Tag Archives: Retrofit

New Construction vs. Renovation: Sustainability and LEED – go all green or just a little?

Goals such as increasing a facility’s sustainability take a different spin for new construction and renovation projects. Although any building—new or existing—can strive for Leadership in Energy

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and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, the approaches to feasibly achieve that goal change based on the building.

The question is whether the new construction developer will pay for green materials that could cost a few, mere percentage points more than non-green ones even though the more sustainable products will yield long-term savings. On the flipside, what incentive does the building management have to ‘go green’ when there are likely other pressing operations issues to address? There are advantages for both sides, as well as different approaches to make sustainability work.

When it comes to achieving LEED v4, the indoor Water Efficiency (WE) criteria between new construction and existing buildings is now at a level playing field. Although the WE category section between new construction and existing buildings has always been similar, now the indoor water use credits are more equalized. This translates to both required prerequisites and optional credits.

Focusing on the indoor water-related criteria, two of the prerequisites—building-level water metering and indoor water use reduction—will help projects get a grip on water consumption and save water over the long term. The differentiating factor from previous versions of LEED is the requirement to use products certified under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) WaterSense program. (WaterSense helps consumers chose cost-effective products by labeling those certified to be at least 20 percent more efficient without sacrificing performance.) This applies to the prerequisite and carries over the indoor water reduction credit criteria.

This means all flushometers, urinals, and tank toilets, plus some faucet applications, need to be WaterSense-certified as well as reduce water usage compared to the allowable baseline. Projects can earn additional points for reducing indoor water usage by 25 to 50 percent for new construction and 10 to 30 percent for existing buildings.

Whether following LEED Building Design + Construction (BD+C): New Construction or LEED Operations + Maintenance (O+M): Existing Buildings, water metering is perhaps the most significant update to this credit category. Metering data must be shared with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) for five years. Projects can earn an additional point for installing water meters on at least two types of subsystems, such as irrigation, indoor plumbing, and reclaimed water. Existing buildings have an opportunity to earn an additional point for submetering four or more subsystems.

Sustainability in terms of water and energy savings, without the formal certification, can also alter the arguments and the palette of choices. Whereas a specifier can choose high-efficiency fixtures from the start with a new facility without incurring any extra upfront costs, a building manager’s decision often rests on the replacement or upgrade return on investment (ROI).

This is where retrofit products fit into the picture. For a nominal investment and little installation trouble, buildings can benefit from upgrades that will save water and/or energy while bringing added conveniences such as touch-free operation.

CS_June_2014.inddTo read the full article, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Construction vs. Renovation: How the commercial plumbing choices differ

Photo courtesy Sloan

Photo courtesy Sloan

by Mark Lawinger and Mike Gipson

Two of the biggest restroom plumbing choices are how to provide sensor operation and how to save water with fixtures and flushometers. However, whether products are being specified for a new development or an existing building can have an impact on decisions.

In some cases, a commercial developer is constructing a new facility; in others an owner plans to make extensive renovations to an existing building—either way, plumbing choices come into play. Visitors may judge a company or institution on the restroom’s condition and appeal. Plumbing systems offer a way to both improve the restroom environment and reduce costly water and energy consumption. Therefore, restrooms tend to receive special attention when undergoing new construction or renovations.

Toilets, faucets, soap dispensers, and hand dryers are standard restroom equipment, yet choosing the right mix is anything but standard. There is a wide array of technologies, features, and options to consider, and certain product types will favor—and, in some cases, are specifically designed for—new construction as opposed to renovation projects.

Plumbing systems can improve a restroom’s environment. During renovations or new construction, choosing toilets and other standard restroom equipment is important. Photo © Dreamstime.com/ Dzmitry Shyshkouski

Plumbing systems can improve a restroom’s environment. During
renovations or new construction, choosing toilets and other standard restroom equipment is important. Photo © Dreamstime.com/ Dzmitry Shyshkouski

Although the new construction project manager may have preferences or experiences using certain brands or product types that could impact the decision, the task essentially starts with a clean slate of options. The renovation manager, on the other hand, has a greater interest in selecting products that will work smoothly with what is already in the building—products that fit into the housekeeping regimen, are familiar to maintenance/service personnel, and use parts already on hand. In either case, however, architectural and aesthetic preferences can be incorporated into product decisions.

The major plumbing choices facing specifiers include the power type for sensor-activated products and water consumption. As specifiers consider which products are best for their applications, renovators have the added chore of ensuring selections are the right fit for their facilities, which may have aging plumbing infrastructure and older fixtures.

