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PHY 476 Physics Capstone

Fall 2014

A study and analysis of the acoustics of classrooms at Le Moyne College

Alexandra Marple
Le Moyne College
Class of 2015
Table of Contents

Objective..........................................................................................................................................3
Introduction......................................................................................................................................3
Sound...........................................................................................................................................3
Human Hearing............................................................................................................................4
General Acoustics........................................................................................................................5
Acoustics in Classrooms..............................................................................................................8
Acoustic Treatments.....................................................................................................................9
Data Collection..............................................................................................................................10
Equipment..................................................................................................................................11
Room EQ Wizard Software........................................................................................................11
Procedure...................................................................................................................................12
Obstacles....................................................................................................................................13
Classrooms to be surveyed............................................................................................................14
SC 122........................................................................................................................................14
SCA 214.....................................................................................................................................14
SCA 101.....................................................................................................................................15
Results............................................................................................................................................16
SC 122........................................................................................................................................16
SCA 214.....................................................................................................................................19
SCA 101.....................................................................................................................................21
Conclusions....................................................................................................................................23
Appendix........................................................................................................................................24
Key Terms..................................................................................................................................24
UMM-6 USB Measurement Microphone User Manual............................................................26
Sabines Equation for Reverberation Time................................................................................27
Reverberation Time Calculations...............................................................................................27
Table of sound absorption coefficients......................................................................................30
Microphone Location Diagrams................................................................................................32

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References......................................................................................................................................34

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Objective

The aim of this project was to gain a better understanding of acoustics and the work of acoustical
engineers, and to apply this knowledge in an analysis of classrooms at Le Moyne College, with
hopes of improving the educational experience of teachers and students by diminishing
acoustical distractions.

Introduction

Ive always had a great appreciation for architecture and music. When I was initially
contemplating possibilities for my physics capstone project, the idea of coming up with a project
that might somehow involve these subjects was appealing. Knowing that acoustics are based in
physics, I began brainstorming options for a study of acoustics. While a study of architectural
acoustics in places like concert halls would have been the most appealing route given my
interests, I soon realized that tackling such a space with my limited knowledge was out of the
question.

This led me to inquire about the acoustics of smaller spaces. With further research, I came
across some studies of the acoustics in classrooms. The ability to hear and be heard within a
classroom is an absolute necessity for both students and teachers, and yet acoustics in classrooms
are often neglected. Up to 60% of classroom activities require speech between teachers and
students (Accredited Standards Committee, S12, Noise, 2002). However, many classrooms
have been designed to provide students with a space for more engagement in hands-on activities
and discussions, which results in a noisy and distracting environment. Also, the installation of
HVAC systems in classrooms has created a disturbing background noise in many cases.

These factors have caused the typical United States classroom to have a speech intelligibility
rating of only 75% or less, which means that every fourth spoken word is not understood by the
listener (Seep, Glosemeyer, Hulce, Linn & Aytar, 2000). In order to combat these problems,
many schools have employed acoustical engineers to survey their classrooms and make
suggestions for improvements. These improvements provide a better educational experience for
both the students and the teachers.

For my project, I researched the methods of these acoustical engineers and employed these
methods in a study of three classrooms in the science center at Le Moyne College, with the goal
of providing suggestions for acoustical enhancements.
Sound

Sound is the result of fluctuations in air pressure which cause audible vibrations. These
vibrations travel from the source in waves until they come in contact with something.

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Upon contact with a surface, the energy and direction of the sound is altered depending
on the characteristics of the contact surface. The changes in energy and direction of the
wave cause sound reflections and reverberations, which can affect how the sound is
ultimately perceived by the listener.

Sound waves are characterized by their frequency, wavelength, and amplitude. The
frequency of a sound wave is the number of sound waves created in a given amount of
time, indicating the pitch of the sound, expressed in Hertz (Hz) where 1 Hz is equal to 1
cycle per second. Wavelength is the distance between corresponding points on
consecutive sound waves. The amplitude of a sound wave is representative of the
magnitude of the wave and indicates the intensity of the sound. A glossary of other key
terms used in this report has been included in the Appendix.

Depending on its frequency content and intensity, a signal may or may not be audible to
the human ear. Human hearing is less sensitive to sounds which are low in frequency
(below 500 Hz) or high in frequency (above 8000 Hz). Low frequency background noise
in particular tends to distort speech (particularly consonants). Due to the nature of waves,
it is possible for sound to contain many frequencies. In the case of a steady-state sine
wave, sound contains just one frequency. However, in the case of noise resulting from
construction machinery or the like, many frequencies are contained in the sound.
Human Hearing

Gaining knowledge on the perception of sound was very important to my project.


Understanding the way in which humans receive and process sound is essential in order
to create the best environment for receiving and comprehending sound. The study of
auditory perception and how it relates to the physical characteristics of sound is known as
psychoacoustics.

The human ear is essentially a microphone which collects acoustic signals and sends
them to the brain. Sound waves are directed into the auditory canal and the changes in air
pressure cause the eardrum to vibrate. The normal range of frequencies which the human
ear can perceive is from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. The ear is more than just a sensitive
broadband receiver, however. It also acts as a selective frequency analyzer. Humans
have a frequency resolution as small as 0.2%, meaning we can tell the difference between
a tone of 1000 Hz and one of 1002 Hz.

