Understanding and Selecting the Best Choices: Acoustic Treatments for a House of Worship

Clarity, Understanding and Enjoyment… 


By integrating acoustic panels or materials into the decor, we can help you provide your congregation or audience with greater clarity of the spoken word and allow for more a more enjoyable experience of instrumental or choral presentations.  Excessive echo and reverberation can in some cases, completely deteriorate the listeners experience and eventually may affect the attendance and the sustained growth of your congregation.  If it is too hard to hear, your members may either speak louder in order to compete with background noises (which unfortunately also increases decibel levels), or worse, they may opt to simply stop coming to the services.  Being able to hear clearly is of particular importance for the elderly or others with hearing deficits.  At the other end of the scale, it is of equivalent importance for your youngest members of the congregation to hear with clarity and not be distracted by the background chatter caused by bouncing sound waves.  Given the impact of poor acoustic design on learning, it is now considered an essential element in the construction of schools and institutions of higher learning and a natural fit for other key teaching environments, like a church or temple.

In these gathering places that are used for such a great deal of teaching, listening, learning and music, sound clarity is of key importance. It is also vital that the materials that are selected do not take away from the look and feeling of sanctuary or fellowship.

Understanding and selecting the best choices for acoustic panels for a house of worship can be challenging, but there are ways to simplify the process of identifying needed vs. wanted, where the improvements are best placed, and narrowing the selection of materials required to deliver the optimal results. 


Vaulted open ceilings and wide open rooms, with many large often featured windows and walls are commonplace, but while these features “mimic” the beautiful old churches they are often not built to the same standards as the old cathedrals. In the past bare walls and open spaces helped to amplify and carry sermons and music, lifting it up and back within a large congregated space.

Absorption and Diffusion can diminish the noise that results from reflected sound waves…

With the advent of new audio technology these same previously helpful architectural elements actually create a great deal of reflected sound or reverberation. The amount of time it takes for sound waves to stop reflecting around a room and fade completely becomes an important factor and the longer it takes for each sound to end, the more distorted the sounds are.  Subsequently, as they build it becomes uncomfortably loud, and language increasingly unintelligible. In order to capture some of this reverberating sound we need to employ material that intercepts and absorbs the travelling sound waves.  These materials can be simple fabric wrapped insulated panels, curtains, or any soft or porous material that will not reflect sound. 


Fabric wrapped panels can be the most effective, cost sensitive and least obvious option. They can be customized to fit the space in color and texture and can be simple or complex acoustic panels that can be mounted directly on a wall surface or suspended vertically (baffles) and or horizontally (clouds).  These offer great flexibility in both design and application, and are able to provide immediate complimentary solutions. They can be traditional in nature, in color and texture or contemporary depending on the intended results as the choices in fabric print, color, and texture, and the shape and type are extensive.   


If it is desired, there are beautiful acoustic wood options that fit well within a traditional wood décor, and also mix well into very contemporary designs, but the cost begins to creep a bit.   Acoustic wood elements can be used in many and different ways to achieve the level of sound mitigation required.  Fortunately, most design professionals today are familiar with all or most of the options and choices and can help to guide the selection of the materials to ensure that they fit within the intended concept and do not detract from the grandeur of the intended design. 


The options do not have to alter or compromise the traditional design of a worship space.   To have minimal change, you may decide to stay with a light color scheme, similar or contrasting to the walls and ceilings you can add texture and a bit of interest without cluttering the existing layout.  However, you are also not limited to neutral options!  Acoustical treatment has become more designer-friendly in recent years.  For example, Clouds can be sculpted into forms of clouds, take a moulded shape of a dove in flight, create a mosaic or mural detail or encompass a low profile LED lighting recessed into the form of the cloud or baffle.


It is increasingly common for design to incorporate custom-made details, shapes and sizes, with countless colors and textures of fabric. Acoustic panels can have design cut outs, be 3D, geometric shapes and etching, create murals, or can be printed with high resolution graphics or photos, and arranged in any way a designer can dream of.  So, while it may seem initially to be best to select something that will easily fold into the space or disappear into the background of an existing meeting area, design flexibility now exists to create an architectural acoustic detail that compliments and improves the original design and may even create a focal point, and not just provide a sound management solution.


Here are a few more things you should know:

This is not an "all or nothing"science!

Sometimes budgets will not allow for everything to be completed at once. With some planning, you can still achieve some degree of improvement.

Finding acoustic panels that solve your sanctuary, vestibule or meeting hall sound issues and that also blend into, or compliment the beauty of your place of worship can be a challenge, but it is absolutely possible to find solutions suitable for any concept or space. 


It can be completed by phases to meet your budget, starting with a treatment that achieves the highest improvements for your dollars invested, and you can fine tune the results by augmenting with layers of improvement over and above this basic starting point, as you are able to do so. 

Wallworks can assist you in the evaluation process...

If it is possible, it is best to have an acoustical specialist come walk through the space and assess the problems, to see if there are areas that would offer immediate improvement.     
In many cases, acoustic panels placed directly on the far, or rear wall of the room and on the front of any balcony areas are obvious places where absorption will deliver immediate, noticeable improvements.   


You may then decide to move to the stage area, to control sound from musicians. Consider the direction that the sound waves will travel from positions in that location. Look at speaker positioning. Where are the speakers’ sound waves directed to?  Are they directed toward a hard surface which will reflect or toward a surface that will absorb?  In this step by step way, you may be able to identify if and where acoustic baffles or clouds might provide additional layers of improvement.  


Most importantly, do not feel that if you are only able to proceed with one component at a time that you should not do anything. Acoustics surfaces can be added until the desired condition is achieved and within the comfort of your budget limitations. 
Even a small amount of acoustically absorbent material can distinctively improve the experience within a space.

So many choices...

There are countless material options, styles, colors, combinations and variations of materials that can be integrate to yield the desired results.  Wallworks has over 40 years of acoustic experience, problem solving in sacred spaces, and sanctuary settings. 

We can assist you in narrowing your selections or providing possible new solutions that are available and together we can tailor a solution specifically for your building, or area to achieve the best possible outcome. 

In summary, it is our “sound belief” as acoustical material professionals, that any space can achieve the experience of sound improvement!  We are here to guide and help you explore and identify your options and can provide professional installation services which will give you a complete solution or we can work through it with you, by incremental stages.      

(Connect today for a complimentary site review and acoustic consultation with one of our Wallworks product specialists!)

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