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Solving Worship Facility Noise Problems
By: Richard E. Walborn

We live in a noisy world, and the last place we want noise is in church. Noise is sound we do not want to hear. We go to church to listen, learn, and be inspired. Nowhere else can a single spoken word carry so much meaning and importance for the great mass of people.  

However, hard floor and wall and ceiling surfaces reflect reverberation and echo, which can render the most sophisticated sound system and space unusable. The use of the proper absorptive acoustical treatment in the worship facility can elevate the spoken word to the clarity it deserves for every member in the congregation. Proper acoustic finishes help the music that accompanies worship services sound as good for members in the first pew as it does for those in the last pew.

This article demonstrates how spray-applied recycled paper (yes, paper) is used to not only stop echo and reverberation in the sanctuary, but also to contribute to the aesthetics of the worship space. 

These finishes also work well to control echo and reverberation in the foyer, classrooms, gymnoiseums, recording studios, teen worship areas, kinder care areas, offices, and even the mechanical rooms. And, as an 80% post-consumer recycled paper product, they help your project earn multiple LEED credits. 

A spray-applied acoustic finish is chosen based on the following three criteria:

1. Performance
Contemporary and traditional worship environments have very different acoustic design requirements. 

2. Aesthetics
To an architect, the aesthetics of an acoustic finish is just as important as performance.  Architects design for looks, but noise can’t be seen, and. all too often, the thought of the need for an acoustic finish is overlooked. The fact is that almost 50% of the sprayed acoustic finishes end up being installed post-occupancy at a significantly higher cost than if it had planned for ahead and done during the normal construction process. 

3. Cost
The most frequently asked question is, “What is it going to cost to treat my room with a spray-applied acoustic finish?” The factors that go into the costing of a sprayed-acoustic finish are the scope (size) of the project, the height of the ceiling, the number of ceiling penetrations, the acoustic finish thickness, the color, new construction or renovation, region of the country, union or non-union, and appearance expectations.

Spray-applied cellulose acoustic finishes come in three grades of texture that might be described as smooth, popcorn texture, and coarse textured. Coarse textured finishes would be most inappropriate for a traditional worship space, and fine textured finishes may not be sufficient to get the job done in a contemporary worship environment. Past experience and/or utilizing the expertise an acoustical consultant assures you of getting the desired result.

Case Studies
The Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Tucson, Arizona, decided to build a new facility.  Linda Wood, the building committee chairman, took her team to a number of neighboring churches to get ideas to share with their architect. To their surprise, most of the sanctuaries they visited had really bad acoustics. 

Wood said, “We knew we had do something more than just put a bunch of speakers in our facility to have quality sound, so we hired Kim Tollefsen of Audio Video Resources (AVR) in Phoenix to work with our architect. We also did not want to bring anything that would conflict with the clean aesthetics of our worship space. We were especially pleased to learn about a trowel finished cellulose-based acoustic finish, which could be integrally tinted to a desert sand color, and, when it was installed, we very pleased with the performance and aesthetics.”

When the Temple Ohabei shalom in Brookline, Massachusetts, underwent asbestos plaster ceiling abatement, it was decided that two other problems needed to be address.

First, the reverberant sound in the synagogue had to be controlled. Secondly, the original colors that were present on the domes, ceilings, and arches of the synagogue needed to be retained in some manner and restored to their original grandeur. A slight popcorn textured cellulose acoustic spray finish in the custom integral colors of gold, yellow, and blue was installed at .50” with a NRC of .65, which was perfect for the spoken word and their choral concerts and organ recitals.

As a result of unsightly roof leak damage to the St Joan of Arc Sanctuary in St Louis, Missouri, the 12” acoustic tiles had to be removed and the substrate plaster repaired.  Maintaining the original look was very important. Jim Holtrop of AcostiControl, LLC, Interior Designer Julie Abner, and Architect Jim Konrad chose the application of a trowel finished, custom integral Terracotta colored sprayed cellulose to 1,800 square feet of ceiling surfaces. 

Holtrop said, “This was the perfect product to provide an attractive surface and the acoustic performance that we needed for clarity of both the spoken word and music.  Using the custom integral color enhanced the aesthetics of the space. We have received many positive compliments from the parishioners about our renovation.”

Pre-engineered metal buildings have become popular with start-up contemporary worship facilities. A large volume space with a concrete floor, metal walls, and a metal ceiling make for a great echo chamber. And, anyone who has ever been in a metal building during a rainstorm would realize that making a joyful noise or hearing a sermon could not be a good experience. 

Also, the typical vinyl faced fiberglass insulation used on metal buildings is not aesthetically pleasing and offers little towards real thermal integrity. That’s where a spray-applied cellulose thermal/acoustic finish came to the rescue for the Christian Life Center sanctuary in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Typical applications on this kind of worship space are 3” thick in black and with an R-12.  3” of cellulose sprayed to a ribbed metal deck will provide an NRC of .97 @ 125 Hz, which is perfect for the electronic keyboard, guitar, drums, and the spoken word.

The beautiful St Charles Romanesque Chapel, resting on 500 acres of Ohio farm land was built in 1906.  Major upgrades were recently completed on the chapel with most of the emphasis being on taming the seven-second reverberation time to improve speech intelligibility.

Acoustic performance, appearance, and cost were the three deciding factors that lead the decision makers to call upon acoustical consultant Jon Mooney, KJWW Engineering, Rock Island, Illinois, for help. Maintaining the original look of the 4,500 square foot plaster ceiling was critical on this project. Three-quarters inch of a spray-applied, hand trowelled premium acoustic finish, which eliminates the popcorn look of other similar products, provided an outstanding NRC of .75. 

Upon completion, Fr. Jim Seibert said, “I am convinced that the reverberation time is better than it has ever been since the chapel was built. Over the years, different sound systems and speakers have been tried, but with little success. We hired Jon Mooney to test our space and make recommendations. We followed his plan to install an acoustic finish to the ceiling.” 

Fr. Larry Hemmelgarn said, “We tried all kinds of speaker systems and nothing worked.  Speech intelligibility was horrible. We finally achieved what we wanted to do and we are extremely pleased. It is now absolutely incredible.”

Richard E. Walborn, CSI, is SonaKrete product manager for International Cellulose Corporation, a large manufacturer of spray-applied acoustic finishes, creating and shipping about one million square feet of product worldwide to factory-trained and licensed contractors each week, www.sonakrete.com.

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Religious Product News