Interior designers and architects must wear many hats to ensure buildings and shared spaces function as intended. This includes balancing the acoustics in auditoriums, classrooms, manufacturing facilities, and other environments where noise pollution makes a space unusable.

Architects and designers rely on several entities that set the various standards and certifications needed to maximize the comfort of building occupants. Here’s more on the standards set by these entities and how to ensure you comply with their standards.



Certain work environments, like industrial manufacturing facilities, require employees to work with heavy machinery that may overexpose them to excessive noise. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration protects these types of workers by setting strict guidelines to limit exposure to excessive noise levels. Employers must abide by these standards to avoid violations and prevent long-term health effects.

The guidelines require that any employer that exposes employees to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels over an 8-hour period or an 8-hour time-weighted-average must implement a hearing conservation program.

To assist employers with identifying noise issues, OSHA provides three tell-tale signs that you may be overexposing employees to excessive noise, which include:

Ringing in your ears after you leave work
Shouting to be heard by co-workers an arm’s length away
Temporarily losing your hearing when you leave work


The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system assigns points to a building based on its overall health and efficiency, which includes factors such as water and energy conservation. While the point system has historically awarded points for sustainability, it has recently recognized the value that proper acoustics has in indoor environments.

Although this certification is not mandatory, it gives designers and developers the opportunity to go above and beyond traditional standards and provide spaces optimized for our benefit. Some of the standards outlined in LEED v4 include the following:

Background noise from sources like mechanical equipment and outside traffic must not exceed 40dBA in regularly occupied spaces. For classrooms, background noise levels must not exceed 35dBA.

Reverberation time must be within the ranges of ANSI/ASA S12.60.
STC (Sound Transmission Class) rating must be at least 45 and IIC (Impact Insulation Class) must be at least 50 in residential spaces.

Sound masking must be adjusted according to background noise levels and desired speech privacy.

These are just a few of the many standards that help you become LEED certified. It’s worth noting that you can obtain additional points for hiring an acoustical consultant to provide their expert recommendations.


The International WELL Being Institute, like LEED, is a voluntary certification that rates organizations on the quality of their buildings with the goal of creating people-first spaces that enhance human health and well-being.

WELL rates buildings based on 10 core concepts, one of which being sound. Here are some of the acoustic requirements buildings must meet to become WELL certified:

The average sound level from outside noise intrusion doesn’t exceed 50 dBA.
The Sound Pressure Level in schools from outside noise intrusion doesn’t exceed 35 dBA.
You provide acoustic planning to identify potential sources of noise disruption.
HVAC ducts are securely attached with no loose connections between sections.
All floors of regularly occupied spaces have an Impact Insulation Class (IIC) of at least 50.
Ceilings in open workspaces have a minimum NRC of 0.9 for the entire surface area of the ceiling.
These are just a few of the many standards you must meet to become WELL certified.


The areas of HVAC and acoustics constantly overlap with one another, and many organizations like the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) include various noise control criteria. This information guides new product innovation in the HVAC industry by setting the standard for acceptable noise levels that everyone must abide by.

AHRI provides manufacturers with the methodology needed to accurately test and rate their products, providing transparency for designers and engineers when they’re specifying equipment.

AHRI has three general test standards, including the following:

Comparison Method in Reverberation Room
Sound Intensity

Free Field

Not only do these tests help accurately rate equipment, but they take into account multiple variables that impact how noise interacts within a specific application, such as the presence of reflective walls or nearby structures that might block noise.


The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is one of the largest societies in the HVAC industry, setting various standards for safety, energy conservation, acceptable indoor air quality, and more.

In addition to these standards, ASHRAE recognizes the growing need to combat noise-related issues with air handling units and other HVAC equipment. Not only do these standards address noise emitted from the unit itself, but the vibrations the system produces that travel through the ductwork, piping, walls, and floors of a structure.


The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) partner together to create the most widely used and referenced acoustical design standards for a variety of applications.

When setting standards and guidelines, ANSI and ASA consider these three aspects of acoustical performance:

Speech intelligibility
Reverberation Time
Background Noise in HVAC Systems and Outdoor Environmental Noise
For example, these factors are used in ANSI/ASA Standard S12.60 in classrooms where guidelines are set for reverberation time and background noise to improve speech intelligibility and enhance the learning experience.

Let Ketchum & Walton Help You Exceed Industry Standards

When you’re navigating a new project, it can be challenging to design a space that’s both aesthetically pleasing and functional for its intended purpose. At Ketchum & Walton, we help you design for the human experience and know how to meet and exceed all industry standards to improve the lives of those that occupy your space.

Contact one of our acoustical experts today for a consultation and we’ll find the right solution to solve your problem.

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