Power play
Specifiers for new construction and renovation projects are increasingly choosing sensor-activated plumbing products for restrooms. The reasons for selecting touch-free activation include increased hygiene, aesthetics, and convenience, plus reduced vandalism by eliminating handles or faucet metering buttons that can break.

One of the most important sensor choices is the type of power source. The two main power options for sensor plumbing systems are batteries or hardwiring. Energy-saving solar power with battery backup is another choice.

Hardwired sensor flushometer products are more commonly employed in new construction projects because builders can plan ahead of time for electrical hook-up and proper placement. Plus, hardwired products require little to no service once they are installed. These systems run off of transformers, which can each provide power to 10 water closets and/or urinal flushometers. Installers should allow a minimum of 15 VA of current rating per solenoid. As this can vary, consulting the manufacturer on proper transformer sizing based on the number of fittings to be attached is recommended.

Renovators can easily upgrade existing flushometers with retrofit products. These automatically activate a reduced flush when users stay within the sensor range for less than a minute. Photos courtesy Sloan

Renovators can easily upgrade existing flushometers with retrofit products. These automatically activate a reduced flush when users stay within the sensor range for less than a minute. Photos courtesy Sloan

Primarily because of the electrical hook-up and need to purchase at least one transformer, hardwired products are more expensive than battery-powered models. Yet, once they are installed, there is no regular maintenance required, which keeps down operating costs.

Also, hardwired flushometers can be concealed entirely behind the wall. These systems, which only reveal a tamper-proof sensor window, are ideal for restrooms prone to vandalism and are favored by architects for their cleaner aesthetic compared to exposed models. Traditionally, hardwired flushometers have not been ideal choices for buildings or areas likely to suffer from power outages, which would render the fittings or fixtures unusable. Some flushometers, however, have mechanical override features with buttons that can be pressed to enable manual operation.

Battery-powered flushometers and faucets are viable options for restrooms where electrical access for hardwiring is difficult to obtain or cost-prohibitive and, as such, they are a common choice for renovations. Battery-powered products, of course, require periodic battery changes.

Solar-powered water closet and urinal flushometers can be a good selection for new construction or renovation. These products use their backup batteries only when insufficient light energy has been stored to activate; this can extend battery life up to double the typical time. These units are easy to install anywhere and operate off any ambient illumination source, including occupancy-controlled lighting.

Renovators can add sensor operation to existing flushometers by installing retrofit flushometer kits. This is a popular option for renovations, because the kits quickly and easily upgrade existing manual flushometers. Facilities can make widespread retrofits with these kits or upgrade flushometers one at a time—whichever makes sense, based on budget and design objectives.

Concealed, hardwired-sensor flushometers with true mechanical override functionality enable manual flushing even during a power outage.

Concealed, hardwired-sensor flushometers with true mechanical override functionality enable manual flushing even during a power outage.

Retrofitting a flushometer is easy. For manual flushometers, side-mounted retrofit kits simply clamp over the handle of a manual flushometer or replace the handle to provide either manual or electronic operation. Top-mount retrofit kits can also upgrade existing manual flushometers by replacing the top cap on the units with sensor-activated modules.

Ways to save water
Many of today’s plumbing fixtures and fittings are designed to use water more efficiently. Partly, the interest in water-efficient plumbing products comes from building owners looking to reduce water and wastewater utility costs. State and local codes are also behind the installation of fixtures and fittings that consume less water.

Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires new water closets to use no more than 6 Lpf (1.6 gpf) and urinals to use a maximum of 3.8 Lpf (1 gpf), some states and local code bodies require even lower water consumption levels. Many areas have now set the water closet flush maximum to 4.8 Lpf (1.28 gpf). Both single-flush and dual-flush toilets that flush at 6.0 Lpf (1.6 gpf) for solids and 4.2 Lpf (1.1 gpf) for liquids for an average of 4.8 Lpf (1.28 gpf), qualify. Specifiers can also choose urinals with flows as low as 0.5 Lpf (0.125 gpf).

For new construction, the decisions are relatively simple—new facilities’ pipes are designed to accommodate the reduced flows of water-efficient plumbing products. Thus, it is completely up to specifiers to choose the water-efficient plumbing products they prefer, including (if local code allows) water-free urinals. Renovators, however, work with aging infrastructure. The infrastructure can impact the performance of plumbing products, as well as the specification of water-efficient products.

