performance of acoustical materials

by Mike Nixon, CSI

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Acoustical materials are being used more and more in interior spaces to reduce noise and reverberation. With the advent of mandatory and enforceable acoustical standards, expected next year, under the auspices of the ADA for all new and remodeled schools, product performance will be very important. Many companies have determined that they can make their own acoustical panels and while there is an expectation that they will perform acoustically as requested or specified, the fact that one panel looks the same as the next is no guarantee that it will. Acoustical performance can often be very fickle and is contingent upon a number of subtle factors.

To insure that what you are getting is what you have designed for, to meet the mandatory acoustical requirements, the specifications should require that the manufacturer provide independent acoustical test certification by way of the actual test reports for the product(s) provided. Furthermore the certification and test reports should be in the name of the acoustical material manufacturer providing the product.

Since the acoustical characteristics of a room are determined during the design process, the designer establishes the performance through the materials selected to meet the performance criteria. The only way that a designer can show that he has acted in good faith to provide the appropriate acoustical performance is to demand adequate and appropriate certification through test data submittals. In this manner the designer will avoid falling victim to look alikes in the event of a failure to meet the performance criteria.

Even more critical than acoustical performance is the surface burning characteristics as determined by ASTM E84. Many inexperienced acoustical panel manufacturers assume that because all of the constituent components employed in the manufacture of panels are Class A, the finished product must likewise be Class A. Nothing can be further from the truth, the only way you can be sure that the finished product is Class A in accordance with ASTM E84 is by way of an actual test.

This writer has witnessed fire tests where there was a very high expectation for successful certification, only to see the flame racing down the test tunnel like a bunch of screaming banshees. While such an experience can be unnerving it also gives the responsible manufacturer a healthy respect for the necessity to test panels compositions that meet life safety codes and to subsequently maintain a high degree of quality control in day to day manufacturing of such products. Once again, the specifications should require test report submittals, in the name of the submitting manufacturer that certifies compliance.

Mike Nixon, president of EA Acoustical Engineering, Inc., will be the speaker at the January chapter meeting. Mike can be reached at 763-473-1454, or by e-mail at MTNixon@aol.com. EA Acoustical Engineering is located in Plymouth, Minnesota.

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2000 Mike Nixon

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