Perhaps the most important fact about human hearing is that humans judge the relative
loudness of two sounds by the ratio of their intensities, a logarithmic behavior. Because
of this, sound pressures and intensities are described through the use of logarithmic scales
known as sound levels. This scale compresses the very wide range of sound pressures
and intensities encountered in our acoustic environment (ranging from 10-12 to 10 W/m2),
giving us a convenient way to describe intensity, or loudness of a sound, in decibels. In
these terms, an additive increase of 10 decibels represents an increase in sound power by
a multiple of 10. Because of the human ears logarithmic perception of sound, the
significance of a change in sound intensity depends on the sound level at which it occurs.

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Another important facet of human hearing is that the ear is not equally sensitive to all
frequencies. The sensitivity of the ear is defined by the hearing threshold and depends on
a combination of factors including sound pressure level and the frequency of sound. The
threshold of audibility is defined as the minimum perceptible free-field intensity level of
a tone that can be detected at each frequency over the entire range of the ear (Kinsler,
Frey, Coppens, Sanders, (1982). Fundamentals of Acoustics: Third Edition.). The
frequency of maximum sensitivity is around 4 kHz. Below this point, as frequency
decreases, the threshold rises. For instance, the minimum power required to produce an
audible sound at 30 Hz is nearly a million times the power required at 4 kHz.

The threshold rises rapidly until a cutoff, as frequency increases. It is in this high
frequency region that hearing is often lost. For example, a child may be able to hear
frequencies as high as 25 kHz, but people who are 40 or 50 years old often cannot hear
frequencies over 15 kHz. It seems that in the frequency range below 1 kHz, the threshold
of audibility does not depend on the age of the listener.

Above the threshold of audibility is the threshold of feeling. At this point, as the intensity
of the acoustic wave increases and the sound grows louder, eventually a tickling
sensation is felt by the listener. This threshold has a value of approximately 120dB. This
varies somewhat from individual to individual but not as much as the threshold of
audibility does. It is in this threshold that the acoustic reflex of the ear plays a part. The
acoustic reflex is the ears ability to protect the delicate inner ear from damage. For high
intensity sounds, the muscles controlling the motion of the bones of the middle ear
change their tension to reduce the amplitude of motion of these bones. In essence, the ear
is capable of reducing its sensitivity when a loud sound is perceived in order to protect
itself. However, because it takes about 0.5 ms after perceiving a loud sound for the
acoustic reflex to kick in, there is no protection from sudden impulsive sounds (gunshots,
explosions, etc.) It is above this threshold that the threshold of pain is felt when the
intensity is at about 140dB.
General Acoustics

Although I had a basic knowledge of sound from introductory physics courses prior to
beginning this project, this limited knowledge was not nearly enough to be able to
understand all that goes in to analyzing and improving the acoustics of a space.
Acoustics is the branch of physics that deals with the creation of sound, sound
transmission through solids, and the effects of sound on both inert and living materials.

Three important characteristics of sound waves include their abilities of reflection,


refraction, and diffraction. As mentioned above, when a sound wave comes in contact
with a surface, part of its energy is absorbed by the contacting surface while the rest
bounces back from the surface. This bounce back of the wave is called reflection. A
common example of reflection is the echo effect. The reflection of sound has been given
many applications, including depth calculations and geological composition of the ocean
floor for example. A sound wave pulse can be sent from a transducer at sea level to the

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ocean floor and the time it takes from the pulse to travel back can be used to find the
depth of the water. In addition, a comparison of the spectral characteristics of the
reflected wave with the generated wave can be used to determine whether the ocean floor
is silt, rock, sand, coral, or the like. A similar procedure can be used by geologists to
determine the depth and composition of the layers in the Earths crust, or to locate oil,
natural gas, or mineral deposits.

Refraction is typically associated with optics but does have applications in acoustics as
well. Refraction deals with the bending or a wave front from the straight line of travel. It
occurs as a result of the difference in the propagation velocity as the wave travels
between various mediums. In optics, the speed of light is much slower in glass than in
air, causing refraction to occur suddenly when light waves cross between the interface of
air and the glass of a lens. At audible frequencies of sound waves, the wavelengths are so
long that the apparatus would have to be sufficiently large in order for refraction to be
observed. Refraction does not play a prominent role in sound control, but the effect of
severe temperature gradients can cause the refraction of sound. When sound travels from
zone to zone across regions of drastic temperature differences, the direction of
propagation changes to an extent that cannot be overlooked. An example is given as
follows in The Science and Application of Acoustics by Daniel Raichel:

The surface of the Earth heats up more rapidly on a sunny day than the
atmosphere. Due chiefly to conduction, the temperature of the air close to the
ground rises correspondingly. Because the speed of sound is higher in the warmer
lower layer, sound waves traveling horizontally are refracted upward. Similarly
on a clear night the Earths crust cools more quickly, and a layer of cooler air
forms and bends the sound wave downward toward the surface. Thus the noise
from an industrial plant would be refracted downward at night and would seem
louder to a homeowner residing near the plant during the day (when upward
refraction occurs), which is often the situation.

Although these effects are very interesting, they do not play a role in classroom acoustics.

Diffraction of sound waves is what allows sound to travel around corners or over a
barrier. I mentioned earlier that when a sound wave comes in contact with a surface,
some of the sound is absorbed, and the rest is reflected. However, sound waves also have
the ability to diffract over the top or around a barrier. Diffraction is often what allows us
to overhear conversations from another room. Sound at lower frequencies tends to
diffract over partial barriers more easily than sound at higher frequencies. In addition,
the position of the shadow zone depends on the relative positions of the source and the
receiver.