Since owners of existing buildings are motivated to save water, they often look to retrofit flushometer kits, which can convert existing flushometers to more water-efficient operation. These kits can upgrade any water closet or urinal fixture rated to perform effectively at a lower-volume flush. Dual-flush flushometers and retrofit kits are just as water efficient as 4.8-Lpf (1.28-gpf) flushometers while providing the added benefit of a periodic, full flush. The 6-Lpf (1.6-gpf) flush can be especially helpful in older buildings that may have difficulty clearing solids with 4.8-Lpf (1.28-gpf) flushes.

Whether starting with a new set of fixtures for a development, or installing retrofit flushometers in existing buildings, it is critical to match the water volume of the flushometers to the fixtures. Urinal and water closet fixtures are rated for specific flush volumes as indicated on the stamped markings on the fixtures. Fixtures either have a single flush volume marked—or a range of volumes, in the case of universal fixtures now available—which indicate the water volume they can adequately handle.

An Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) urinal rim height needs to be 432 mm (17 in.) to be in compliance. If Manufacturer B’s urinal is used to retrofit Manufacturer A’s without changing the outlet rough-in height, it will increase the rim height to 483 mm (19 in.) and no longer be ADA compliant. Be sure to account for fixture dimensions when planning a retrofit project.

An Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) urinal rim height needs to be 432 mm (17 in.) to be in compliance. If Manufacturer B’s urinal is used to retrofit Manufacturer A’s without changing the outlet rough-in height, it will increase the rim height to 483 mm (19 in.) and no longer be ADA compliant. Be sure to account for fixture dimensions when planning a retrofit project.

Mismatching flushometers (or diaphragm kits) and fixtures is a common mistake. Older fixtures have features designed to use more water, such as larger trapways and jet holes. Restricting the amount of water supplied to these fixtures from more water-efficient flushometers can result in incomplete flushes or other performance issues. Retrofit products are only meant for upgrading relatively new fixtures that can accommodate the reduced flush volumes.

Due to performance and non-compliance issues, it is advisable in some cases to completely replace older water closet fixtures and flushometers to gain water-efficiency advantages. Additionally, new water-efficient urinal and water closet fixtures have been engineered for greater overall performance, which also makes upgrading worthwhile.

From a retrofit standpoint, a building’s drainline condition is a major concern, especially when using high-efficiency plumbing systems. Older buildings that were constructed at a time when toilets flushed at 13.2 Lpf (3.5 gpf) or higher have drainlines designed to use that much water to effectively move waste.

As buildings conserve water from multiple sources—such as restroom plumbing, dishwashing equipment, and showers—specifiers should be cognizant of piping conditions and how decreased water usage will affect them. Similarly, on the supply side, pipes can become scaly and provide inadequate water pressure and volume over time.

While the fixtures are removed from the wall or floor during the retrofit, this would be an ideal time to conduct any needed drainline maintenance. At this point, personnel may be able to identify other drainline issues to address, such as a sag in the line. To ensure there is enough static or flowing pressure in the lines, facilities may choose to add a booster pump or even replace select pipes.

In short, high-efficiency systems exacerbate any existing drainline problems because they use less water. The margin of error in specifying proper systems and maintaining drainline performance has been reduced greatly, so it is important to do the upfront research and to service the lines as needed.

Renovators only: Fixture dimensions
Another technical consideration for renovations regards fixture dimension. When switching from one fixture brand or model to another, the new wall- or floor-mount fixtures will likely employ the old fixtures’ existing outlet flanges due to the cost and difficulty in moving them.

Vitreous china urinal fixtures with a larger footprint than standard models are ideal for retrofit projects because they cover caulk lines or other marks left behind after old fixtures are removed.

Vitreous china urinal fixtures with a larger footprint than standard models are ideal for retrofit projects because they cover caulk lines or other marks left behind after old fixtures are removed.

There may be dimensional changes impacting aesthetics and practicality, because fixtures’ outlet-to-rim-dimension varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, as well as from model to model. Installing a new urinal fixture on the same outlet flange of an older one, however, may then mean the rim is higher. This could make a urinal fixture, for instance, non-compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which calls for a urinal rim height maximum of 432 mm (17 in.).

Installing new fixtures in place of older models may also expose old caulk lines that need to be removed. Repainting or retiling parts of the mounting area that were previously hidden may be necessary. One solution is to choose larger-footprint urinal fixtures, designed specifically for retrofit applications, which conceal old holes and markings.

Conclusion
For all types of commercial projects, the options and decisions that are necessary to be made today, as opposed to even 20 years ago, are dramatically different. The plumbing landscape is more complex, yet full of new approaches and technologies to reduce water usage and operating costs, while increasing efficiencies.

