A new proposed sound standard for classrooms, specifying a maximum background noise of 35 dBA, which the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) says is “equivalent to a soft whisper at five feet,” was brought before the International Building Code (IBC) General Committee on April 12 for possible inclusion in building codes. The measure, which was not approved, would have been quite costly, according to hvacr and building industry representatives.

Proposed ANSI Standard S12.60-200X, “American National Standard Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements and Guidelines for Schools,” prepared by the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) committee S12 Working Group 42, provides acoustical performance criteria, design requirements, and design guidelines for new or renovated school classrooms, and other learning spaces, and takes into account children who are hard of hearing.

Specific to the hvac industry, the standard addresses hvac-related background sound that originates within the building and intrudes into the classroom through walls and partitions, floor-ceiling assemblies, and ventilation systems.

The proposed ANSI standard “sets very low noise levels within the learning space,” said Michele Darbeau, ARI standards engineer. “It does not account for a wide range of other noise sources such as overhead projectors, computers, and sound generated by people in the building that also contribute to sound levels in the classroom.”

She added, “Since computers (from one to several) and computer peripherals are an integral part of classrooms, ARI believes that noise from computers cannot be excluded from the classroom steady-state background noise requirement.”

Darbeau also pointed out that there would be significant cost implications. “New and costly equipment development programs would have to be undertaken by the hvac industry in order to develop equipment that would even come close to meeting the requirements specified, and ARI has recommended that a cost-benefit analysis be conducted.”

ARI’s Technical Committee on Sound (TCoS) recently voted against the standard and subsequently filed an appeal with the ASA. Since the appeal was not in favor of ARI, the Access Board — an independent federal agency devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities — presented the proposed new standard to the International Code Council (ICC) for incorporation into the design requirements of the model building codes in the next edition of the International Building Code (IBC).

If adopted, the classroom acoustical requirements would have become mandatory as part of the building code in those states and jurisdictions that use the IBC or its member codes.

At the hearing on April 12, the ARI was joined by the Modular Building Institute, code inspectors, architects, Association of Building Managers, Metal Building Institute, Bard Manufacturing, and Marvair in opposing the classroom code change.

Jay Wood, corporate engineer for Mark Line Industries, Inc., spoke on behalf of the Modular Building Institute. “Our industry provides modular school buildings and portable classrooms throughout the country,” he told The News.

Changes to try to meet these new classroom requirements, including upgrading hvac systems, “will increase our cost by $19 per square foot,” he said. “However, this still does not achieve a noise level of 35 dBA. This results in each classroom costing about $15,000 more, and still not meeting the proposed standard.”

He said that the institute “requests that any improvements in acoustical performance be left up to individual schools … and not made a national standard.”

Irv Derks, vice president of engineering for hvac equipment manufacturer Bard Manufacturing (Bryan, OH), who was also present at the hearing, noted that there was strong opposition to the code change. But he commented, “First of all, we’re not against good, affordable learning environments.” But in developing this standard, “There was not adequate stakeholder involvement,” nor adequate “consideration of the costs.”

The change would have made new school construction and renovations cost substantially more, he said. Because it would sharply drive up costs, construction projects likely would be cancelled, and “Kids would be left in a less desirable environment.”

The proposed standard also does not consider the location of a classroom, stated Derks. “The school could be near an airport,” he said, and the standard would still apply.

In addition, the language in the standard covers all learning environments, so it would be applicable to school corridors, cafeterias, and gyms as well, Derks noted.

The impact on the hvac industry, he said, is that it would eliminate some product lines from being used in schools, and others would require expensive redesigns.

Another concern for the industry is that, although the code change was not approved by the IBC committee, other code making authorities could consider it for adoption.

For more information on the proposed classroom sound standard, contact Darbeau at mdarbeau@ari.org.

Publication date: 04/22/2002