An image depicting the reflection and diffraction of sound waves interacting with a
partial barrier is shown in Figure 1 in the Appendix. These characteristics (reflection and
diffraction) of sound play a large part in designing the architectural acoustics of a space.

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Architectural acoustics is just one branch of acoustics of many. Other branches include
such specialties as medical acoustics, underwater acoustics, environmental acoustics, and
musical acoustics. Architectural acousticians design buildings and other spaces in order
that they have the necessary sound qualities for the use of the area. It is this branch of
acoustics that is the focus of my project.

Known as the father of architectural acoustics, Professor Wallace C. Sabine was the first
to develop a system of measuring acoustic factors. Sabine determined that different
materials within a space have varying capabilities of absorption. Using determined
coefficients to describe these capabilities, he could then relate the total area of absorption
and the volume of the room to the unique reverberation time of the room.

Reverberation time is a measure of how long sound continues travelling in a space before
a certain factor of the sound waves have been absorbed or have dissipated. In most cases,
the RT60, or the amount of time it takes for the sound energy in an enclosed space to
decay by a factor of 60dB, is the value used in the analysis of a space. This value can be
measured directly, or it can be interpolated from values of RT20 or RT30 (time for a
20dB decay or 30dB decay). Because reverberation time is dependent upon frequency,
the mid-frequency reverberation time is usually calculated (average of 500Hz, 1kHz, and
2kHz RT60 values). Sabines equations for determination of reverberation time are still
used today and are included in the Appendix.

The use of a space is what often determines the optimal reverberation time. For example,
in a space where there will often be musical performances or the like, it is often desirable
to have a longer reverberation time to allow the notes to blend together, providing a
live environment. In a place where it is necessary for speech to be understood, such as
a lecture hall, it is preferable to have a short reverberation time so that the speech is
distinguishable. Often, however, a space must be designed in order to accommodate a
variety of uses. In such a case it is necessary to find a happy medium to give the
audience the best experience in any situation.

Rooms which have a high reverberation time often have hard and smooth parallel
surfaces. These surfaces offer little vibration for the absorption of sound energy, causing
the sound too reverberate. Rooms which have a short reverberation time often have
some sound-absorbing surfaces. The absorption of sound in a room is a very important
consideration in ensuring good acoustics. Although the geometry of a room and
irregularities within the room may serve to diffuse the sound, ultimately absorption must
take place to convert the acoustic energy thermal energy. This supports the Law of the
Conservation of Energy. The energy from the sound waves does not disappear when the
sound is no longer heard; it is merely transformed into thermal energy (heat).

Sound absorbers which are important for acoustic design are often classified as: porous
materials, panel absorbers, cavity resonators, and people or furniture. Porous absorbers
contain networks of interconnected pores. When a sound wave comes into contact with
such a material, it causes the fibers to vibrate. This vibration produces small amounts of
heat due to friction resulting in sound absorption from this energy-heat conversion. The

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absorption capability of such materials is a function of frequency, with more absorption at
high frequencies than at low frequencies.

Panel absorbers are often mounted away from a solid backing and vibrate upon contact
with the sound wave. The dissipative mechanisms within the panel convert some of the
acoustic energy into heat. These absorbers are more efficient at low frequencies. The
addition of a porous absorber between the panel and the wall will increase the efficiency.

A cavity resonator consists of a series of narrow openings connecting the room to a small
confined volume of air. These absorbers can be in the form of perforated panels and
wood lattices spaced away from a solid backing with absorption blankets in between.
These absorbers are most efficient in a narrow band of frequencies near its resonance.
Elements within the room such as furniture and people can act as absorbers of sound as
well.

Although all of these surfaces reduce reverberation and sound reflection, they do not
decrease the intensity of the source of the sound itself. A table of absorption coefficients
for various materials is included in the Appendix.

Acoustics in Classrooms

In a space such as a classroom, where speech communication is essential to learning, the


architectural and mechanical design of the room must support good acoustics. In such a
space, excessive background noise or reverberation serves to impair speech and creates
an all-around poor learning environment. Classrooms with poor acoustics are not only
detrimental to the education of the student, but can be draining for the teacher to work in.
Having to talk loudly to be heard by the students over the background noise in the room,
while repeating what is not understood and straining to hear questions from the audience
adds unnecessary stress to the teachers lecture.

Once the importance of acoustics in classrooms was realized, the American National
Standards Institute (ANSI) teamed up with the Acoustical Society of America to create
the ANSI S12.60-2002, Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements and
Guidelines for Schools standard. This set of criteria works to create a classroom
environment that optimizes understanding of speech by putting design and acoustical
performance criteria in place.

These criteria are supported by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Associations


(ASHAs) Working Group on Classroom Acoustics. Although the following criteria are
not mandatory, many school districts and agencies have complied with these standards in
their construction or renovation requirements for schools. The following criteria are
endorsed by the ASHA and the ANSI standard:

1. Unoccupied classroom levels must not exceed 35 dBA


2. The signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) should be at least +15dB at the listeners ears.

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3. Unoccupied classroom reverberation must not surpass 0.6 seconds in smaller
classrooms or 0.7 seconds in larger classrooms.

In talking to Josh Thede, an acoustical consult/technician at SSA Acoustics in Seattle,


Washington, I was prompted to focus on criteria concerning background noise,
reverberation time, and Sound Transmission Class (STC).
Acoustic Treatments

In the case that the acoustics in a space have been poorly designed, it is possible to retro-
fit the space using acoustic treatments. In a classroom, noise can be controlled in two
ways: at its source, or along its path. In order to determine the appropriate course of
treatment, it is necessary to distinguish the source of the acoustic problem.