Mark Lawinger is the fixture product line manager for Sloan Valve Company, a manufacturer of water- and energy-efficient commercial restroom plumbing procuts. He has a background in business development, marketing, and product management for commercial and industrial systems. Lawinger can be reached by e-mail at mark.lawinger@sloanvalve.com.

Mike Gipson is the flushometer product line manager at Sloan Valve Company. He has held various brand management roles at commercial and consumer product companies and can be reached at mike.gipson@sloanvalve.com.

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Retrofitting Sound Masking: The ABC Rule

by Niklas Moeller, MBA

Given most employees spend the majority of their time on individual tasks, phone calls, and conversations in their workspace, the workplace should provide

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them with speech privacy, comfort, and freedom from distracting noises.

When planned during the design phase, creating such an environment is as simple as ‘ABC’—absorb, block, and cover.

As all three strategies are required to achieve the best results, they are collectively referred to as the ‘ABC Rule.’ Any issues arising are typically the result of the omission of one or more of these methods or their imbalanced application within the space. The organization must then determine what treatments will be most effective, the budget available for them, and the degree of disruption they can weather during implementation.

‘A’ is for absorb
Absorptive ceiling tiles, wall materials, and flooring reduce the energy and, therefore, the volume of sounds reflected off their surfaces back into the space.

It is important to specify a good acoustic tile and ensure consistent coverage throughout the facility. The lighting system’s impact on the ceiling’s performance can be limited through selecting an indirect system that incorporates a minimum number of fixtures while still meeting the lighting requirements. Use of hard materials, such as glass and metal, should be minimized because these reflect noise and conversation, causing them to be heard over greater distances. Use absorptive workstation partitions, at least inside and above the work surface. Finally, soft flooring should be installed in high-traffic areas.

‘B’ is for block
Closed plan designs use walls and doors to block sound, but blocking is also a relevant technique for open plans.

Noisy office machines and high-activity areas—such as call centers—should be located in remote or isolated areas. The distance between employees should be maximized, while direct paths of sound transmission from one person to another minimized by seating employees facing away from each other on either side of partitions. Partitions that are 1542 to 1651 mm (60 to 65 in.) high are effective because they extend beyond seated head height, though using taller products in high traffic areas can be beneficial.

‘C’ is for cover
Just as with lighting and temperature, there is a comfort zone for the volume of sound, and it is not zero. Installing a sound masking system helps ensure the facility’s ambient—or background—sound level is sufficient to cover up conversations and incidental noises. It should typically be 40 to 48 dBA, depending on the space.

For optimal results, masking can be applied in both open plans and closed rooms. To ensure the sound will be comfortable, effective, and unobtrusive across the entire facility, volume and frequency can be finely adjusted (e.g. 0.5 dB step volume control; 1/3-octave frequency control across the entire masking spectrum of 100 to 8000 Hz) within small zones of one to three loudspeakers (e.g. 21 to 62.7 m2 [225 to 675 sf]). If paging and music are needed, the designer should ensure both functions can be provided over the same set of loudspeakers. To maximize flexibility, one must specify a networked system allowing changes to be made to zones and settings without accessing the ceiling or altering the cabling.

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Retrofitting Sound Masking: Improving speech privacy and noise control in occupied spaces

Photo © Zahid Ghafoor

Photo © Zahid Ghafoor

by Niklas Moeller, MBA

In recent years, many methods of providing speech privacy and controlling noise have been systematically eliminated from workplace designs. For example, closed rooms are increasingly built using demountable partitions, reducing room-to-room isolation. Despite rising occupant densities, workstation panels are often lowered or dispensed with altogether, harkening back to pre-1950s open plans. Absorptive finishes are forgone in favor of exposed concrete, metal, and glass, allowing noises to travel further and remain loud.

Whether these decisions are made for aesthetic reasons, to help achieve green or short-term budget goals, or in the name of the latest trend—‘collaboration’—they ultimately impact a facility’s acoustic performance.

However, an organization may not fully understand the degree of disturbance such design choices can cause until they move into their new facility and the complaints begin. Employees may express dissatisfaction with being able to hear people talking, as well as concern over their own level of speech privacy. Additionally, they may be frequently disrupted by noises such as ringing telephones, mechanical equipment, exterior traffic, and footfall.

Over the last decade, many methods of controlling acoustics have been systematically eliminated. The percentage of open-plan spaces has increased, partitions have lowered or disappeared, absorptive finishes have been replaced by hard surfaces, and floor plates have narrowed. [CREDIT] Photo © iStockphoto/Goran Bogicevic.

