Tired of Noise? The New Acoustic Standard Provides Answers

Twenty years ago, I was on a committee to design a state-of-the-art recreational facility at a midsize university in Florida. The facility was to be shared by academic and recreational programs with a goal of meeting future student needs. The old facility was shared by athletics, recreation and academics, and was too small, outdated and had poor acoustics. It was anticipated that the new facility would bring added energy to the campus, and enhance recruitment capabilities along with new recreational and academic opportunities. Needless to say, everyone was excited to be in a new complex.

The new facility committee meetings provided stakeholders the opportunity to address program needs. There were many productive debates and contributions made, and the one concern I made very clear was the need for the building to be acoustically friendly. After years of losing my voice, constantly repeating myself and having students ask, "What did you say?" I decided to see if building designers could design a better recreational building with appropriate acoustics in mind.


While the facility was to be shared by both recreation and academics, I made it very clear that academic and recreational classes would be taught, and instruction needed to be clearly heard. To my amazement, I was the only one with acoustic concerns, and the building designers had no idea what I was talking about. Dumbstruck and frustrated, I set out to find research and data that would support my cause. Certainly, there would a be a plethora of data and standards established that would support my goal of better acoustics.

My research discovered a tremendous amount of acoustic research for K-12 school classrooms and how poor acoustics are detrimental to academic performance. However, there was very little acoustic research related to sport, recreational and physical education facilities.

This was the motivation for the development of new national "Acoustic Standard for Physical Education Teaching Environments ANSI/ASA S12.60-2019/Part 4." While the standard states "Physical Education Teaching Environments," the standard applies to all gymnasia, pools, weight rooms and other recreation spaces.

The acoustics in many recreational facilities are subpar as a consequence of the poor construction design, the added noise from heating/cooling systems, poor-quality PA sound systems and a lack of sound-absorbing paneling. Consequently, many recreational employees may have experienced problems with their vocal cords while students experience difficulty in understanding directions and instructions from their instructors.

The Acoustic Standard

The acoustic standard "ANSI/ASA S12.60-2019/Part 4" is a highly technical 34-page document that includes acoustical performance criteria and design requirements for gymnasia and other spaces, procedures for optional testing to determine conformance with the source background noise requirements and the reverberation time requirements of this standard, guidelines for controlling reverberation in gymnasia and other spaces, and guidelines for controlling background noise in gymnasia and other spaces.

Table 1 includes the specific design specifications that are to be adhered to in the construction or retrofitting of such recreational spaces. The table displays different activity room sizes, limits for reverberation (echo), background noise (e.g., HVAC, lighting, hallway traffic) and the distance in feet which a participant should be able to clearly understand directions and feedback.

Table 1. Maximum Reverberation Time And Background Noise Level for Recreational Spaces (ftł).

Room volume [ft3] T60 for 85% SI [s] Background noise
Communication distance
Xc [ft]*
Up to 10,000 0.6 40/60 16
10,001 to 20,000 0.7 40/60 20
20,001 to 40,000 0.8 40/60 24
40,001 to 80,000 1.0 40/60 28
80,001 to 160,000 1.1 40/60 32
160,001 to 320,000 1.2 40/60 36
320,001 to 640,000 1.4 40/60 40
Over 640,000 1.5 40/60 45
*Communication radius Xc is the zone near a talker within which listeners will perceive good speech intelligibility (at least 85% of sentences correctly understood with raised voice).

What to Do With This Resource

Recreational managers now have an opportunity to be a player in ensuring that the acoustic standard for facilities is met during new building construction and/or the retrofitting of existing facilities. I offer the following strategies that recreational managers can use to meet that goal:

  • Provide key decision-makers with the acoustic standard documentation.
  • Become an active player in planning new construction.
  • Request evaluation of school facilities to determine standard compliance.

In the future, every new recreational facility should be designed using the new acoustic standards. However, this will require everyone to advocate for the importance and potential impact of this new acoustic standard. Widespread adherence to this new Acoustic Standard ANSI/ASA S12.60-2019/Part 4 can help users benefit from a more acoustically friendly environment.

NOTE: For a complete copy of Acoustic Standard, you can contact the author at [email protected].