What? Huh? Come again?: Designing for acoustical control in your dispensary

January 21, 2014

We have all had a bad experience somewhere when it comes to acoustical design.  Whether you were trying to order food in a restaurant, asking discrete personal questions in a doctor’s office, or wishing your public bathroom stall had a sound barrier built in, we have all been affected by uncontrolled sound in a public space.  And the experience is usually not comforting.

Over the past months, I have had several conversations with dispensary owners and my clients about acoustical issues, mainly in their showrooms and lobbies.  It seems the way sound will act in a space is often an after-thought for a busy dispensary owner who is trying to handle the design of their space on their own.  This is a very understandable mistake, being as owners are thinking primarily about the ways their customers and staff will act in the space and not the invisible sound waves that those people create while there.  We also don’t typically have to think about acoustics when we are creating the other spaces in our lives, like our homes.  It’s okay guys, that’s what us designers are here to help you with.

How Sound Sounds: Noise sources to consider in your space

Spending some time in your current or future retail space at different times throughout the day is a great way to begin to discover sources of potentially disruptive noises.  Think about all of the potential sources you might have to mitigate, both from the interior of your space and from the exterior.  Noise from streets, neighboring businesses, or nearby industrial activities could all be potential targets for acoustical design solutions.  I recall the loud bangs and crashing noises that could be heard in my dispensary showroom stemming from the warehouse loading docks that were housed in the building behind us.  These loud activities sounded like someone was trying to break through our back door, and even though that wasn’t the case, those thoughts are never something you or your patients want entering your mind while standing in a dispensary.

Interior noise coming from other rooms, mechanical systems like HVAC, electrical generators, certain kinds of lighting, and plumbing, can be just as disruptive to a patient’s experience as other conversations that are taking place or noise from work activities such as stocking, cleaning, or staff communication.  If your restroom shares a wall with any other public space, masking the sound of flushing toilets, running water, etc., is a must for a hygienic-feeling atmosphere.

Sticking a Sock In It…and other acoustical design suggestions

Designers have many tricks up their sleeves when it comes to acoustical design solutions.  When planning for this element, we try to remember the ABC’s: Absorb, Block, and Cover Up.

A = Absorb (via drapes, carpets, ceiling tiles, etc.)

B = Block (via panels, walls, floors, ceilings and layout)

C = Cover-up (via sound masking)

  1. Think about space – the further sound is allowed to travel, the longer it will last.  Limit large volumes of open space where appropriate.  Dropping the ceiling height over a certain functional area, creating non-architectural divisions of space with curtains, screens, vegetation, or furniture, or angling the surfaces will all help deflect or block sound and minimize reverberation.
  2. Layers absorb and slow down sound waves.  Adding material layers to walls and display areas creates spaces where noise can be slowed and absorbed.  If a common wall sits between your employee break room and your showroom, adding wall covering on each side, artwork, shelving and/or other furniture will help to keep those two space acoustically separated.
  3. Textures create friction which slows sound waves.  Fabrics, perforated metals, wood, textured wallcovering, plants, soft surfaces, rugs, tile….the list goes on of all the ways in which texture can be brought into a space, not only for aesthetic appeal but to function as sound control.  Cover a sound absorbing substrate with any of these materials for added sound mitigation, and an interesting and memorable design element.
  4. Air space is a great way to absorb sound.  Furring out a common wall, even just 2 inches, can greatly reduce sound transmission.  Furniture also creates air space (think of the inside of cabinets or drawers), as well as material layers for sound to pass through.
  5. Consider the direction the noise is coming from.  If your patients’ mouths face a common wall, can their voices easily be heard in the space on the other side?  Considering where the noises are created helps dictate where acoustical attention needs to be paid.
  6. Ceilings can make or break a space’s acoustical report card.  Often called “the fifth wall,” this surface must not be ignored when designing your space.  The height, material, and construction all play into the acoustical performance, as almost every sound created in a space will reverberate off of the ceiling somehow.  However, incorporating acoustical design on a ceiling does not have to involve construction or engineering.  Adding sound-absorbing lighting or panels can be inexpensive but bring great returns on investment.
  7. Wall construction has a major impact on sound transmission.  Although you cannot always change the type of wall you have, understanding what it is made of can help influence the other acoustical design choices in your space.  Solid concrete or brick will reduce noise better than studs and drywall, even though the latter creates an airspace for noise to slow through.  If you are able to dictate the construction of your walls, consult a designer first for suggestions on appropriate construction and materials that will be most advantageous to your overall design, including your acoustical issues.
  8. Covering sound with sound through masking is an inexpensive method that works well for certain types of noise.  Using other background noise, like music, air or water sounds, can mask noise and help reduce its transmission between spaces.  It also can help create a desired ambiance and atmosphere in your space, so it is a very functional option to consider.  If you choose music, just be sure you select genres that appeal to your patients’ tastes and not varieties that make your guests wish that that noise was mitigated as well.

If you would like more information on how to improve your patients’ experience through improved acoustical design, please contact us.  Acoustical design can be incorporated into existing spaces, but many elements can be designed into your dispensary from the start.  Not only can these features add to the overall appearance of your business, but they have almost instant effects on the quality of your patients’ experience and the effectiveness of your customer service.