ASA/ANSI S12.60-2019/Part 4 (R2024): Acoustics in Schools

Students and their physical education coach jogging in the school gym that adheres to ASA/ANSI S12.60-2019/Part 4 (R2024) acoustical criteria.

Excessive background noise or reverberation in physical education spaces interferes with speech communication and thus presents an acoustical impediment to learning. ASA/ANSI S12.60-2019/Part 4 (R2024): Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements, And Guidelines For Schools, Part 4: Acoustic Standards For Physical Education Teaching Environments covers acoustical performance criteria for gymnasia and other physical education learning spaces.

What Causes Poor Acoustics?

Acoustics are the way sound waves interact with the space around them. The waves make contact with a variety of different surfaces, from walls to ceilings to tables. Much of what drives how a sound wave interacts with a surface is whether the surface is hard or soft. Soft surfaces tend to absorb sound waves while hard surfaces reflect them, causing reverberation—an acoustical phenomenon that occurs in an enclosed space, such as a gymnasium or natatorium, when sound persists in that space as a result of repeated reflections or scattering from surfaces enclosing the space. So, the more hard surfaces there are in a room, the more reverberation there will be and subsequentially the harder it is to understand sounds in that room. In sum, poor acoustics are the result of hard, sound reflective surfaces (reflections are how an echo is created) within a space.  

Poor acoustics can, apart from ruining your experience at a given event (e.g., eating at a restaurant, going to a basketball game, or learning in a classroom), affect your own health and welfare as well as the health and welfare of the employees. When poor acoustics cause poor sound clarity, it can affect situations of student education, corporate training events, business meetings and video conferencing, fitness class and swimming instruction, community or church hall gatherings, and open plan office productivity, amongst many others. Luckily, standards developed by the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) provide guidelines for acoustical design and performance.

What Is ASA/ANSI S12.60/Part 4?

ASA/ANSI S12.60-2019/Part 4 (R2024) includes acoustical performance criteria and design requirements for gymnasia and other physical education learning spaces. The American National Standard defines physical education learning spaces as “spaces for physical education activities where the primary functions are teaching and learning and where good speech communication is critical to a student’s academic achievement. These spaces include, but are not limited to, gymnasia, natatoria, fitness rooms, dance rooms, weight rooms, outdoor covered area, grass and dirt fields, tracks, and paved activity areas.”

This standard applies to siting and building-design-dependent sources of intrusive noise in physical education learning spaces in schools. This includes noise produced by HVAC systems, building services and utilities, and exterior sound sources such as vehicular traffic, aircraft overflights, or other noise sources. The standard’s annexes specify the following:

  • Annex A provides procedures for optional testing to determine conformance with the source background noise requirements and the reverberation time requirements of this standard.
  • Annex B provides commentary information on various paragraphs of this standard.
  • Annex C provides guidelines for controlling reverberation in gymnasia and other physical education spaces.
  • Annex D provides guidelines for controlling background noise in gymnasia and other physical education spaces.

ASA/ANSI S12.60-2019/Part 4 (R2024) seeks to provide flexibility for the design of physical education learning spaces without compromising the goal of obtaining adequate speech intelligibility for all students and teachers in gymnasia and outdoor physical education learning spaces within the standard scope.

This standard does not apply to sound generated within a physical education learning space by its occupants including voices and the sounds of sport equipment such volleyball and basketball.

Children playing sports during their physical education outdoors.

Benefits of Physical Education

Physical education designed to provide cognitive content and instruction to help students develop motor skills, knowledge, and behaviors for physical activity and physical fitness. Students who are physically active tend to have better grades and standardized test scores, school attendance, cognitive performance (e.g., memory, concentration), and classroom behaviors (e.g., on-task behavior). Physical education for children also has numerous health benefits for brain health, muscular fitness, heart and lung health, cardiometabolic health, long-term health, bone strength, and healthy weight.

How Do You Absorb Sound at the Gym?

Gyms can be noisy places due to clattering weights, running treadmills, and high-energy workouts. Proper gym soundproofing is crucial to maintain a positive atmosphere and minimize disturbances. Here are some effective ways to soundproof gym activities:

  • Wall and ceiling insulation: Insulate the walls of your gym with acoustic insulation materials as they help absorb sound and prevent it from traveling through walls. Choose high-density insulation, like mineral wool or acoustic foam, and install it within the wall structure. Finish with a layer of drywall to further reduce sound transmission.
  • Acoustic Panels: Install with adhesive on the gym’s wall and ceiling. Once installed, these panels absorb and diffuse sound, making it less likely to bound around the room. Place them strategically on areas where noise tends to accumulate, such as near weightlifting stations or cardio machines.  
  • Sound proof curtains or drape: Hang soundproof curtains or drapes around large windows or glass doors, as this will block noise from entering or leaving the gym (this is particular useful if the windows face busy streets).
  • Soundproofing doors: Use solid-core doors and add weatherstripping to create an airtight seal, as this prevents sound from escaping the gym and reduces the amount of noise entering from outside.
  • Flooring: Choose rubber or vinyl flooring options because they are excellent at absorbing sound and minimizing vibrations. To absorb impacts and kill vibration, the floor should utilize at least a two-layer system with a rubber underlay and a rubber tile top layer.

ASA/ANSI S12.60-2019/Part 4 (R2024) recommends using carpeting, sport floors, or artificial turf in gymnasia in elementary and middle schools because these flooring types can help substantially help to reduce background noise from athletic equipment and foot impacts or scuffling. Carpeting alone, however, usually does not provide enough sound absorption for gymnasia since it is generally poor at low frequencies, even when newly installed.

ASA/ANSI S12.60-2019/Part 4 (R2024): Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements, And Guidelines For Schools, Part 4: Acoustic Standards For Physical Education Teaching Environments is available on the ANSI Webstore.

Share this blog post:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.