Sound treatment is a key design consideration for almost every building, regardless of industry, in order to reduce noise disturbance and enhance sound quality. Selecting acoustic flooring materials is crucial to effective sound treatment.

When noise is made within your building, it will either be absorbed, reflected or transmitted by your wall, ceiling and flooring. The goal of sound treatment is twofold: (1) prevent transmission of sound from room to room and floor to floor, and (2) reduce background noise to enhance the quality of speech or music within rooms. Installing acoustic flooring is an effective and efficient way of accomplishing the former goal.

While acoustic ceiling and wall treatments protect against transmission of sound from room to room, acoustic flooring is effective at preventing the transmission of sound from an upper floor to a lower floor. Together with ceiling and wall coverings, your acoustic flooring system will help create the best acoustic environment for your building’s application.

Understanding ICC and STC ratings

In general, acoustic flooring must prevent the transmission of two types of noise:

Impact Sound: Whether from foot traffic, carts or vibrating machinery, floors bear the brunt of impact within your building. The sound energy generated by this impact can be transmitted through the structure of your building, distorting noise and disturbing workers, guests or residents. Acoustic flooring is designed to insulate impact noise, preventing its transmission from your flooring into the rooms below.

A flooring material’s effectiveness at preventing the transmission of impact noise is measured by its impact insulation class (ICC). The higher a flooring’s ICC, the more impact sound insulation it provides.

A material’s ICC rating is measured using a “hammer machine” on an upper floor, and measuring the sound in decibels in the room below. Floating floors, carpet pads and sound-insulating underlayment can greatly improve a flooring system’s ICC rating.

Airborne Sound: Airborne sound typically stems from people, speakers and instruments. Like impact sound, airborne sound can transmit through your flooring into other parts of your building.

A material’s ability to prevent the transmittance of airborne sound is measured using a different metric—sound transmission class (STC). An STC rating is a logarithmic measure of a sound’s transmission loss between two rooms, measured across 16 frequencies from 125 Hz to 5000 Hz. Essentially, a material’s STC rating measures its ability to absorb airborne noise and, consequently, prevent its transmission.

Acoustic flooring options: 5 materials suited for sound treatment

Both metrics are important in comparing acoustic flooring materials, and choosing the underlayment and final flooring that best fit your building’s particular application. Still, a material’s acoustic qualities are not the only factor to consider when selecting a flooring material for your building.

For example, while carpeting might work perfectly within a classroom, it wouldn’t meet the sanitary standards to be used in an operating room. There are many factors to consider beyond acoustics—and a flooring contractor can guide you through them all.

While acoustic flooring materials are not one-size-fits-all, there are some materials that are better at preventing sound transmission than others.

Here are some of the best acoustic flooring materials:

  • Carpet: Carpet or carpet tiles are known for mitigating impact sound, making them a perfect choice for hotels, classrooms and offices. Higher pile carpets or carpets with a thick pad underneath are especially good at absorbing sound and reducing transmission.
  • Cork Flooring: Cork flooring is a sustainable, comfortable and sound-absorbent flooring option perfect for many commercial applications. Still, due to its tendency to stain and indent it is often used as an underlay to provide acoustic insulation.
  • Wood Plastic Composite (WPC) Flooring: Durable, waterproof and easy to maintain, WPC flooring provides great acoustic benefits, especially when it comes to mitigating the impact noise such as high foot traffic. Its acoustic benefits are largely drawn from its backing layer, which not only provides sound insulation, but also protects against mold and mildew.
  • Rubber Flooring: Commercial rubber flooring is known for its sound absorbent qualities. More than that, it is slip-, mold- and mildew-resistant. It is a great choice for hospitals, schools, gyms and kitchens looking for a durable acoustic flooring material.
  • Vinyl Tile: Vinyl tile, especially luxury vinyl tile (LVT) installed with a sound-insulating underlayment, is a great resilient flooring option used for sound treatment. It is selected by many facilities due to its design versatility, durability and relatively low maintenance costs.

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One flooring material does not fit all. And a material’s acoustic quality should not be the only factor you use when selecting flooring for your facility. A flooring contractor can walk you through all the factors you need to consider so you can choose the material that makes the most sense for your building’s specific needs, while taking your budget into consideration.