Canadian Consulting Engineer

Noisy air conditioning systems drown out learning in U.S. classrooms

We've all been in a hotel conference room where it's almost impossible to hear the speaker because the air-conditio...

February 14, 2003   Canadian Consulting Engineer

We’ve all been in a hotel conference room where it’s almost impossible to hear the speaker because the air-conditioning system is belting out decibels as fast as it pumps out clouds of freezing air.

However, mechanical engineers have an even more important reason to be thinking about acoustics when they are specifying cooling systems for school building projects. Though few Canadian schools have cooling systems, air-conditioning is a feature of schools in the U.S.

Peggy Nelson, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s communication disorders department has found that noise in the classroom can adversely affect young children and hinder their learning abilities. At the same time, she found that the biggest noise source in many classrooms is their HVAC systems.

In an article in the ASHRAE Journal’s February issue, Nelson says “some teachers have indicated that they are forced to alternate between talking (teaching) and cooling the room because they cannot raise their voices above the noise.”

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has issued a new standard S12.60 stipulating maximum noise and reverberation limits for school construction, but apparently it is causing controversy among construction companies because they think the costs are too great.

The article reports that research has found that noise and reverberation adversely affect young children more than adults, making it harder for them to understand what is said. Those with hearing loss, language difficulties or attention disorders are especially sensitive to noise.

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