Unfortunately, sometimes it’s the walls, the floor, or the ceiling. It seems like every hospital I’ve visited lately is under construction, renovating their current space or planning for large additions. With all the changes, it’s easy to forget about the “unseen” aspects of the design, such as Mechanical Noise and Vibration Control.

The Unseen Problem

A common problem is loud mechanical units going in over operating suites. Vibration and noise from the mechanical units can cause problems with the medical equipment inside the suite. Too much noise and vibration can ultimately compromise the accuracy of the equipment. This can lead to misinterpretation of medical data and serious health issues. Operating suites are also very active places with lots of health caregivers interacting with each other. Excessive noise levels in the operating room can cause communication issues at a critical moment in time. However, starting in 2010, the FGI Guidelines incorporated extensive requirements for noise and vibration control in healthcare facilities.

FGI Guidelines

The FGI Guidelines are published by the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) and the American Hospital Association (AHA), and they contain six distinct sections of requirements for acoustics and noise control in healthcare facilities including:
Part 1 – Site Exterior Noise
Part 2 – Acoustical Finishes and Details
Part 3 – Room Noise Levels
Part 4 – Performance of interior wall and floor/ceiling constructions (Noise Isolation)
Part 5 – Speech Privacy
Part 6 – Building Vibration and Structure-borne Sound

Note – part 3 of the FGI Guidelines refers to room noise levels, which in-turn refer to the mechanical systems noise and vibration control. The FGI Guidelines are also the source document referred to by LEED HC for all acoustical criteria. While you might not be planning for environmental or green building, these guidelines are indispensable for any healthcare construction or renovation.

The Building Problem

You can’t drive through a major city without noticing the large number of healthcare construction projects. With high land prices and expensive medical equipment costs, every square foot of usable space needs to be maximized – including the space over the Surgical Suites and Operating Rooms.

Mechanical and electrical coordination is huge; there are limited spaces and chances to make everything fit and work. Plus the cost of construction materials is going up – copper, wire, steel – almost any metal. The time and cost restraints force mechanical and electrical trades to look for money saving solutions, and often these solutions get changed in the field without assessing the acoustical effects on healthcare, hospital staff, patients, and patient satisfaction.

Sound Vibration Solutions

In existing construction, there’s no silver bullet plan for fixing these issues. Sometimes, it’s necessary to make sound and vibration measurements to identify the problems. Working with an independent acoustical consultant, like Acoustics By Design, gives you the assurance that you’re getting unbiased recommendations. For new construction, we use 3D computer modeling software to predict the sound/vibration problems even before construction begins. In the fast pace of hospital and medical facility design and construction, make sure the noise and vibration is under control. It’s much cheaper to design an alternate solution than to fix a problem later.

Melinda Miller

Melinda Miller brings her passion for all things sound and 20 years of experience to her role as Principal Engineer of ABD Engineering & Design. Her expertise includes diagnosing and preventing noise problems, designing acoustically optimized environments, and using evidence-based design practices. Melinda has consulted on projects involving architectural acoustics, noise isolation, mechanical noise control, and occupational noise exposure. Her experience includes higher education, K-12 schools, performance and worship spaces, healthcare facilities, industrial facilities, hotel and multi-family residential buildings. A Professional Acoustical Engineer, licensed by the State of Oregon, Melinda earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Idaho, and Master’s from the University of Illinois, Chicago. She has continued her education and training, earning her INCE Board Certification (INCE Bd. Cert.), Evidence-Based Design Accreditation and Certification (EDAC), and LEED AP BD+ C. As an Assistant Professor of Acoustics for Columbia College, she taught undergraduate junior and senior level classes in HVAC design, vibrations, acoustical testing, building noise control, and musical acoustics. Melinda has chaired sessions on various topics at Noise-con and Inter-noise since 2013, and has served INCE as the Co-Chair of Building Acoustics Technical Activities committee, on the Certification Board, and the Board of Directors (2021-2024). Likewise, she has presented technical papers and education sessions for the Acoustical Society of America, the American Institute of Architects, and the Chicago Chapter of the Audio Engineering Society.

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