Over the last decade, many methods of controlling acoustics have been systematically eliminated. The percentage of open-plan spaces has increased, partitions have lowered or disappeared, absorptive finishes have been replaced by hard surfaces, and floor plates have narrowed. Photo © iStockphoto/Goran Bogicevic

A lot of effort goes into planning other aspects of a new facility, and it likely exhibits many desirable features, but an organization is then faced with the troubling realization people are having difficulty working in it.

If the organization had considered acoustics from the start, they would have had the opportunity to apply all the techniques required for an optimal result (see “The ABC Rule”), and likely realized construction and material savings in the process. However, at the completion stage, they typically need to adopt solutions offering the greatest opportunity for improvement while creating the least upheaval in an already-occupied environment. One such solution is a sound masking system.

Sound masking technology

Sound masking technology consists of a series of loudspeakers, that are usually installed in a grid-like pattern in or above the ceiling, as well as a method of controlling their zoning and output. The loudspeakers distribute a comfortable, engineered sound, raising the facility’s ambient—or background—sound level.

Adding more sound to a space runs contrary to most people’s understanding of how to achieve effective acoustics. Indeed, many believe the goal is to make the facility as silent as possible. However, due to improvements in construction materials, as well as quieter office and mechanical equipment, the ambient level in the majority of commercial offices is already too low. Employees working in these library-like environments are disturbed by even low-volume noises and can easily hear conversations occurring from as much as 15.24 m (50 ft) away.

By raising the ambient level, masking covers up noises lower in volume. It also reduces the disruptive impact of those that are higher by decreasing the magnitude of change between the baseline volume and any peaks in the space. Conversations are either entirely masked or their intelligibility is reduced, improving occupants’ privacy and further decreasing the number of disruptions to their concentration. The overall result is occupants perceive treated spaces as quieter.

Retrofitting options

There are numerous factors making retrofitting this particular acoustic solution attractive.

A sound masking system consists of a series of loudspeakers installed in a grid-like pattern in the ceiling, as well as a method of controlling zoning and output. The loudspeakers distribute a comfortable, engineered background sound. Photo © K.R. Moeller Associates Ltd.

A sound masking system consists of a series of loudspeakers installed in a grid-like pattern in the ceiling, as well as a method of controlling zoning and output. The loudspeakers distribute a comfortable, engineered background sound. Photo © K.R. Moeller Associates Ltd.

Budget considerations

Budget pricing for a sound masking system is low, particularly relative to other acoustical interventions, such as adding significant additional absorption and upgrading physical barriers. It is typically $11 to $22/m2 ($1-2/sf), depending on project conditions. A separate paging and background music system will not be required because most masking systems provide these functions over the same set of loudspeakers. Contemporary systems require minimal space for below-ceiling equipment. The additional electrical load and cost of operation are also negligible. Owners can relocate the system to future facilities, extending its useful life for the organization.

Application in open and closed spaces

Many people recognize sound masking is necessary to providing acoustic control in open plan spaces. However, it is also an easy and cost-effective method of increasing privacy in closed offices and meeting rooms.

Unlike closing an open ceiling or extending walls to the deck, masking has no impact on other building systems. Masking also continues to function when the room’s door is open and the acoustical isolation it provided virtually disappears.

Furthermore, because sound masking works ‘at the ear of the listener,’ it is also effective against noises or conversations regardless of how they find their way into the room and may, therefore, eliminate or reduce the need to address other acoustical pathways between spaces (e.g. sealing gaps between the walls and window mullions). This quality also makes sound masking a potentially effective tool against noises originating from outside the building. Whereas the building shell may not completely block the noise of traffic or passing aircraft, a masking system often easily covers these sounds or lessens their effect on occupants.

Ease of installation

Sound masking is typically less disruptive to apply to an already occupied workplace than other acoustic treatments. For example, consider the impact of building walls or increasing the height of workstation partitions in order to improve physical isolation. Adding significant absorption post-construction can also be challenging, depending on whether a suspended ceiling has to be installed or upgraded, or if acoustical panels need to be added to the deck, walls, or workstation partitions. Installing a suspended ceiling in an occupied space featuring an open deck involves not only the cost of the suspension system and finish materials (e.g. panels, tiles, linear metal).

Lack of speech privacy and noise control impacts employees’ comfort, concentration, and productivity, as well as overall satisfaction with their workplace. [CREDIT] Photo © iStockphoto/Sergey Mironov

Lack of speech privacy and noise control impacts employees’ comfort, concentration, and productivity, as well as overall satisfaction with their workplace. Photo © iStockphoto/Sergey Mironov

In some facilities, such as historic properties, the tenant may be prevented from making these types of changes. For instance, they may not be permitted to upgrade windows to better block exterior noise, modify the ceiling, change the flooring, or move interior walls. In these situations, masking may be an option, though unique installation methods (i.e. where to locate loudspeakers) may need to be investigated.

