Fogo Island Inn is an unparalleled contemporary inn located on the northeast coast of Newfoundland. The inn was designed and built as a luxury hotel, with guests’ comfort being one of its primary design objectives. This article is a description of Fogo Island Inn’s acoustic comfort design features.
What is Acoustic Comfort?
The term “acoustic comfort” does not appear in standard acoustics textbooks (for example, in [References 1, 2, 3]). However, a research paper sponsored by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) does attempt to define and quantify it . The paper defines acoustic comfort as follows:
The comfort provided by a housing unit is characterized by:
- isolation from exterior noise,
- isolation from noise produced by human activity inside neighbouring units,
- isolation from mechanical noise.
Another research paper also addresses acoustic comfort, quantifying it statistically as a function of sound transmission loss between adjacent occupancies in multi-residential buildings .
Both references  and  characterize acoustic comfort as the absence of unwanted sound (noise) and quantify it in terms of sound isolation from neighbors, and also specify maximum level of background noise produced by mechanical systems. In this article I will present a discussion of successful effort to maximize acoustic comfort within the Fogo Island Inn..
Favourable site selection is key to successful noise control in buildings . In this regard, Fogo Island Inn virtually cornered the world. The hotel is located in a remote location on Fogo Island, away from urban noise, traffic, or airplane overflights. Only sounds heard at this location are those of nature, ocean surf, rain, and wind.
The site is acoustically ideal, as it is located literally near one of the corners of the world.
The local road and the guest parking are located about 500 m from the Inn. Access to the Inn is by a short scenic walk over a driveway by foot or by an Inn vehicle . This parking location respects the Inn’s neighbouring community, lessens the environmental impact on the surrounding area and virtually eliminates traffic noise at Fogo Island Inn.
Windows are an important component of any building in terms of acoustics, as they usually constitute the acoustically weakest part of a building envelope . Even though there is no traffic noise to deal with, the windows that were selected for Fogo Island Inn building are triple-glazed, primarily for reasons of thermal efficiency. Triple-glazed windows also provide good sound attenuation performance reducing the sound of ocean surf and wind inside guest suites (should this be desired). Windows in each guest suite can be opened to admit fresh coastal air, as well as soothing natural sounds.
Sound Isolation Inside the Building
An acoustically important function of walls, from the guest’s perspective, is to block sounds from adjacent suites and common areas. The walls dividing suites at Fogo Island Inn feature double construction with two layers of drywall on each face, which provides excellent sound-blocking property . These walls span from the floor all the way to the underside of the concrete ceiling deck above, and they are carefully constructed and caulked around perimeter to eliminate sound leaks.
Often, electrical boxes are installed in the walls of adjoining suites which create openings that weaken the acoustic insulation of walls. To mitigate this problem, all electrical boxes in Fogo Island Inn are encased in fire proofing putty which also serves to reduce sound transfer. In locations where electrical boxes were installed back-to back on shared wall (sometimes an unavoidable feature of interior design), mass loaded vinyl sheets were installed behind the boxes inside the walls, in order to mitigate the problem .
The floor/ceiling structure in any building is notoriously susceptible to transmission of impact noise. To address this problem Fogo Island Inn’s floor/ceiling structure has the following features:
- There is a large space above the drop ceiling, between the drop ceiling and the underside of the concrete ceiling deck above, which reduces noise transmission.
- The underside of the concrete ceiling deck above the drop ceiling is lined with 3.5 inches of rock wool insulation. This helps to dampen sound transmission between floors.
- All sub-floors are floating, installed over resilient foam mat which dampens the sound of footsteps. All layers of flooring are separate in each guest suite and do not connect to adjacent suites. This separation helps to minimize transfer of both airborne and impact noise .
Doors to guest suites must eliminate noise from hallways. Fogo Island Inn suites have heavy, solid wood doors with complete acoustic seal around the perimeter as well as automatic door sweep .
The heating and air-conditioning system in any building has the potential to degrade the acoustic comfort of spaces inside a building. There are several sources of noise in HVAC systems:
- Mechanical room
The physical separation of the mechanical room that contains noisy equipment is an important element of noise control in any building . The floor plan of Fogo Island Inn was designed with this consideration in mind.
- The A/C unit, as well wood boiler, laundry facilities and emergency electrical generator are all located in a separate building (outbuilding), away from guest suites.
