Hotel Room Acoustics – how noise affects a person’s stay in the hotel
Hotels have been playing an important role during the current pandemic. In certain countries, the local governments have announced that it is compulsory for those entering the country from overseas to carry out hotel quarantine. Taking Malaysia as an example, travellers entering the country regardless from any country are required to undergo hotel quarantine for up to 10 days (as of January 2021), in which the local authorities will arrange the rooms for them unless the travellers opted for Premium Package which of course, costs higher than the standard ones. Travellers will have to take COVID tests in between to ensure that they are COVID-negative and isolating them in the hotels will make sure that there will not be the possibility of spreading the virus to the public since all travellers should be taken as potential risk carrier.
Hotel room comfort
Many may be wondering: How is the cleanliness of the room? Are the meals provided good? What about the Wi-Fi strength there?
But there is one thing that people sometimes forget about: Noise. From the study done by the J.D. Power North American Hotel Guest Satisfaction Survey, it has been consistently shown that complaints on noise issues are significantly under-reported, and hardly being resolved in the end (Simonsen, 2019). Imagine living in a confined space for more than 10 days, where you need to experience constant noise coming from your neighbours, or from outside the room like traffic or construction noise, how will you feel? Looking at some hotel review posts in the Malaysia Quarantine Support Group (MQSG) created to aid travellers coming into Malaysia, there seem to be numerous posts complaining about noise nuisance during their quarantine period. The typical problems faced by members include:
- Traffic noise – hotel is located next to busy road
- Construction noise in the day from nearby sites
- Loud neighbours – speaking loudly especially at sleeping hours
To be exact, these are the similar nuisance one would experience in residential houses.
For short term stays, these may not be the main concern, but it is a totally different case for a quarantine. Unreasonable amount of noise daily for long term, especially after a tired flight and transition at the airport, will lead to unwanted circumstances on a person’s health (physically and mentally).
Noise and Sleep Disturbance
For people who are extremely sensitive to noise, the first thing that can be observed will be that they cannot sleep or even rest well. This will result in sleep deficiency, which slowly drains off the energy to carry out daily tasks. According to Hume, many from the research field claimed that sleep disturbance caused by environmental noise has the most detrimental effect to health. Having an undisturbed night of sleep is even taken to be a fundamental rights and prerequisite to ensure continued health and well-being (Hume, 2010). Hume mentioned that noise pollution can be described as the “modern unseen plague” which may interfere with cognitive processes hence disturbing sleep quality.
To overcome the problem of noise affecting sleep quality, the World Health Organization (WHO – European Office) has brought in experts with relevant documents in recent years to establish the Night Noise Guidelines for Europe. The guidelines contain the latest reviews of noise disturbance and the potential risk to human health. Below are the four ranges of continuous external sound level at night, relating night noise and the populations’ health effects:
<30 dB – no substantial biological effects could normally be expected
30-40 dB – primary effects on sleep start to emerge and adverse effects in vulnerable groups
40-55 dB – sharp increase in adverse health effects while vulnerable groups become severely affected
>55dB – adverse health effects occur frequently with high percentage of the population highly annoyed
These guidelines help to understand the effect of noise on sleep, although a large extent of this topic still relies on fully understanding the fundamentals of the nature of sleep.
Acoustics Solutions for Hotels
As mentioned in the previous sections, the noise complaints for hotel rooms mainly cover traffic noise, noise from neighbours and construction noise. Since sound travels in wave forms, soundproofing will be one of the best concepts to act as a barrier that can effectively stop the sound waves from entering a room from outside.
Typically, there are four methods to achieve the soundproofing effect for hotel rooms (SoundGuard, 2019):
- Absorption – adding sound insulating materials such as mineral wool or fiberglass for sound absorption, thus preventing sound from passing through
- Damping – soundwaves often cause vibrations between air particles. Damping helps in reducing or eliminating the vibrational effects by acting as a barrier that does not vibrate
- Decoupling – In layman terms, this also means separating the walls by adding an insulation layer between the two layers of drywall.
- Mass – Utilizing thicker, heavier, or denser materials to block sound
While choosing the right material for insulation, it is important to take note on the Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating. The STC rating defines the effectiveness of materials in attenuating airborne sound. The lower the STC rating, the less sound that can be effectively blocked. Therefore, to achieve good insulation results, it is better to use a material with higher STC value.
