Noise in the Office: Annoying & Unsafe


Sound is a fact of office life: the hum of machines, co-workers’ conversation, & passing traffic all find their way to employees’ ears. But they each take a toll on concentration, productivity, and health. As you make your office space safer for team members, remember that noise pollution can lead to serious health concerns, such as stress, sleep issues, and even heart disease.

Before you can address worker safety and productivity, you have to know where the noise is coming from and what products for soundproofing commercial spaces are available.

outside of commercial office space with train noise
Do You Hear What I Hear?

There are three main components of soundproofing commercial spaces:

  1. Sound Reduction – Stops noise from entering your space (through windows, etc) in the first place.
  2. Sound Absorption – Stops noise that does enter your space from reverberating (bouncing) around.
  3. Sound Masking – Does not stop noise or reverberation, instead creates a base amount of noise to hide any particularly distracting noises. (Not technically soundproofing.)
time lapse of heavy traffic outside of buildings showing need for soundproofing commercial spaces

Is the noise being produced outside or inside your space? (If you work in a horror film, the noise is coming from INSIDE THE BUILDING!) Products for soundproofing commercial spaces will either help with sound reduction or sound absorption.

If you’re not sure, think about how sound travels: via vibrations carried by air. Air sealing your windows, ceilings, doors, and walls with sound reduction products will stop outside noise- like construction -from traveling into your space. Placing sound absorbing products inside your building will reduce the echo of noise generated in your office.

It’s entirely possible that you will need both types of products. Often, once we get rid of one sound, another becomes all too clear. If a combination of sound reducing and absorbing still allows some noise through, sound masking can be a great final touch without spending an exponential amount to get the next tier of sound reduction performance.

Noise Reduction Office Products

Now you know:

1. Where the noise is coming from

2. What type of soundproofing you need

Let’s review what products for soundproofing commercial spaces will work for you.

Sound Reduction Products

Window Inserts

Like storm windows, window inserts add an extra layer to your windows to block sound from coming in. Unlike storm windows, window inserts are installed inside of windows so they can’t be seen from the outside and nearly disappear in the window frame. 

employee happy with commercial soundproofing from Indow window inserts

Designs such as Indow Acoustic Grade window inserts use compression tubing to create a tight seal against sound. This air seal also creates a dead air space between the panel and window, further insulating against sound. They don’t damage the original windows, and can be installed in a matter of minutes. The high-grade acrylic panels absorb noise better than glass panes. 

Spray Foam

Spray foam is very effective for stopping noise because it’s very effective at stopping airflow. Acoustic spray foam fills air pockets so sound vibrations cannot travel through them and it also helps stop reverberations.

Spray foam is also very expensive and causes permanent changes to the building. Plus, if you aren’t careful with use, it can affect your decoupling soundproofing. This is when building elements or layers are connected to sound transfers through them.

Indow Window Inserts Help Property Management

Energy efficiency and noise abatement are an issue for property managers as well. Renters are attracted to the hustle and bustle of historic downtowns, but want peace and quiet inside. Property owners can install Indow inserts to meet historic guidelines and keep tenants happy. They won’t be sad about the lower energy bills either.

Sound Absorption Products

Acoustic Panels

Acoustic panels help absorb noise created inside a room or building and stop it from bouncing around a room. Sound likes to bounce off of solid, smooth surfaces. These panels are soft, foam, or created at odd angles to interrupt the normal echoes created in office buildings.

There are a wide variety of acoustic panels to suit your needs – shapes, sizes, colors, materials. There are even acoustic art panels available where you can upload your own images!

decorative sound absorbing wall panels: an example of noise reduction office products
Sound Masking

White Noise Machine

White noise machines are not technically soundproofing. They generate background noise to drown out light conversation and general office noise so nothing stands out. They can help with concentration and office privacy. They are popular in psychologist’s offices – helping patients ignore the outside world and feel confident in their seclusion. The same can apply in office settings.

Conference Room Soundproofing in Downtown San Francisco

Bessemer Venture Partners advice and seed investments for new and growing companies. When people visit their building, they are sharing their most private dreams…and financial statements. Clients should feel comfortable when planning their future, not competing with passing cars. But because of the adjacent freeway and current window glazing system the conference room was full of “abundant exterior noises”.

conference room with Indow window inserts for soundproofing commercial spaces

Bessemer hired Stephanie Kwan to update their space. Kwan works with buildings, from hospitality to office spaces, to make them more comfortable. Bessemer was leasing the building so major construction was out of the question, as were expensive options like updating the existing glazing system. Kwan decided on Indow inserts because “it was an affordable solution that simply pops into place”.

Everyone at Bessemer loved the solution. The inserts made a huge difference in the conference room and appreciate that they aren’t as visually intrusive as other options. They began with inserts in the one room as a trial and have expanded to all adjacent rooms.

Advice for Soundproofing Commercial Spaces

For anyone looking to soundproof their commercial space, Kwan suggests ensuring your employees are as comfortable as possible. And for those moving into a historic space, understand the condition before moving in and make plans. Foresee the costs to provide solutions for acoustics, air temperature, and solar blocking issues because they will all affect the success of the overall office environment.

If you’d like to start soundproofing your office by trying window inserts in one room, visit our pilot program page. Our Commercial Window Pilot Program allows you to test inserts in one room, like a conference room, to get a sense of the noise reduction before committing to upgrading the whole office.

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bedroom with window with indow inserts installed for soundproofing in san francisco