- The kitchen is located in a part of the building that is not in proximity of guests suites.
- One of the mechanical room in the basement is located beneath the kitchen to ensure it is far from guest suites. The second mechanical room is unavoidably located beneath four of the guest suites, so it is soundproofed by means of a drop ceiling suspended by springs which eliminate the transfer of noise of mechanical equipment .
Fogo Island Inn is heated entirely by in-floor radiant heat. It also has central ventilation system that controls humidity during heating season and both temperature and humidity during air-conditioning season. Since rapid air movement creates noise, the Fogo Island Inn ventilation system is designed for low air velocity which minimizes noise .
The supply and return air ducts connecting guest suites to the main air distribution ducts are equipped with silencers. These prevent noise propagation through the ductwork .
Plumbing noise can be reduced primarily by careful installation. At Fogo Island Inn all water pipes and drain pipes are insulated for both thermal efficiency and acoustic reasons. As well, all pipes are secured to structural components with elastic mounts .
Since the building has a flat roof and rain water is collected in a basement cistern for re-use, there are rain water leaders located within the building structure. These were carefully placed away from guest spaces. In the few locations where physical separation was not possible, the pipes are run through sound attenuating enclosures.
Public address audio-system and sound-masking
Sound-masking is a method of introducing specially engineered low level noise into a room making undesirable noises less noticeable. Sound-masking is most often used in open space offices in order to increase speech privacy of work stations.
Generally, audio system and sound-masking are not incorporated in acoustic comfort [4, 5]. However, at least one magazine article links these systems to acoustic comfort . The Inn uses a public address system that can make announcements in specific parts of the building, thus minimizing the disturbance experienced by occupants of other parts of the building. Fogo Island Inn also includes sound-masking in common areas, as well as in guest suites. Each guest suite has user controls to adjust (or turn off) the level of masking sound to suit the individual guest’s preferences.
Reverberation is the sound that is the result of multiple reflections of the original sound wave from walls, ceiling and floor. This sound can persists for several seconds after the original sound has stopped. The persisting sound results in increase of overall noise level in the room and in some cases impairing speech communication within the room . Adequate sound reverberation control is generally not considered a component of acoustic comfort [4, 5], but in my opinion it should not be overlooked. Many, if not most public spaces in today’s North American architecture have inadequate sound absorption resulting in unpleasantly noisy environments.
Fogo Island Inn’s interior is almost completely finished with hand assembled wood cladding. This type of material absorbs some sound, particularly at lower frequencies . Therefore, reverberation is well controlled in common areas, with the exception of the large art gallery space; the gallery space is used for staging of art exhibits, so the reverberant sound contributes to ambience of the exhibition.
Fogo Island Inn has achieved the ultimate in acoustic comfort by following good design practices that are unfortunately often overlooked by many architects and builders. Those interested in improving acoustic comfort in their spaces may wish to take note of these design features.
ABOUT FOGO ISLAND INN
Fogo Island Inn sits on an Island, off an Island, at one of the four corners of the Earth. Every one of the Inn’s 29 one-of-a-kind guest suites has dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows that open onto the wildest and most powerful ocean on the planet, located less than 100 feet from an organic natural-fibre dream bed. Most suites have a wood-burning fireplace stove; all are furnished with quiet luxuries and handmade furniture and quilts - a stimulating relief from the numbing uniformity of modern times. Built on the principles of sustainability and respect for nature and culture, the award-winning Inn was designed by architect Todd Saunders. The Inn is a community asset and all surpluses from the operation are reinvested in the community to help secure a long-lasting resilience for Fogo Island, Newfoundland.
More information on Fogo Island Inn can be found at the Inn's website
 Master Handbook of Acoustics, Sixth Edition (2015) by Everest & Pohlmann (McGraw Hill Education)
 Noise Control Manual for Residential Buildings (1997) by David A. Harris (McGraw Hill)
 Architectural Acoustics Illustrated (2015) by Michael Ermann (Wiley)
 CMHC publication: Qualification of the Degree of Acoustic Comfort Provided by Multi-Family Buildings - Phase II
 Inter-Noise 2010 conference paper: Thermal and Acoustic Comfort in Buildings
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 Constructor Magazine, article “Acoustic Comfort in Green Buildings”
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