In the case of excessive reverberation time in the classroom, Acoustical Surfaces, Inc.
lists these solutions in order of increasing cost:

1. Replace existing ceiling tiles with high-NRC-rated acoustical tiles.


2. Add new suspended acoustical tile ceiling if room height permits; if not, mount
high-NRC-rated acoustical tiles to the ceiling with maximum possible air space.
3. Add sound-absorbing panels high on walls at sides and rear of room.

In addition, Acoustical Surfaces, Inc. notes that if the ceiling is over 11 feet high,
acoustical panels on both ceiling and walls may be required. Also, the addition of carpet
does not provide much reverberation control but is often useful for controlling self-noise
(i.e. squeaking chairs, tapping feet, etc.). If carpet is not an option, there are other
alternatives for reducing self-noise however. For example, the use of rolling chairs in
many of the classrooms at Le Moyne eliminates the squeaking of legged chairs against
the tiled floors as students shuffle around in their seats.

Background noise within a classroom can come from sources both in-room and outside.
This noise can be transported through ducts, through windows and doors, thin walls and
roofs, or through the actual structure itself.

In the case of noise coming from outdoors, windows tend be the weak link in transmitting
this noise. Acoustical Surfaces, Inc. makes the following suggestions to reduce the
transmission of outdoor noise:

1. Add storm windows.


2. Replace existing windows with new thermal insulating units. (This will improve
energy performance, too).
3. Install specially-fabricated sound-reducing windows.

Often, it seems the most apparent source of background noise is that from HVAC
systems. In some cases, teachers have to resort to turning off these units during important
lessons. If they dont, then students whose seats are nearest the unit may have a difficult

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time hearing and comprehending what the teacher has to say. In the case of noisy units
which have the fan and compressor directly in the classroom (through-wall, through-roof,
or under-window units), Acoustical Surfaces, Inc. gives the following advice to diminish
the resulting background noise:

1. Add a custom build sound enclosure around the unit.


2. Add sound-lined ductwork to the unit to attenuate air distribution noise.
3. Replace the unit with quieter split systems or one of the quieter European
through-wall models just entering the US market.

Although many older classrooms have these types of units, changes in energy
conservation standards have encouraged the use of central air systems in new buildings.
While these systems dont have the compressor and fan noise of the through-wall units,
there can often still be background noise from the ductwork of the system. In order to
quiet background noise stemming from these central air unites, Acoustical Surfaces, Inc.
recommends:

1. Increase open area at grilles and diffusers.


2. Rebalance system to reduce air volume delivered to the classroom.
3. Relocate ductwork and diffusers away from key teaching locations.
4. Add separate duct length to attenuate noise.
5. Add sound lining to ducts.

Josh Thede, of SSA Acoustics recommended the following solutions for the given
problems:

Mechanical noise solutions: radiator, duct discharge, and vibration noise


mitigation
Reducing reverberation time: changing room geometries, and adding absorptive
materials
Sound Transmission Class (STC) recommendations: making the source of the
noise quieter, or improving the wall performance.

In my initial survey of the rooms I chose to analyze, it seemed to me that most of the
acoustic problems of the spaces stemmed from the background noise of the HVAC
systems. At the front of the rooms there is the unsettling sound of rushing air overhead.
This noise makes it especially difficult for the professors to hear the audience especially
if a question is being asked from the back of the classroom. In addition, the students
sometimes have a difficult time hearing the professor over the distracting rushing of air,
causing the professors to repeat themselves.

Although I have predicted that background noise will be the predominate source of poor
acoustics, determining whether or not the reverberation time meets the standards will be
enlightening as well.

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Data Collection

In order to determine the acoustics of the classrooms, I will focus on two main areas:
reverberation time and background noise. Based on the dimensions of the room and its contents,
I plan to calculate the reverberation time of each room using the Sabine equation. I will take this
calculated reverberation time and compare it to a value determined by a computer software
program. I will also determine sources of background noise within each room and will seek
solutions for mitigation of this noise.
Equipment

In order to collect the data necessary for the analysis in the classrooms, a well-calibrated
omnidirectional microphone was needed. In order to eliminate the need for an external
sound card, a USB microphone was preferred.

After research concerning various options, I determined the Dayton Audio UMM-6
Measurement Microphone to be the best option. This microphone is a precision 6mm
electret condenser microphone used for critical measurement and recording applications.
The manufacturer guarantees a truly omnidirectional pattern with a flat frequency
response. Its frequency response is calibrated to 18-20,000 Hz which is perfect for my
use considering the range of human hearing is considered to be from 20-20,000 Hz. I
purchased the microphone from Amazon.com for $85 along with a USB extension cord.

In order to ensure consistent, repeatable measurements, each microphone is individually


calibrated using a laboratory-standard microphone. Upon receiving the microphone I was
able to enter the serial number of the microphone into a look-up dialogue box on the
manufacturers website which then provided me with a calibration file for the purchased
microphone.

The fact that the microphone came with its own calibration simplified the necessary
components to gather data with the Room EQ Wizard software. A copy of the user
manual is included in the Appendix.
Room EQ Wizard Software

There are many acoustic analysis programs available for measuring and analyzing the
responses of rooms. However, many of these programs are very expensive and have few
options for outside help. Room EQ Wizard is the exception. This software is able to be
downloaded for free in exchange for signing up with the Home Theater Shack forum
(also free). Home Theater Shack is a great help source for the software, containing a
wealth of information about anything from best equipment options, to reading the plots
created by the software.

