Old hotels are apt to have the biggest sound challenges when it comes to providing rooms with true sound privacy. Rebranded hotels also struggle against an inheritance of old sound-seeping problems from original construction. They dont build them like they used toand thats a good thing, says Paul Battaglia, architect and professor of architectural acoustics at the University at Buffalo.
The undesirable legacy of some older properties includes insufficient sound-absorbing insulation within guestroom wall cavities. Battaglia says rebranding architects often eschew demolition and the opening of existing walls, leaving them with a sound transmission classification (STC) lower than that found in newer hotels. They may rate at STC-40, whereas todays luxury hotels are rated at STC-54 and above, he notes.
Why does it matter? Twenty years ago, when most hotel brands standards for design and construction were written, rooms had 27-inch tube TVs with $2 speakers and 1-watt amplifiers, Loether says. As manager of audio visuals and acoustics at Marriott for 10 years before starting his own consulting firm, Loether knows the audible footprint of most standard guestroom equipment. He says changing technology introduced a new level of sound bombardment. Todays rooms boast iPod-enabled clock radios with multiple amplifiers and flat-screen TVs with 100-watt stereo speakers.
The easiest way to combat the extra noise pollution, and increase a rooms STC without costly demolition, is to adhere an extra layer of gypsum board to one side of a partition using viscoelastic sound-dampening adhesive, Battaglia says. That type of adhesive is crucial. It can take a wall from STC-40 to STC-52. Even with thicker walls, pathways through which sound escapes can defeat construction. Unsealed recessed electrical outlets are a common example. I know a hotel with walls constructed to STC-60, but they performed at only STC-42 because the outlets werent sealed, Battaglia says. Yet, the fix was simple. Preformed acoustic seals were installed by the maintenance crew between guests. The results were nothing short of remarkable.
Sometimes high-end design elementsmarble floors, stone wallsare culprits in the battle against sound fatigue, adds Ko Kuperus, general manager of Hunter Douglas Specialty Products, Denver. Kuperus is the sound expert behind the companys patented acoustic ceiling tiles capable of absorbing 85 percent of the sounds on corridor or lobby ceilings. The tiles also can be applied on top of drywall to absorb 70 percent of wall sounds and printed on to simulate wood grain, concrete, marble, leather, or any solid color, Kuperus says. Thats unique. They bring design luxury to the ceilingthat fifth wall so often overlooked by interior designers.
Loether lists one more challenge to the sound conundrum: Rooms that are simply too quiet. Several hotel flags have ordered the quietest possible HVAC systems and got exactly what they requested. Too bad. They should have asked for systems that would provide the best guest experience, he says. Pink noise provided by consistently whirring fans is an acoustical blessing, Loether says; it masks less desirable sounds. If a room is too quiet, you can hear your own carotid artery pushing blood, he quips. Battaglia says thats why some hotels now install sound-consistent HVAC systems that turn on right from the reception desk at check-in and switch off only at checkout.
Properties considering remodeling or new construction would be wise to address acoustics in initial planning phases. Prevention is so much easier and cost-effective than treatment, Loether says. Meanwhile, existing lodging should investigate cost-effective fixes as described by Battaglia, as well as sound-absorbing products to keep environmental roars to a whisper.
If all else fails, provide earplugs, Loether jokes. After all, those slumbering ears are always listening.