Other facilities may not be able to endure the operational disruption accompanying some solutions. In hospitals, for example, it is next to impossible—and certainly undesirable—to shut down a fully functioning wing in order to effect changes in physical construction. Furthermore, the construction noise would disrupt patients and staff in adjoining spaces. Other facilities operating 24-hours a day, such as call or command centers, may have similar restrictions on retrofit construction remedies.

Whereas the installation of almost any other acoustical treatment may impact a large area of operations, sound masking components are small and the installation process tidy. These systems typically operate on Class 2 low-voltage power and can, therefore, be installed without conduit in most jurisdictions.

There are various loudspeaker types to suit a wide range of environments, including above-ceiling, ceiling plate, and wall mount. A creative provider can engineer a solution for even the most complex retrofit situation. The system generally has no visual impact on the space’s design because the loudspeakers are installed above the suspended ceiling. However, even in open ceiling spaces, the loudspeakers and equipment are discrete and, in certain cases, attractive.

Minimal disruption

The work can be handled discretely after hours or with only minor temporary local disruption to occupants during regular hours. The work usually proceeds quickly as well, further minimizing the impact on an organization’s operations. For example, while installation time varies according to site conditions and crew size, a typical 1393-m2 (15,000-sf) office floor with a typical suspended acoustical panel ceiling can be installed in a single night, after hours. Some types of installations may take longer. For example, if there is no suspended ceiling, cabling needs to be handled according to aesthetic considerations, which can be more time-consuming. In areas with gypsum ceilings, more loudspeakers are needed for uniform coverage and the installation time will be longer due to the need to make ceiling cut-throughs for the loudspeakers and run cables through a confined space.

Retrofitting a masking system in a facility operating 24-hours a day presents an additional hurdle, but is generally also achieved with minimal disruption. In a hospital setting, a system may be installed in, at most, one to two hours per patient room, after which the room can be immediately occupied. There are few requirements for power tools, making the work relatively quiet, and unless the ceiling is unusually high, only ladders are needed to gain access.

Sound masking continues to provide acoustic control when a meeting room’s door is open and the isolation it provided virtually disappears. [CREDIT] Photo © iStockphoto/mediaphotos

Sound masking continues to provide acoustic control when a meeting room’s door is open and the isolation it provided virtually disappears. Photo © iStockphoto/mediaphotos

Whereas retrofitting almost any other type of acoustical treatment may impact a large area of an organization’s operations, sound masking components are small and the installation process tidy. [CREDIT] Photo © Acoustica Inc.

Whereas retrofitting almost any other type of acoustical treatment may impact a large area of an organization’s operations, sound masking components are small and the installation process tidy. Photo © Acoustica Inc.

 

Retrofit implications

There are some implications of retrofitting a sound masking system rather than including it in the original design.

First, the cost to install may be slightly higher than in new construction due to the increased labor requirements necessary to gain access to the closed ceiling, work around furnishings, and potentially work after hours.

Second, by waiting to install masking post-occupancy, an organization may forgo opportunities to reduce construction costs or the requirements for other acoustical treatments. For example, when designing with a masking system, many organizations find they are able to build walls only to the suspended ceiling rather than deck-to-deck, reducing costs and maintaining the flexibility of the space for future renovations. The project team might also make different choices with respect to ceilings when planning with masking. Neither of these decisions can be revisited post-construction. Most systems also provide paging and music functions, eliminating the need for a second system to be installed.

Third, if adding sound masking to a less than ideal space—in other words, one that does not feature sufficient physical barriers and absorptive materials—occupants will still have to reconcile themselves to having less than the best possible acoustical performance in their space. Masking is not a silver bullet. Though it reduces the requirements for other treatments, a balanced approach to acoustic design is always needed.

Sound masking will not have the same impact as a physical barrier on noises produced at short distances, and it will not reduce reverberation like absorptive materials. Thus, the overall acoustical performance will not be what it could have been if acoustics were addressed at the design stage.

In retrofit situations, it is also essential to select a masking system offering a ‘ramp-up’ feature. This means it can slowly introduce the sound beginning at a level near the existing ambient volume, allowing occupants to gradually acclimatize to their new acoustical conditions. Full effectiveness is achieved once the masking sound has reached its final level.

Acoustic network case study

In 2012, a biotechnology company based in the San Francisco Bay Area experienced speech privacy issues in two of its existing facilities. One office occupied two buildings, each with four floors, while the second extended over two floors in another building—totalling 23,225 m2 (250,000 sf).

