Sustainability and Acoustics for the Built Environment

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Nowadays, we are all becoming more and more concerned about how our activities and behaviours impact our planet. Building projects are amongst the activities which are subject to increasing scrutiny and more stringent measures and controls, as a result of the ever-increasing importance of environmental protection and sustainability.

When considering sustainable development, matters such as energy efficiency and minimising carbon emissions are routinely considered and addressed. However, these days more and more, wider effects and influences are being considered, the influence of acoustics being one of them. This should come as no surprise, because not only is a space that is acoustically well designed and constructed likely to improve the comfort level for its occupants and those nearby but also because the presence of noise can, in some circumstances, be an indicator that energy is being wasted.

To incorporate the consideration of the acoustic properties of materials into any development project requires a source of reliable and accurate information on the properties of those materials. There are various design/procurement schemes that compete in this field. In this article, we are going to briefly discuss the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM).


The Building Research Establishment (BRE) launched its Environmental Assessment Method in 1990. On its website, the BRE describes BREAAM as:

“The world’s leading sustainability assessment method for master planning projects, infrastructure and buildings. It recognises and reflects the value in higher performing assets across the built environment lifecycle, from new construction to in-use and refurbishment”.

It also claims that it “helps clients manage and mitigate risk through demonstrating sustainability performance during planning, design, construction, operation or refurbishment, helping to lower running costs, maximise returns through market value and attract and retain tenants with desirable places to live and work”.

By providing a system of credits and ratings ranging from ‘Acceptable’ through to ‘Outstanding’, which are reflected in the number of stars on the BREEAM certificate, the scheme facilitates comparison of the performance of different projects against the relevant standards and benchmarks and gives some reassurance to customers and users.

BREEAM and Acoustics

Within the BREEAM rating scheme, acoustics is dealt with in the category of Health and Wellbeing. BREEAM will award credits when a building meets the required acoustic performance standards, or, in some instances, where a Suitably Qualified Acoustician (SQA) defines bespoke performance requirements which are subsequently met. The requirements may vary depending on the specific building type for example; schools, hospitals, offices, courts, shops, and residential care homes.

The standards and requirements are defined in detail in the current BREEAM technical manuals. The credits relating to acoustics are defined in ‘Hea 05’, which considers the acoustic performance in relation to the internal environment of a building, and ‘Pol 05’, which requires an assessment of noise from external building services, systems or mechanical equipment to nearby noise-sensitive properties.

As an example, in relation to an office building, three BREEAM credits are available as per the information in the following table (taken from Table 21 in  Hea 05).

Pol 05 is concerned with mitigating noise pollution and considers the noise impact of the building with the aim of ensuring that a building’s acoustic performance meets the appropriate standards for its purpose. One BREEAM credit is available under Pol 05. The credit is awarded if:

  • there are no noise-sensitive areas within the assessed building or within an 800-metre radius of the assessed site; or
  • where there are noise-sensitive areas within the assessed building or noise-sensitive areas within an 800-metre radius of the assessed site, a noise impact assessment compliant with BS 4142:20141is commissioned.

Suitably Qualified Acoustician (SQA)

In some instances, a Suitably Qualified Acoustician may be appointed to consider the acoustic performance, and this may provide an alternative route to certification. According to BREEAM’s definition,  an acoustician is ‘suitably qualified’ for the purposes of a BREEAM assessment if they; hold a university/higher education qualification or equivalent qualification in acoustics and also have a minimum of three years relevant experience (within the last five years) that demonstrates a practical understanding of factors affecting acoustics in relation to construction and the built environment.

Finch Consulting, Acoustics and BREEAM

BREEAM has devised a successful model where impartial experts in their fields work with qualified and licensed BREEAM assessors to offer sustainable solutions for the built environment.

At Finch Consulting, our senior consultant Teli Chinelis achieves BREEAM’s definition of a suitably qualified acoustician (SQA), having a degree in Audio Technology, a post-graduate diploma in Audio Acoustics, many years of relevant experience and is a corporate member of the Institute of Acoustics and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (Finch Consulting is also a sponsoring organisation of the Institute of Acoustics). For any more information please contact [email protected].

Our wealth of expertise and professional attitude can provide valuable assistance to meet your sustainability needs.

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