Different design strategies and technologies can be used to quiet the healing environment and minimize the transmission of sound from adjacent spaces. Acoustical ceiling tiles and wall panels aim to protect patients and providers from extraneous noise by absorbing sounds from a variety of sources rather than just reflecting them back into the environment. Another often overlooked component is flooring surface technology that offers noise reduction without sacrificing cleanliness or ergonomic comfort.
Beyond carpet and tile
In the healthcare environment, hygienic and easy-to-clean flooring is a top priority, prompting most designers to select hard surface materials for durability and cleanliness. Constant foot traffic and the movement of equipment along these surfaces, however, create loud noises that increase sound levels throughout the facility and impact patient satisfaction. Opting for a carpet or other fibrous material that reduces floor impact sound, on the other hand, can raise concerns of cleanliness as well as increase risks of tripping and catching when rolling carts.
Recent breakthrough technology has resulted in a third option—fusion-bonded resilient flooring—that marries the hygienic benefits of a hard surface with the acoustic and ergonomic attributes associated with carpets or other textile surfaces. The flooring option consists of a vinyl surface fusion-bonded to a vulcanized composition rubber performance backing. These innovative materials reduce floor impact sound while providing supportive cushioning underfoot to drive safety and comfort. The fusion-bonded flooring also offers a wide variety of design and color possibilities, such as wood-like surfaces or modern finishes, without sacrificing the performance benefits of rubber flooring. Adding a new dimension in healthcare finishes, these resilient flooring options are helping to create more comfortable and effective healing environments for patients and providers.
In-room impact noise
In healthcare environments where the staff is constantly in motion, flooring impact sound from rolling carts, footsteps, and dropped items can be a major source of noise. These sounds are often sudden and unpredictable, making them harder to tune out than more consistent ambient sounds like those from the heating and cooling system. A 2019 study showed peak occurrence rates (the amount of time a peak sound level was above a certain threshold) are correlated with HCAHPS scores for quietness (read “Evaluating hospital soundscapes to improve patient experience” by J.M Bliefnick, and E.E. Ryherd). Flooring impact sound can be a source of peak sound levels in healthcare environments. It can be reduced by selecting the right surfacing.
Noise has been a known issue in the healthcare environment for years, and many organizations have developed standards and guidelines to help address this problem. For instance, guidelines from the Facilities Guidelines Institute (FGI) set forth maximum design criteria for noise in interior spaces. However, these standards are often for building systems and based on unoccupied rooms. Therefore, they do not consider noises, such as footsteps, generated by building occupants.
Introduced in 2018, ASTM E3133, Standard Test Method for Laboratory Measurement of Floor Impact Sound Radiation Using the Tapping Machine, helps address this gap and provides the healthcare designer with a key acoustic metric for the healing environment. Testing to ASTM E3133 allows architects and designers to make an apples-to-apples comparison of the performance of various materials.
To compare the effect of different materials on flooring impact sound, Intertek was tasked with measuring the performance of five surfaces according to the new standard. They included concrete, vinyl composition tile (VCT), luxury vinyl tile (LVT), vulcanized composition rubber with cork, and vinyl surfaces fusion-bonded to a vulcanized composition rubber backing.