The most useful capabilities of REW for the project included:

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Generating audio test signals
Measuring Sound Pressure Level and impedance
Measuring frequency and impulse responses
Spectral decay plots
Waterfalls
Calculating reverberation times

REW uses a logarithmically swept sine signal to measure the frequency response of the
room. This gives a fast and accurate measure of the room acoustics and audio analysis
measurements using a measurement microphone. The built-in sound level meter uses the
calibrated microphone has full integrating functionality including equivalent sound level
and sound exposure level.
Reverberation time is determined by the software through a combination of calculated
values. On the Filtered Impulse Response plot values of Early Decay time (EDT), and
the 60dB decay times T20, T30, and Topt are shown. From the REW user manual, the
following information about these values can be obtained:

The Early Decay Time is based on the slope of the decay curve obtained by
backward integration from an impulse response measurement (called the
Schroeder Curve) between 0dB and -10dB.
T20 is the decay time based on the slope of the Schroeder curve between -5dB
and -25dB.
T30 is the decay time based on the slope of the Schroeder curve between -5dB
and -35dB.
Finally, these values are used to determine the value of Topt: an optimal decay
time based on the slope of the Schroeder curve over a variable range chosen to
yield the best linear fit. If the EDT is much shorter than T30 the Topt measure
uses a starting point based on the intersection of the EDT and T30 lines, otherwise
it uses -5dB. REW tests every end point in 1dB steps to the end of the Schroeder
curve and chooses the one which gives the best linear fit.

For the purposes of this project, the value of Topt determined by REW will be used as the
RT60 time.
Procedure

In order to ensure accurate results, I followed a similar procedure in surveying each of the
three rooms.

Prior to doing any analysis using the software and microphone, I made an initial survey
of the science center classrooms to decide which rooms I should use in my project. I
wanted to include a mixture of size, shape, and general use. I also wanted to choose
classrooms which I knew had potential acoustic problems that I could attempt to fix.

Upon entering each room I first took a walk around the room, listening for potentially
distracting background noise. I made a mental note of these probable disturbances and
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then proceeded to take approximate measurements of the dimensions of the room while
writing down any distinguishing characteristics that might affect the acoustics (i.e.
windows, carpeting, number of seats, etc.).

Using these initial impressions I was able to choose three classrooms: SCA 101, SCA
214, and SC 122. These classrooms are a mixture of shapes and sizes and each seemed to
have a source of background noise that could be distracting.
With classrooms to survey chosen, I returned to each room to perform my collection of
acoustic data. In each room I again measured the dimensions (this time with a tape
measure) and proceeded to use the REW software and microphone. Because the ANSI
standards are written for the analysis of an empty room, I performed each analysis with
the room unoccupied. I chose 7 or 8 locations in each room for the microphone and
speaker and had the REW software run its logarithmic sweep of the room.

In each room I began with the microphone at 3 locations in the back row of seating in the
room (left, right, and center) and the speaker (my laptop) front and center where the
professor would typically be speaking. I then moved the microphone forward to a few
locations in the middle of the room and the front of the room. I then put the speaker in
the back of the room and the microphone at the front of the room where the teacher
would be standing (simulating a student asking a question). Finally, I placed the
microphone at the location in the room where the background noise seemed to be the
most distracting and I had the REW software collect data with the speaker muted so the
microphone would only be picking up the background noise.

Diagrams showing the locations of the microphone and speaker are included in the
Appendix (Figures. 2 through 4).
Obstacles

Many of the initial obstacles in data collection came from the high learning curve of the
REW software. Although there is much help information available, considerable research
had to be done in order to determine usable settings for running the software given the
equipment used and the specific quantities to be measured. In order to determine these
settings, it was necessary to have a basic understanding of the resulting plots as well. So
in order to collect data, I had to make sure I understood what the results should generally
look like. With this basic knowledge, I was able to determine the best methods for
collecting the acoustic response data of the rooms.

After collecting the data from the classrooms, I had to analyze the data from the resulting
plots beyond the basic knowledge I used to set up the program for my use. Fully
understanding the results from the software proved to be quite difficult.

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Classrooms to be surveyed

SC 122

Located on the first floor of Coyne Science Center, this classroom has a capacity of about
30 students. This classroom is used for a variety of courses. The desks are always
situated in rows, with the students facing the teacher for mostly lecture.

Dimensions: 30ft x 23ft x 8.5ft (to drop ceiling)


Total Volume: 5865 ft3
Distinguishing Characteristics:
Four rows of 3-4 tables (15 tables total)
30 rolling cushioned chairs
Bare/painted walls 1 fibrous board back left (4ft x 7ft)
6 panes of 3.5ft x 6ft windows
4ft x 18ft whiteboard at front of room
Tiled floor
Drop ceiling

Initial Observations: I have had quite a few courses in this classroom and it has become
apparent that there is a significant source of background noise at the front of the room
from the HVAC system overhead.
SCA 214

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Located on the second floor of the Science Center Addition, this classroom has a capacity
of about 30 students. This classroom is used for a variety of courses, from physics and
other sciences to English. When I had an English class in this room the professor
preferred to have the tables arranged in a large square to enable discussion with peers.
Other courses I have had in this room have been predominately lecture-based.