When should you implement acoustical solutions?
Ideally, it is best to start from the very beginning, which is during the project planning stage (yes, before you even start building it!). Quoting a line said by Scott Rosenberg, the president of Jonathan Nehmer + Associates, and the principal with HVS Design, “You have to think about the inside walls like they’re on the outside” (Fox, 2018). This was said for atrium style hotels which are normally structured like giant echo chambers, where noise from the lobby may travel up to the penthouse suite due to the structure. In the planning stage, allocating which part of the hotel goes where is also crucial to make sure you keep sounds in the right places, and nowhere else. For example, it is important to locate the facilities like gyms, pub, or even spa strategically so that the noise from these places will not affect the guests staying in the hotel rooms. If you really must put them above/below rooms, make sure to use walls or ceilings that are properly insulated.
For existing hotels, another good time to improve the acoustics of the hotel will be during renovation periods. Since you took the step to upgrade your hotel looks and structure, why not consider soundproofing as well? It will definitely help to raise the customers’ satisfaction during their stay.
The areas that can be considered for hotel soundproofing during renovation include:
• Floors – adding soundproofing underlay
• Ceilings – using decoupling methods (dual-layered drywall)
• Doors – changing to solid-core heavy doors with seals
• Walls – adding insulation between walls / use soundproofing paint
How do you know if your hotel needs acoustical improvements?
Although some may only start treating the problem after getting significant complaints from customers, hotel owners should consider taking the initiative to find out the noise condition in the building. A good start will be to carry out noise measurement tests to monitor the condition in each room. Having noise data from the measurements will help you understand what the situation is, and how you should resolve them. This is where an acoustics consultant should step in.
It is suggested to consult the acoustics specialists to get the most suitable solution for your case, because not all solutions can be applicable for all conditions. Acoustics consultants can help you to analyse the condition by using methods like indoor noise mapping, material insulation calculations and even tiny suggestions like adding certain types of furniture to aid sound absorption in the room itself.
Effects of Acoustics Improvement to the Hotel
It is proven that by enhancing the acoustics of hotels, business can be improved too. For example, Premier Inn in the UK has pioneered the new design of “floating bedroom” in 2011 at its hotel in Leicester Square. This new design allowed the hotel to resolve the environmental noise and the noise coming up from the nightclub on the ground floor. Premier Inn had also changed their focus from cost to customers’ sleep quality, which enabled them to become one of the best-rated hotels in London (Simonsen, 2019). Thus, the hotels’ business and reputation will strongly improve by taking care of the noise aspects.
Now, back to the starting topic of this article. Hotels are no longer only used as the accommodations for vacations or business trips. Hotels play an important part during this pandemic, being the quarantine centres in many countries. Therefore, it is important to ensure the customers’ (or those under quarantine) comfort during their stay, voluntarily or not. Their reviews make a lot of difference, which will highly impact a hotel’s image to the public. Most importantly, good, soundproofed room means less noise, resulting in better living and sleep quality. Hence, hotel owners are urged to investigate the acoustics aspects of their property, for themselves, and for the customers.
Fox, J. T. (2018, July 17). Careful hotel design keeps noise in check. Retrieved February 4, 2021, from Hotel Management: https://www.hotelmanagement.net/design/careful-hotel-design-keeps-noise-check
Hume, K. (2010). Sleep disturbance due to noise: Current issues and future research. Noise Health, 12(47), 70-76. Retrieved February 2, 2021, from https://www.noiseandhealth.org/article.asp?issn=1463-1741;year=2010;volume=12;issue=47;spage=70;epage=76;aulast=Hume
Simonsen, J. (2019, June 20). Why and how to reduce noise in hotel rooms. Retrieved February 3, 2021, from Rockwool: https://www.rockwool.com/group/advice-and-inspiration/blog/why-and-how-to-reduce-noise-in-hotel-rooms/
SoundGuard. (2019). Hotel Sound Reduction – How to Soundproof a Hotel Room. Retrieved February 3, 2021, from SoundGuard: https://soundguard.io/hotel-sound-reduction-soundproof-hotel-room/