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I own a small English language academy in Spain. After a rebuild last summer I find that problems with reverberation persist. This is at its worst when less people are present but I'm looking for a permanent once and for all solution that hopefully doesn't involve sticking ugly panels or carpets to the walls.

I am thinking about putting down an 8 mm thick, glue down tiled cork floor. Also 8 mm cork panels on the walls, perhaps a 150cm strip around three walls of the classrooms' circumference. This hopefully would cut reverberation to 0.5 seconds or less.

Does anyone have experience of such an undertaking with regard to reverberation?

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I don't quite get what you mean by reverberations. An echo? Or does noise travel between rooms? –  Steven Dec 19 '12 at 3:07
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Cork would be better than solid surface, but if it's a serious issue, you really want to consider proper sound baffles (eggshell foam, for instance). If you want to go more artistic, maybe invest in some nice tapestries and hang those on the wall. –  DA01 Dec 19 '12 at 8:46
    
Steven, by reverberation i'm talking about noise reflecting off walls for upto four seconds. Any noise is amplified; particularly high frequencies such as childrens' voices and scraping chairs. Da01, tapestries are something I'd thought about but I prefer the idea of cork - if it were to work - in classrooms as its more neutral aesthetically and easier to keep clean. –  mark Dec 19 '12 at 9:17
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@mark - I would be concerned about the durability of cork type flooring in a class room situation. Particularly with "scraping chairs". If all chairs had roller wheels it may last longer but if tables are also slid around it seems like this would also tear up the cork. –  Michael Karas Dec 19 '12 at 9:25
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Of course, a good thick coat of polyurethane removes some of the sound-deadening qualities... –  Rory Alsop Dec 19 '12 at 10:07
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2 Answers

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No, not by itself. You're dealing with a spectrum of sound, cork will only partially absorb a portion of the spectrum. It will certainly improve things, depending on the existing wall surface. Also, don't forget the ceiling contributes more to reverberation than the floor.

Absorbent materials is one way to control reverberation. Another is altering the surface angles to eliminate parallel surfaces. This is why many concert halls have those odd zig-zag wall surfaces. This is also why heavy draperies are effective, besides significant absorption, what sound is reflected is done at random angles. It's certainly debatable whether these treatments are attractive or not.

You would be best served by using a variety of strategies to better address the full sound spectrum. Do not rely on one material, use a variety on every surface. Anywhere you can, even if in only a few spots, disrupt the straight walls with something with different surface angles.

Corners are also strong reflectors. Placing tall architectural or sculptural elements in corners would be beneficial. Also consider the wall/ceiling corners. Certain indirect lighting or sizable crown molding in this area will also help. While you wouldn't want a totally random hodge podge of materials for aesthetic reasons, a tasteful variety would be more attractive than every surface covered in cork, IMO. I like cork too, but not on everything! :)

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Thanks very much for the advice. It sounds like I want to be in cork heaven, I know, but the cork on the walls would only be like a continuos notice board and covered in part by the usual language school type posters. I didn't know about the corners and will give some thought to that. Maybe adding a tapestry and a bookshelf would achieve my aim. The problem is that with it being a classroom you're limited in home many things you can add to the room. Thanks again. –  mark Dec 20 '12 at 9:30
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Partly, randomly filled bookcases are great for breaking up reflections! Do what you can that makes sense and there will be improvement. Cheers. –  bcworkz Dec 20 '12 at 21:18
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I have seen that Waldorf classrooms for elementary students often address this problem by draping fabrics along the ceiling and on the walls. It it is easy to clean by simply taking it down and running it through the washing machine.

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I fear this would look very poor aesthetically and I'm the type who always looks for a difficult solution. I actually love the look of cork and think in a classroom it would look great. If it were to succeed for the purpose of absorbing reverberation I'd be happy to make the investment. –  mark Dec 19 '12 at 9:40
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