Dimensions: 30ft x 30ft x 10ft (to drop ceiling actual ceiling ~14ft)
Total Volume: 9000 ft3
Distinguishing Characteristics:
4 rows of tables with an aisle down the middle (16 tables total)
32 rolling cushioned chairs
Bare/painted walls no wall coverings whatsoever
4 panes of 3.5ft x 6ft windows
5ft x 18ft whiteboard at front of room
Carpeted
Drop ceiling

Initial Observations: During my English course in this classroom it became apparent that
this classroom also has a problem with background noise from the HVAC system. When
students in the back of the discussion square tried to talk to the professor at the front of
the room he often had to ask them to speak up, saying the vent over his head was very
loud.
SCA 101

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Located on the first floor of the Science Center Addition, this classroom is a shallowly-
tiered lecture hall with a capacity of about 80 students. The hall is used mainly for
courses with high registration, such as introductory courses. Courses which use this
room are predominately lecture-based.

Dimensions:
Total Volume:
Distinguishing Characteristics:
8 rows of tables positioned on 4 shallow tiers (~ 4inch step between each tier)
78 cushioned chairs connected to the tables
Wood acoustic treatments on the sidewall nearest the hallway, and on the back
wall
Remaining wall space bare/painted with exception of large concrete section
between windows on left side
Carpeted
Slightly angled drop ceiling

Initial Observations: While having an introductory physics course in this lecture hall it
was generally quite easy to hear the professor. I sat in the middle of the room. While
walking around the classroom however, I noticed that there is a loud vent in the back
right corner of the classroom. Sitting in this seat it seemed that it could potentially be
difficult to hear the professor speaking at the front of the room over the noise of the vent.

Results

SC 122

REW RT60: 0.573s


Sabine RT60: 0.636s

The reverberation time determined by the REW software falls within the standards issued
by the ANSI requiring a reverberation time of 0.6s in smaller classrooms. The mid-
frequency reverberation time value determined using the Sabine equations is a little

17
higher than that given by REW and slightly above the standards but it is expected for the
Sabine equation to be a little high, as it neglects air absorption.

As predicted, the main source of acoustic problems in this room is caused by the
background noise of the HVAC system at the front of the room.

Upon inspection of this system it became apparent that noise comes from two places.

The vent shown in the picture on the left is placed high on the right side wall toward the
front of the room. This vent is the source of central air to the room and the sound of the
air rushing from the smaller duct into the grill is quite loud.

The picture on the right shows another significant source of noise in the HVAC system
ductwork. At that point in the system the air is being transferred from a larger duct
through a compressor into a smaller flexible pipe and then back into a larger duct.
Although the compressor itself does not seem to create much noise, the path along which
the air is travelling causes the air to speed up through the smaller duct causing the
distracting background noise.

Looking at the design of the drop ceiling in this space, I question why they did not extend
the panels to the front of the room.

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As you can see, these ceiling panels have an insulating material on the top-side which
serves well to absorb any sound which could become trapped in this space between it and
the ceiling. If these panels continued closer to the front of the room underneath the
HVAC duct, then I would think the background noise coming from this source would be
greatly reduced. After looking at the HVAC setup it does not seem like this would
prevent heat and air conditioning from reaching the seating area. Adding a sound lining
material to the smaller duct could also diminish this distracting noise. In addition, it is
possible that there could be a sort of leak in the area near the smaller duct which would
cause the sound of rushing air.

Plots from REW Software:

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SPL Overlay:

This graph shows the Sound Pressure Levels at each frequency in the room. I have
overlain each of the data runs from the room into one plot. The two green lines which
break away from the rest of the group at around 200 Hz are the data from the runs in
which I muted the speaker to collect background noise. So, the green lines represent the
background noise at the mic locations whereas the rest of the data represents the
background noise plus the signal generated by the REW program.

Example of Filtered Impulse Response showing RT60 value:

20
After struggling to understand the RT60 plot provided by the REW software, I did some
research and realized that the Filtered Impulse Response plot provides values of Topt,
T20, T30, and EDT. All of these values correspond to the RT60 of the room. The Topt
value given is a determination based on the calculated values of the other three variables
and it was this value that I used to determine the overall RT60 of the room. At each
location of the microphone, I was given a slightly different value for Topt, so after the
data collection, I took the average of the given values as the overall RT60 of the space.

Background Noise Waterfall Overlay:

This plot shows the background noise (green) overlain with the data collected with the
signal from the REW software (red).

Attempted Treatment: Because the source of the background noise is fairly accessible in
this room, I decided to attempt to determine possible treatments for this noise. First, I
attempted to wrap the in a blanket in order to muffle the noise and diminish the
distraction. The following plot shows the original background noise alongside the
background noise with this treatment:
SCA 214

REW RT60: 0.776s


Sabine RT60: 0.511s

The reverberation time determined by the REW software does not fall within the
standards issued by the ANSI. Although it is not a terrible reverberation time, it is nearly
0.2 seconds over the standard recommended. In comparison to SC 122 I was surprised
that the reverberation was 0.2 seconds longer in this room. Although this room has a
larger volume due to the higher ceiling, and is almost a perfect square, the absorption
attributes of the room seem quite comparable to that of SC 122. These results for

21
reverberation time support the fact that although carpeting decreases self-noise, it does
not have much effect on reverberation time.

It is interesting that the mid-frequency reverberation time calculated using Sabines


equation is much lower than that given by the REW software. This could be due to
possible overestimations of absorption surface area. It could also be due to my treatment
of the drop ceiling. I calculated the reverberation time only to the drop ceiling,
neglecting the air space above it. This could have made the difference.

