Re: Acoustics for the Commonhouse
From: Steve Gere (
Date: Sun, 12 Mar 2006 12:23:23 -0800 (PST)
Thanks for the wealth of information. Our current design involves using Tectum and we are still waiting to find out exactly what the installation would cost for our living room and dining room and possibly children's room in the common house. I like the idea of gradually adding Tectum as budget allows. We might need to do ours gradually also.

Sharon Villines wrote:

On Mar 12, 2006, at 11:11 AM, Steve Gere wrote:

Hi Fred,
We are about the embark on sound dampening in our common house. What kind of acoustic tiles did you install?

I did extensive research on this when our commonhouse arrived with a two storey ceiling and no sound dampening of any kind. It gradually got better as we added soft furniture (sofas) in two corners along with rugs. It was better with lots of people in the room because bodies absorb sound.

We hired an acoustical engineer to come in and measure the sound reverberations -- cost $1000. I do not recommend this because it was fairly obvious what kind of problems we had and the people who came out to look at the walls and give us an estimate did not need to see the report to know what we needed.

What the report was helpful for was that I got a very high end acoustical company (they do huge elegant theaters) to look at via email and they said If we do this job it will be $35,000 (and beautiful, theater quality). What you need is $10,000 worth of standard panelling.

To make a long story short, I was trying to keep us from having cloth-covered fiberglass panels on the walls but in the end that was the most economical solution. We spent $5,000 which was all we could afford and it made a significant (as in HUGE) difference in the room. You do not have to use the burlap weave that so many people will try to push on you. There is a finer fabric that even costs less. There is one big company that makes "all" the fabrics used on these panels -- I forget the name but they produce a lot of stuff -- much of it very expensive. The panels are made at the factory and shipped out -- the shipping is expensive because the panels are easy to damage. Then they are glued to the walls.

We have 4' x 8' off-white panels above the halfway point on the wall -- not the best solution since the noise is halfway down the wall but it means the panels stay clean. If they were any lower, I think they would have to be replaced by now. The fabric is glued to fiberglass panels and can be painted with the proper paint but will then look like painted fabric -- not always a pretty sight.

The solution I personally preferred was Tectum which is a recycled wood product that has a distinctive texture that many of our people were afraid they would dislike. It is more expensive and slightly less acoustically effective but it can be painted and does not get damaged by balls or fingers or pins (holding up Christmas ornaments). In addition it can be installed in tiles so you can start with one surface and keep adding it to walls, etc until you have enough, or run out of money.

The most effective and least expensive product is foam tiles in various shapes -- the same idea as egg cartons but they come in many different surfaces that could be very attractive if you are willing to take a chance. I'm an artist so I was willing but others were very uneasy. On problem was that we had an unattractive totally white flat sample -- not one of the patterns that might have reflected interesting panels. These come in various colors and are glued to the walls. I'm going to recommend some of this for our children's room.

We still need $5,000 worth of panels or other tiles in our dining room. As the number of children increases it is getting loud again. Because we have lots of lights and sprinkler heads and vents on the ceiling, most contractors said start with two walls first and see if that is enough. And it was for a few years. What we will need to do next is hang "clouds" (small horizontal panels) or baffles (small vertical panels) from the ceiling.

The recommendation in The Acoustical Handbook is to do three perpendicular (not parallel) surfaces first -- the ceiling and two walls. What you want is to stop the sound from bouncing off hard surfaces all around the room. A music studio would do all the surfaces, but that is a different kind of sound than the one generated by voices and moving chairs. Of course if you can do all the walls, you will be very happy. If you are a community that loves musical performances you might even produce income from renting out an acoustically perfect space.

BEST PROVIDER -- look for a referral from professional musicians and music studios. They understand sound and they understand not having all the money in the world to do the job. All the regular contractors I called understood nothing about sound and just wanted to install as a many panels as possible -- standard product. Most acoustical work is done by architects working on big projects so it can be hard to find someone to work with you.

I personally still wish we had gone with Tectum but once a month someone says how nice the panels are. If we had done Tectum we could have just gradually added another $500 worth of tiles each year and perhaps learned how to mount them ourselves and save that expense. And they would not be delicate.

That's probably more than you wanted to know but there it is.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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