Room Dividers: Are They Soundproof?


Room Divider

Many offices and schools need to use their space as efficiently as possible for economic reasons. When dividing space using room dividers, noise is a problem. Many planners and designers struggle with managing high levels of ambient noise in these spaces and wonder if soundproof room dividers really work? 

Soundproof room dividers may help to some extent. However, no room divider is perfectly soundproof. Depending on the material and the construction, room dividers may be more or less effective in controlling nearby sounds. No space can be made perfectly soundproof using room dividers. 

To a certain extent, you can curtail or limit ambient noise using room dividers. The materials and construction of the room divider are important. The way space is divided and the room dividers arranged also influences the effectiveness of the noise control. Understanding how noise propagates through space is essential to getting the most from your room dividers. . 

Creating a Quiet Space with Room Dividers 

It is possible to create a more conducive workspace or teaching space using room dividers. The key aspects of making meaningful reductions in ambient noise using room dividers must include several different aspects. 

The Room Divider – Choose Wisely 

Many room divider manufacturers advertise their room divider designs for sound control or reduction. However, the approaches that the manufacturers use are the telling portion of the equation. In general, look for these features in a room divider you want to use for noise control

  • Weight –  A heavier room divider is typically more efficient at dampening or controlling sound. The density of the material used in the rood divider is related to the sound dampening ability. In general, the heavier the material used as the dampening agent, the better the results. 
  • Materials – There are many good sound dampening materials available. Not all of them lend themselves to use in room dividers. The most common materials used in the best sound control room dividers use thickly woven polyester or cork. 
  • Size and Shape – Logically, it is easy to understand. A soundproof room divider that extends from floor to ceiling does a much better job than one only 6 feet tall. Any space around, over, or under a room divider provides a transmission avenue.  

Finding the best room dividers for soundproofing a space is often difficult. There are not industry standards for rating room dividers soundproofing. Manufacturers often have their systems of measuring soundproofing, so comparing one to the other can be almost impossible. 

Arranging the Room Dividers – Getting the Most Effect  

How you arrange room dividers does significantly affect how much sound they dampen in each space. Arranging your room dividers for optimal sound control may not fit your scheme for efficiently using the space. Compromise is always a factor for consideration. In general, room divider arrangements offer these levels of sound absorption. 

  • Straight Line Configurations –  Arranging room dividers in a straight line across a space to manage ambient sounds is the least effective method. Laboratory testing shows that room dividers arranged in a straight line between a noise source and the receiver block only about 45 percent of the intrusive sound. 
  • Ninety Degree Corners – Arranging room dividers so that the angle of a ninety-degree corner faces the ambient sound source can reduce the transmitted sound behind the barrier by fifty-five percent. 
  • The U Shaped Configuration – Putting the sound source inside a U-shaped set of room dividers can significantly reduce the sound transmitted outside the contained area. The sound absorption can be as much as sixty-five percent at the sound reception. 

Arranging the room dividers in your space is almost as important as the design and materials of the room dividers. Many office managers and school principals neglect this important consideration in favor of maximizing space. 

Controlling Sound In Your Space

We take sound for granted. Even before you were born, you were exposed to sound almost constantly. When sound becomes a nuisance, we start to take notice and want to control the irritation. Understanding how noise travels is a key component of managing ambient noise.

Sound travels easily over, around and through most materials. Some materials do a better job than others of transmitting sound. In soundproofing, the goal is to use materials that do the worst job possible of transmitting sound.

There are several methods for achieving this goal. 

  • Distance: One of the best methods of controlling ambient sounds is distance. The further you get from the source of the noise, the less intrusive it becomes. However, in a defined office space, this may not be an option. 
  • Reflection: You can reflect sound. Hard surfaces will cause sound waves to bounce off in another direction. Solid heavy barriers tend to make good sound reflectors without transmitting sounds. 
  • Absorption: Absorption is another means of control. Some substances absorb the vibration of the sound waves and dampen the effect those waves have on surrounding objects. Heavy drapes, corkboard walls, and some special materials are known for this property. 
  • Isolation: Isolation is perhaps the best method of controlling sound transfer. Sound requires a medium through which it can travel and sustain vibration. The most common of these mediums is air. Isolating a space from materials that provide this transfer medium is the most important tool for nearly total sound isolation.

Now that you know a little bit about controlling sound in your space, you may wonder how to make a room completely soundproof.

Can You Make a Room Completely Soundproof? 

One of my mentors in a different profession has a favorite saying. “Anything is possible. The impossible is just more expensive.”  My mentor’s philosophy holds true for soundproofing rooms. It is possible to soundproof a room completely, but it is expensive. 

Going back to the methods of soundproofing and you find the answer to completely soundproofing a room. It is not unheard of to do this. Many professional sound and recording studios take great pains to soundproof their recording spaces. These spaces tend to employ a combination of those methods we discussed earlier. 

Rooms Within Rooms Within Rooms 

Isolation is the chief method of soundproofing entire spaces. Professional recording studies take this to the extreme by building rooms within rooms and often within other spaces. Each of these increasingly smaller spaces creates a dead air space between the walls of the next larger space.  

Construction techniques such as suspended ceilings, floating floors and decoupled walls prevent sound vibrations from being transmitted further into space. The addition of special materials in the walls, ceilings and floors add to the sound dampening. This layering of barriers can eventually create a soundproof room. 

Space Age Materials for Inner Space Quiet

Space-age materials figure prominently in designing and installing a soundproof space. Many of these materials are attributable to the research conducted during the race to the moon. The results of such research include: 

  • Acoustic Foam manufactured in distinctive wedge shapes or pyramidal shapes that absorb sound easily. 
  • Acoustic panels and boards with decorative surfaces that absorb sound and prevent sound transmission quite effectively. 
  • Specialized coatings that can be sprayed, brushed, or glued onto existing surfaces to dampen sound transmittal 
  • Special flooring underlayment that works to decouple the flooring from the sub-structure to control sound transmittal. 
  • Sound dampening construction methods and materials are available if new construction is planned. 

Innovations in soundproofing and dampening are happening all the time. If sound control is a big problem, your best bet may be to confer with an architect or engineer specializing in sound control. These professionals can give you the best advice and are aware of the latest technologies.

When Sound is the Problem, Look for Creative Answers

Using room dividers is one of the best ways to control ambient sounds in workspaces or classroom areas. However, just tossing up dividers may not give you the solution you desire. Think about how sound propagates, how you arrange the room dividers, and the materials in the space work. Finding the best solution often means thinking outside your soundproof box.

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