In order to decrease this reverberation time, it may be desirable to put some sort of
acoustic paneling in strategic places on the walls of the room. As the room is, the
existence of hard and smooth parallel walls is what most likely causes the high
reverberation time.

The HVAC system at the front of the room is a significant source of background noise,
similar to that of SC 122. It seems that similar solutions would be applicable to this
room.

Plots from REW Software:

SPL Overlay:

22
Example of Filtered Impulse Response showing RT60 value:

Background Noise Waterfall Overlay:

SCA 101

REW RT60: 0.522s


Sabine RT60: Not yet calculated

Although this is quite a large room, the reverberation time determined by the REW
software does fall within the standards issued by ANSI and really is quite a good
reverberation time in comparison with smaller rooms. Factors which I think play a large

23
part in this short reverberation time are the existence of the acoustic treatments along
some of the walls, and the tiered structure of the room.
These acoustic panels along the side wall and the
back of the room are designed to diffuse much of the
sound that comes into contact with them. They are
similar to the cavity resonator that I describe above.
Their design causes the sound wave to be reflected
between the individual hills and valleys of the
panel until the energy of the wave is diminished.
With only a small portion of the wave being reflected
back into the room, the reverberation time is
decreased.

In addition, the angled drop ceiling caused by the


tiered structure of the room allows reflected sound
waves to become trapped in the space above the drop
ceiling.

Because of these two factors, this room has a very


short (and desirable) reverberation time.
The only distinguishable source of background noise in the room comes from the HVAC
system vent in the back right corner of the room. Although this makes a few of the seats
in this area not optimal, the noise does not affect the rest of the room.

Plots from REW Software:

SPL Overlay:

Example of Filtered Impulse Response showing RT60 value:

24
Background Noise Waterfall Overlay:

(Realized I forgot to do a background measurement here will go back)

Conclusions

Ultimately this project gave me a lot of insight into the work of acoustical engineers; a career I
knew very little about but now find very interesting. I learned much about the factors that affect
the acoustics of a room and what acoustic qualities are desirable in certain cases. I was then able
to use the knowledge I gained to perform an analysis of classrooms in the science center at Le
Moyne College.

In each room surveyed, I looked at the reverberation time of the room, and potential sources of
background noise within the rooms. I was able to determine that in each of the three rooms
analyzed, background noise was a significant source of acoustical distraction. The source of the
background noise was the HVAC system installed in the rooms. The reverberation times
determined by the REW software proved to be in accordance with the ANSI standards for SC
122 and SCA 101, but the reverberation time in SCA 214 was slightly high.

25
Appendix

Key Terms

From: Acoustics in Schools by the Ceilings & Interior Systems Construction Association

A-Weighting (dBA): A measure of sound pressure level designed to reflect the response
of the human ear, which is less sensitive to low and high frequencies.

Absorption Coefficient: A measure of the average sound absorption of a surface used to


compare the sound-absorbing characteristics of building materials.

Amplitude: The magnitude of a sound wave, indicating the intensity of the sound

Decibel (dB): A unit measurement of the loudness of a sound. Louder sounds have larger
decibel values.

Diffusion: The scattering of sound in all directions caused after sound strikes a surface

Early Decay Time: The reverberation time measured over the first 10 dB of the decay
which offers a more subjective evaluation of reverberation times, as the human
ear interprets the initial rate of decay more significantly than the following
decay

Frequency: The number of sound waves created in a given amount of time, indicating
the pitch of the sound, expressed as Hertz (Hz)

Noise Criteria (NC): A one-number measure of background noise, created by measuring


the sound pressure level at the loudest points in an environment.

Reverberation Time (RT60): The time it takes for sound to decay by 60dB once the
source of sound has stopped.

Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR): The ratio of desired sound (e.g., the teachers voice) to
undesired background noise (e.g., mechanical noise). Larger numbers denote
better acoustic performance.

Sound Absorption: Sound deadened upon striking a surface.

Sound Pressure Level (SPL): The physical loudness of a sound on a decibel scale
determined by the air pressure change caused by the sound wave.

Sound Reflection: The change of direction caused after sound waves strike a surface.

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Sound Transmission: Sound which passes through a surface to the space beyond it.

Sound Transmission Class (STC): A numerical rating of the sound control performance
of a wall or ceiling; the higher the number, the better the sound control.
Speech Intelligibility: A measure indicating to what extent speech is understood in a
given environment.

Wavelength: The distance between corresponding points on consecutive sound waves.

Figure 1: Interaction of sound wave with a partial barrier, showing sound


diffraction and reflection.

27
UMM-6 USB Measurement Microphone User Manual

28
Sabines Equation for Reverberation Time

cV
T 60= seconds
A

A= i S i m2f t 2

Where:
T 60=Reverb .Time ( specifically the time for a decay 60 dB decay level )

V =Volume of the Room


A=effective absorbtion area

c=constant (0.049 for units of feet , 0.161 for units of meters )


i=coefficient of absorbtion

S i=surface area of absorbative materia l

Reverberation Time Calculations

SC 122
c=0.049

V =5865 ft 3
at 500 Hz :

2 2 2 2 2
A=0.06901 f t +0.03690 f t +0.52690 f t + 0.18126 f t +0.830=480.24 f t

0.0495865 f t 3
T 60= 2
=0.598 seconds
480.24 f t

at 1 kHz :