If there is no suspended ceiling, cabling of the sound masking system must be handled according to aesthetic considerations, which can be slightly more time-consuming. [CREDIT] Photo © Janet Trost Photography

If there is no suspended ceiling, cabling of the sound masking system must be handled according to aesthetic considerations, which can be slightly more time-consuming. Photo © Janet Trost Photography

Solution

The biotechnology company approached consultants Charles M. Salter Associates for advice. The principal consultant, Ethan C. Salter, evaluated the space and determined part of the issue was the existing environment was too quiet, which allowed adjacent people to overhear those nearby, causing distraction and complaints. Indeed, tests of the existing conditions showed speech privacy between spaces was less than the company’s goals.

Due to the project’s large size and different areas of concern—including private offices, training rooms, and open plan—Salter determined a sound masking system both flexible and uniform was required to meet the company’s goals.

Salter established the sound masking specifications necessary to ensure system performance and the sound masking system was subsequently installed in both buildings in late 2012 and early 2013.

The two projects included approximately 1200 loudspeakers and featured the system’s localized control capabilities. Sound masking adjustment zones were no larger than three loudspeakers—approximately 67 m2 (675 sf)—and each provided a local masking sound generator, volume control, and third-octave equalizer for frequency control. Volume controls were provided in half decibel increments and equalization from 63 to 10,000 Hz.

The design included sound masking in both the open and closed spaces. In closed rooms, the masking offered several advantages. First, it increased speech privacy between rooms and to the outside. Second, it reduced the apparent audibility of noise in the rooms, both with the doors open and closed. Third, it established greater consistency in the background sound levels in the open plan and closed rooms, avoiding a sudden and noticeable shift in ambient sound levels.

The specified sound-masking system was installed by an electrical contractor. It was handled during the night over the course of a few weeks, without disruption to the client.

A ramp-up feature slowly introduces the masking sound, allowing occupants to gradually acclimatize to their new acoustical conditions. Over a short period, it becomes a natural part of the workplace. [CREDIT] Photo © K.R. Moeller Associates Ltd.

A ramp-up feature slowly introduces the masking sound, allowing occupants to gradually acclimatize to their new acoustical conditions. Over a short period, it becomes a natural part of the workplace. Photo © K.R. Moeller Associates Ltd.

Following installation, the system was commissioned in conjunction with Salter, during which time local adjustments were made to ensure it conformed closely to the desired masking levels throughout.

Results

Post-construction acoustical testing data showed the company’s goals for privacy were achieved with the addition of this flexible sound masking system. The client was pleased with the results and has since incorporated the same system into several buildings during construction.

Conclusion

Sound masking is easy to retrofit. In some cases, it will not be the only improvement necessary to correct deficiencies in acoustical performance; however, in others, even when the ideal solution includes various approaches, sound masking will be the only feasible or acceptable answer for the reasons outlined in this feature.

Niklas Moeller is vice-president of K.R. Moeller Associates Ltd. (Burlington, Ont.), a global developer and manufacturer of the sound masking system, LogiSon Acoustic Network. He writes a weekly acoustics blog, www.soundmaskingblog.com. He can be reached at nmoeller@logison.com.

Energy-efficient Building with EIFS: Retrofitting at Silver Creek Resort

Silver Creek in Snowshoe, West Virginia, used an EIFS system which included a fluid-applied waterproofing air barrier to restore the high-rise resort. [CREDIT] Photos courtesy Sto Corp.

Silver Creek in Snowshoe, West Virginia, used an EIFS system which included a fluid-applied waterproofing air barrier to restore the high-rise resort. Photos courtesy Sto Corp.

by Tom Remmele

Far away from any major city, the nine-story, 239-unit, high-rise Silver Creek Resort in Snowshoe, West Virginia, has undergone a complete claddings renovation.

The resort’s exterior was a panelized exterior insulation and finish system (EIFS) that had been experiencing water leaks since its 1985 installation. Incorrect installation and maintenance was the cause of the leaks, according to Sam Collins, general manager.

Once there was a decision to restore the building, the team worked with an architect and considered

metal panels, fiber cement, and other claddings. In the end, however, a 127-mm (5-in.) drainable EIFS was specified because it was deemed to be the best fit and had the best R-value (i.e. approximately R-19 of continuous insulation [ci].)

Specifying EIFS
The system includes a fluid-applied waterproofing air barrier, and finish with a pronounced self-cleaning effect. This project consisted of 11,612 m2 (125,000 sf) of wall cladding.

