorbency or odor.

“Clients’ perception of your ability isn’t going to be based on surgical skill, but their experience at your practice,” says Mark R. Hafen, AIA, NCARB, a partner with Animal Arts of Boulder, Colo. “If you have a noisy, smelly practice, they won’t want to leave their pet.”

Selecting material with a high noise reduction coefficient (NRC) means that whatever sound is bouncing around the room will be absorbed, Hafen says. Selecting a product with a high sound transmission coefficient (STC) also is important.

“The more dense the wall, the more effective it will be at controlling noise,” Hafen says. “Eighty-five to 60 STC is about the best-case scenario.”
 Usiak likes glass doors in kennels to eliminate the “jail look.”

“They are easy to clean and expand the animal’s environment,” he says. “TriStar Metals, Shor-Line, Mason Co. and Snyder Manufacturing do a good job with these materials.”

Sal Longo Jr., principal architect and owner of Longo Architecture Studio LLC in Lafayette, La., recommends sound baffles for walls and ceilings, acoustical ceiling tile and vaulted ceilings.

“Examples of materials and components that have a higher STC rating include double-insulated glass, solid-core doors with rubber stripping around the perimeter and studded walls with insulation and one or two layers of gypsum wall board on each side,” Longo says.

Pay for Better Results

Hafen says QuietRock soundproof drywall is very dense and costs about 10 times more than ordinary drywall, but he says the results are worth the price.

“Using the right material will make a big difference,” he says, adding that correct installation can’t be overlooked.

“Stagger outlets so sound doesn’t travel through to the other side,” Hafen says. “Doors at best have a 45 STC when closed, but using rubber stripping around the door and placing a room between the kennel door and the rest of the clinic can help prevent noise spread.”

Another problem with hard-surfaced veterinary hospitals is flanking noise, which occurs when sound escapes through the ceiling. To prevent this, architects make sure the kennel walls reach all the way to the roof, without stopping at the ceiling.

“Most architects aren’t dialed in to these issues because noise travel isn’t as much of a concern in other construction projects,” Hafen says.

“There has to be a good balance between noise control, durability and sanitation.”

Durability sometimes is sacrificed in exchange for materials that resist moisture and reduce noise. Architects say it’s a compromise that some veterinarians make to allow a more pleasant environment.

“We compartmentalize areas of the hospital, zoning certain areas into treatment and clinical rooms, boarding area and front waiting area,” says Peter Hill, AIA, of HDA Architects Inc. of Dawsonville, Ga. “It’s one way to combat the war against sound. We can be as aggressive or non-aggressive with controlling noise as necessary per zone.”

Weighing the Costs

Reducing noise in a hospital might not be as expensive as some imagine. Practice owners on a small budget can focus on the kennel to eliminate much of the unwanted noise.

“At the average-size hospital, you may be talking about a few additional hundred or a few additional thousand dollars, depending on how many interior walls need to be insulated,” Longo says.

Hill says selecting the right materials goes a long way toward reducing noise pollution.

“Creating a dogtooth ceiling and using acoustical boards in a kennel helps control noise,” he says. “Using special materials costs about $3 to $5 more per square foot. Using these materials in a 5,000-square-foot building may cost $15,000 to $25,000 more.

“Sometimes reducing sound throughout an entire practice is necessary, especially in shopping center settings.”

Freedenfeld likes designing kennels so they are not directly across from each other.

“Caged dogs across from other dogs causes barking and creates a rolling barking effect,” he says. “You can reduce the number of consecutive runs or create barriers between the runs to reduce sound. These aren’t superexpensive to incorporate.”

Boarding can be a lucrative addition to a veterinary practice. Options much like the coach and first-class sections of airplanes are possible.

“I’m working on a project now in the Boston area that includes New England vernacular canine condos surrounding a village green, with a cobblestone walk and faux trees and grass, all under a faux sky,” Freedenfeld says. “The design is built for sound control, comfort and aesthetics.”

Professionals agree that building with noise reduction in mind is easier, but reducing noise in an existing facility can be done.

“We are hired to fix problems in practices all the time,” Usiak says. “Expectations of veterinary hospitals are higher now than they ever have been. Sound control is a critical issue integrated into all design decisions—not only from segregating noise, but reducing noise in the kennel room, too.”

Mark J. Schmidt, AIA, principal architect at Knapp Schmidt Architects LLC of Wautoma, Wis., is a fan of doors that close automatically, which help seal off noisy areas and make sure that doors are indeed closed.

“Architects with industry experience know they must work with contractors who understand the reason for the design and materials,” Schmidt says. “These issues must be enforced or else the contractor may think he’s taking the less expensive route and eliminate some of the necessary designs and materials.”

Animals and people get stressed in rooms lacking sound control, he adds. The more efficient the floor plan, the less cost to assimilate.

“Some facilities still have kennels where the noise is intolerable,” Freedenfeld says. “But for the most part, veterinary practices, boarding facilities and shelters are all forging ahead with their incorporation of sound control.” <HOME>

This article first appeared in the May 2010 issue of Veterinary Practice News

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