A=0.04901 f t 2 +0.03690 f t 2+ 0.56690 f t 2 +0.12126 f t 2+ 0.8830=484.66 f t 2

29
0.04958 65 f t 3
T 60= =0.593 seconds
484.66 f t 2

at 2 kHz :

A=0.04901 f t 2 +0.03690 f t 2+ 0. 45690 f t 2 +0.07126 f t 2 +0. 8230=400.66 f t 2

0.0495865 f t 3
T 60= =0.717 seconds
400.66 f t 2

Mid Frequency RT 60=0.636 seconds

SCA 214
c=0.049

V =9000 f t 3
at 500 Hz :

2 2 2 2 2
A=0.061200 f t +0.14900 f t +0.52900 f t +0.1884 f t +0.832=706.72 f t

0.0499000 f t 3
T 60= =0.624 seconds
706.72 f t 2

at 1 kHz :

A=0.041200 f t 2 +0.37+ 900 f t 2+0.56900 f t 2 +0.1284 f t 2 +0.8832=923.24 f t 2

0.0499000 f t 3
T 60= =0.478 seconds
923.24 f t 2

at 2 kHz :

2 2 2 2 2
A=0.041200 f t +0.6900 f t +0.45900 f t + 0.0784 f t + 0.8232=1025.12 f t

30
0.0499000 f t 3
T 60= =0.430 seconds
1025.12 f t 2

Mid Frequency RT 60=0.511 seconds

SCA 101
c=0.049
V =? ? ?
at 500 Hz :

A=

T 60=

at 1 kHz :

A=

T 60=

at 2 kHz :

A=

T 60=

Mid frequency RT 60=

31
Table of sound absorption coefficients

32
Coefficients

Materials 125Hz 250Hz 500Hz 1000Hz 2000Hz 4000Hz

Brick Unglazed .03 .03 .03 .04 .05 .07

Brick Unglazed, Painted .01 .01 .02 .02 .02 .03

Carpet Heavy, on Concrete .02 .06 .14 .37 .60 .65

Carpet Heavy, on 40oz Hairfelt or Foam


.08 .24 .57 .69 .71 .73
Rubber on Concrete

Carpet Heavy, with Impermeable Latex Backing


.08 .27 .39 .34 .48 .63
on 40oz Hairfelt or Foam Rubber on Concrete

Concrete Block Light, Porous .36 .44 .31 .29 .39 .25

Concrete Block Dense, Painted .10 .05 .06 .07 .09 .08

Gypsum Board 1/2, Nailed to 24, 16 O.C. .29 .10 .05 .04 .07 .09

Marble or Glazed Tile .01 .01 .01 .01 .02 .02

Plaster Gypsum, or Lime, Smooth Finish


.013 .015 .02 .03 .04 .05
on Tile or Brick

Plaster Gypsum, or Lime, Rough Finish on Lath .14 .10 .06 .05 .04 .03

Plaster Gypsum, or Lime, Smooth Finish on Lath .14 .10 .06 .04 .04 .03

Plywood Paneling 3/8 Thick .28 .22 .17 .09 .10 .11

Fabrics 125Hz 250Hz 500Hz 1000Hz 2000Hz 4000Hz

Light Velour 10oz/sq yd, Hung Straight,


.03 .04 .11 .17 .24 .35
in Contact with Wall

Medium Velour 14oz/sq yd, draped to half area .07 .31 .49 .75 .70 .60

Heavy Velour 18-oz/sq yd, Draped to Half Area .14 .35 .55 .72 .70 .65

Floors 125Hz 250Hz 500Hz 1000Hz 2000Hz 4000Hz

Concrete or Terrazzo .01 .01 .015 .02 .02 .02

Linoleum Asphalt, Rubber, or Cork Tile


.02 .03 .03 .03 .03 .02
on Concrete

Wood .15 .11 .10 .07 .06 .07

Wood Parquet in Asphalt on Concrete .04 .04 .07 .06 .06 .07
33
34
Microphone Location Diagrams

Figure 2: Microphone locations SC 122

35
Figure 3: Microphone locations SCA 214

Figure 4: Microphone locations SCA 101

36
References

Accredited Standards Committee S12, Noise. (2002). American national standard: Acoustical
performance criteria, design requirements, and guidelines for schools (ANSI S12.60-
2002). Melville, NY: Acoustical Society of America.

Acoustical Surfaces, Inc. (2003). Retrofitting a Noisy Classroom. Chaska, Minnesota.

Ainsworth, W. & Greenberg, S. (2006). Listening to Speech: An Auditory Perspective. Mahwah,


NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Kari, Henri. (2012). Effects of Acoustic Treatment on Sound Environment in Public Buildings.
Helsinki, Finland: Aalto University.

Kinsler, L.E.; Frey, A.R.; Coppens, A.B.; Sanders, J.V. (1982). Fundamentals of Acoustics: Third
Edition. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Muehleisen, R. T. (n.d.[a]). Basics of room acoustics. Unpublished manuscript. Retrieved by


CISCA.

Olson, Harry F. (1957). Acoustical Engineering. Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc.

Raichel, Daniel R. (2006). The Science and Applications of Acoustics. New York, NY: Springer
Science + Business Media, Inc.

Seep, B.; Glosemeyer, R.; Hulce, E.; Linn, M. & Aytar, P. (2000). Classroom acoustics: A
resource for creating learning environments with desirable listening conditions.
Melville, NY: Acoustical Society of America.

Watson, F.R. (1948). Acoustics of Buildings. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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