Snowshoe’s climate includes some of the most extreme wind, snow, and rain in the Southeast. Prior to the renovation, whenever a severe storm came through, management had to deal with damages and continue to ‘Band-Aid’ additional problems.

According to Collins, when the original EIFS was installed there was no option for substrate protection, air barriers, or drainable systems, but this has since changed and staying informed is key.

Before starting the project, building sections had to be opened up to identify the existing condition behind the wall. Issues such as how the EIFS panels were hung on the building, window leakage, and imperfect seals had to be identified so a solid, watertight building with the new cladding could be created.

“We had to remove all the original exterior skin including the EIFS, exterior sheathing, and wet wall cavity insulation before we could begin,” said Gabriel Castillo, of EIFS-installer Pillar Construction. “The trend now is to insulate outbound of the exterior sheathing taking the insulation out of the cavity, and we did just that.”

The renovation begins
Members of the resort’s board of directors knew something had to be done. The building had been leaking for more than 25 years, and the damage would only escalate. After looking at various cladding options, they decided to employ EIFS.

After the initial drawings, they worked with architect Peter Fillat who came up with the design plans to maintain the building’s strong architectural façade.

Adding a continuous air and moisture barrier—now code in most states—gave the building a R-value not compromised by the thermal bridging effect of stud framing. The air barrier was connected to the windows to give it a tight seal. West Virginia has adopted the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which requires both ci and air sealing.

All 740 windows needed to be replaced. The new assemblies were thermal break horizontal sliding and fixed, and played a big part in energy savings. Without thermal breaks, the window frame becomes a thermal bridge to the exterior and a conduit for energy loss and a possible source of condensation in the wall section.

The previous installation had expansion joints between each panel, but because the renovations removed everything down to the studs, the panel-to-panel joints in the substrate were eliminated. This allowed the air barrier to run continuously between the panels and provided less opportunity for water and moisture to get in.

Challenges
The project was completed in two phases over more than two years. The building was occupied during the entire transition with full-time residents and vacationers. Getting all the ownership together was the first challenge, according to Castillo. However, something needed to be done immediately.

The next challenge was the climate. Silver Creek is located on the ski slopes and sits at 1280 m (4200 ft) above sea level. The average annual snow fall is 4572 mm (180 in.). The decision to renovate was made in early 2011, however, because of the winter, construction had to wait.

The final challenge was location. Even the closest hardware store was three hours away, according to Castillo. There is also limited use of cell phones, because of its proximity to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) located in nearby Green Bank. The construction crew committed to work for two to three months at a time, and stayed on the property.

Craig Swift of the project’s structural engineering firm, Keast and Hood, focused on repairing the metal stud backing. Much of the metal stud cladding wall system had deteriorated, though the primary structural system was in fairly good shape.

By using the versatile EIFS system, it allowed the logo and signage to be built into the building. The front logo letters are up to 2.4 m (8 ft).

By using the versatile EIFS system, it allowed the logo and signage to be built into the building. The front logo letters are up to 2.4 m (8 ft).

Testing—One, two, three
Scott Johnson, an inspector with Williamson & Associates, performed window water testing during phase one and tested windows and claddings related to the openings in phase two. The EIFS, windows, and installation all performed well.

“The building tested out fine,” said Johnson. “There was a major storm during the final phase of construction, with 85-mph [i.e. 137-km/h] winds and hard rain. There were no leaks.”

Johnson and his team conducted ASTM E1105, Standard Test Method for Field Determination of Water Penetration of Installed Exterior Windows, Skylights, Doors, and Curtain Walls, by Uniform or Cyclic Static Air Pressure Difference. This evaluates water infiltration performance, capabilities of windows, and related building construction.

The new primary cream color, with a separate forest green color insert, gives the building a distinct profile and more depth, according to Fillat. This was the first time the architect had ever worked with a drainable EIFS cladding, and he feels it solved this longstanding problem.

After the renovations, residents began noticing drastic changes in their utility bills, with savings of 20 to 50 percent, said Collins.

“There has been a big noise reduction from the outside— most likely due to the ‘air-tightening’ of the building envelope,” he said. “Another benefit is from inside my residence I can no longer hear the wind blowing or have snow in my living room each morning when I wake up.”

Tom Remmele, CSI, is the director technical services/R&D for exterior insulation and finish system (EIFS) producer, Sto Corp. He has held technical management positions in the construction industry for more than 25 years. Remmele is a past Technical Committee chair of the EIFS Industry Members Association (EIMA). He can be reached at tremmele@stocorp.com.

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