Under some conditions, a tall partition system that extends from the floor to the ceiling is desirable to control the noise in an office environment. There are certain issues that need to be addressed before investing in such a partition system.
One issue is fire safety. A tall system that blocks the exit signs, fire extiniguishers, sprinkler system or audible alarm noise could be deemed unsafe by the local fire marshall. This would require it’s removal or modification to meet the local fire codes, per the Fire Marshalls demands.
One assumption that is dangerous, is thinking that you know your ceiling height. You might think that you know the ceiling height, but a careful measurement is required. Ceilings tend to sag in unsupported areas, and could vary by an inch or more in various places. It is important to measure the distance from the floor to the ceiling, where ever the panels will meet the ceiling, to be sure that the panels will fit. In cases where you have a typical “drop ceiling” the height can be adjusted upward, by twisting the support wires holding the ceiling framework. In the case of a solid ceiling, you don’t have this option. The panels must be slightly shorter than the ceiling height, or they will not fit.
Then there is the issue of air flow. Office environments will usually have some sort of ventilation provided by the air conditioner or heater, or maybe just windows. Enclosing a proposed office by using a floor to ceiling partition system could impede the airflow to that section and require venting. Venting by way of low and high vents can accommodate some minor level of convection. As hot air rises, it can flow out of the propose office through the high vents and thus create a slightly lower air pressure at the bottom, where cooler air can flow into the proposed office through the low vent. A competent panel manufacturer should be able to provide the vents, built into the panel system to accommodate airflow into each office.
Lighting is another concern. Panel systems are normally opaque, so they block light. If an office has it’s own lighting then the problem is mostly solved. However, if a propose office does not have lighting, then some sort of window arrangement built into the panel system would be needed to provide some light in that office. It is a good idea to take advantage of natural lighting that comes through skylights, or windows facing outside. If a partition system has built in windows in strategic locations that accommodate the use of outside natural lighting, then this could reduce amount of time where the electric lights are turned on during the day, thus reducing your energy consumption.
One good reason that tall partition systems are used is to supremely control the noise. Short panel systems are not so effective at this, as sound travels as a “wave”, and simply goes over the top of the panel systems and travels throughout the office, until absorbed by soft treatments, such as carpet, drapes, or other absorbing structures. However, sound waves can transfer through a panel system too. The materials used inside a panel is of concern to those seeking maximum noise reduction. Consider this: Sound travels most efficiently through dense, hard mediums. Thus, sound travels better (and faster) through water, than air. Hard mediums can transfer sound better than soft mediums. Another example of this is considering ballistic plastics. A glass surface is hardly bullet resistant because it is hard, and brittle. It cannot withstand the kinetic energy of a bullet, because it cannot flex enough to absorb the energy without breaking. Polycarbonate is a form of clear flexible plastic. Polycarbonate is more bullet resistant than glass, because it is more flexible, and can absorb the impact bette, without breaking. For that matter, Kevlar fabric is bullet resistant largely because of it’s combination of great flexibility and high tensile strength.
Now let’s get back to the sound issue. Panels that are made from hard materials will transmit sound from one side to the other, more efficiently that panels made from softer materials. Softer materials are harder for sound to transfer through. They absorb better, and transmit less efficiently. Shear weight is another plus, for the better sound acoustic rated panels. Considering the issue of sound travelling from one side of a panel to the other side, a heavier weight panel will resist this transfer better than a light one.
If you need to maximally control and reduce the noise in an office, then the solution is to find a panel that has a somewhat “soft and heavy” internal structure. This will insure that sound will be absorbed, and not transfer across the panel core, in any great degree. The resistance of sound travelling from one side of a panel to the other side is called “sound blocking”, which differs from sound absorption. Typical fiberglass cored panels, are good for sound absorption, but if the fiberglass is housed in a hard perforated shell, or surface, the sound blocking will be compromised. 1/2” Thick sound rated boards, are soft enough to absorb sound, flexible enough to prevent sound transfer, and heavy enough to block sound transfer. This type of construction can work better for noisy offices than a hard shelled, fiberglass cored panel. Sound absorbtion is not the only factor.
The last issue to be considered is the connection system for the panels. Many manufacturers provide connectors that must be fastened with screws or bolts from below and above the panel system. If the panels go to the ceiling, then it may be impossible to fasten the connectors. If tools are required, you could end up needing a full 12” of space above the panels, to accommodate the use of a phillips screwdriver for a typical fastener system consisting of screws. Some manufacturers may only require an inch or so to get the connectors in place. This is ideal. The small gap at the top could easily be filled in by using upholstery foam, cut to the appropriate width and height. It is a good idea to check with the manufacturer of the panel system, and ask how the connectors are installed, and how much room is needed to accommodate the use of tools (if required) to connect the panel system together.
So, that’s about it. In summary, consider the actual measured ceiling height, fire safety, lighting, air ventilation, sound blocking and absorbing qualities, and finally, the connector installation requirements. Attention to these details could save a lot of headaches later.
Cubicles also pose challenges in the realm of religious diversity, experts say. What an employee chooses to display in his or her cubicle is an important consideration when those of assorted beliefs and non-belief work together, according to Michelle Weber, assistant director, religious diversity in the workplace for the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding: “It’s a much more visible area because colleagues and clients walking through can see what you have in your workspace.” She says this can raise concerns—and possibly claims—associated with religious expression at work.
“There are also issues for those who need to pray during the workday,” Weber says, depending on whether they have another place to go such as a quiet room or conference room. “It can be really uncomfortable and distressing for the person doing the praying to do so in the middle of the workplace,” she says.
The availability of small private areas that can be accessed by employees as needed can help address some of these needs, while a policy on office décor can address what employees can and cannot display in their work areas.
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