In the field of construction, proper acoustic design is just as important as the foundation upon which the structure rests. For over sixty years, the team at Valcoustics Canada Ltd. has provided professional acoustical engineering consulting services to builders, developers, planners, architects, governments, the legal profession and many others.
The company’s team of experienced consulting engineers works closely with clients to provide noise and vibration management and control, architectural acoustics, environmental noise and vibration impact assessment, impact mitigation and more.
Valcoustics Canada was founded in about 1952-1954 as a sole proprietorship. The company was the brainchild of Professor George Henderson, who taught acoustics in both faculties of engineering and architecture at the esteemed University of Toronto. Over the years, many of his former architectural students approached him for assistance with the acoustics of their projects, which saw Henderson enter consulting as a sideline.
“He was a great teacher and a very practical and excellent engineer,” says Dr. Al Lightstone, president of Valcoustics Canada. “In 1968 or so, he incorporated a company for consulting. By then he was well known and regularly doing acoustical consulting to most of the local, major architectural firms and getting busier and busier.”
Lightstone was asked by Professor Henderson to assist on a number of projects, and the two got along very well. While still in graduate school, the professor asked Lightstone to join him full-time when he completed his studies, which he did, and he enjoyed working with both Henderson and others he met through him.
“At that time, the main focus was architectural acoustics with environmental acoustics being in its infancy,” says Lightstone. In time, Henderson took an early retirement from the university to have more time for consulting work, and additional staff were added.
The initial years of this privately-held, wholly-owned Canadian company were focused on architectural acoustics, such as the design of various kinds of buildings to optimize room acoustics in spaces like theatres, school auditoria, music rooms and broadcast studios. The company also developed sound isolation for corporate offices, boardrooms and studios and the noise control of mechanical equipment.
“There was little environmental acoustics work at that time, compared to today,” says Lightstone. Now a world-recognized leader in the acoustics field, Valcoustics actively promotes the necessity of professional acoustic design in numerous architectural and land use planning applications. The company works with overall design teams on new projects and provides ‘remedial services for ‘as-built’ situations.’
The skilled lineup of acoustics professionals at Valcoustics provides consulting engineering services to address noise, vibration and acoustics issues for clients with an enormous variety of needs. The company is dedicated to providing superior solutions to any acoustical challenge, and its talents are wide-ranging.
Valcoustics’ engineering team have a deep understanding of the science of acoustics. Aided by sophisticated software programs such as AutoCAD, Ease and CadnaA – the name of which is derived from computer assisted noise abatement – and strong client relationships, the team solves the acoustic issues of a range of clients.
Although the bulk of its work is in Ontario, Valcoustics continues to take on projects across the globe. The company serves the needs of all levels of government in Canada, municipal to federal; the Canadian Armed Forces; and agencies such as Metrolinx. Valcoustics also provides services to major contractors, various boards of education, utilities such as Enbridge, engineering companies, architects, law firms, hospitals and museums.
Large corporations and financial services companies such as Loblaws, Walmart, Tim Hortons, Home Depot, Redpath Sugars, Mondelez Canada, RBC, TD and BMO have also called upon Valcoustics for its professional services.
“As our world becomes increasingly mechanized, sound levels rise at an estimated one decibel per year,” says the company. “If left unchecked, this increase would eventually overwhelm our senses, deplete our standard of living and, in some cases, even impair our health.”
To mitigate these issues, Valcoustics provides sound and vibration design services for new construction and for retrofit projects in existing facilities. In new builds, Valcoustics is involved from the initial design phase to final commissioning and verification that all sound and vibration objectives have been met.
Although Valcoustics was founded over sixty years ago, many fundamentals of the technology have remained the same; however, building techniques and materials have changed.
“In some cases, a wider range of acoustical material is available,” says Lightstone, who became company president in 1981. “For example, architectural finishes with sound absorbing properties, commercially available sound barrier walls/fences and quieter versions of noisy mechanical equipment such as cooling towers.”
Modern building practices have also created new or additional acoustical challenges, such as the widespread use of full-window walls for the exterior envelope of high-rise apartments and condominiums or machine room-less elevator systems for high-rise residential buildings. In addition, changes to the building codes that now allow multi-family dwellings of up to six storeys using wood construction will add to the acoustic challenges.
“The recent intensification of development means people live and work closer to each other, making acoustical design in buildings, as well as environmental acoustics, more important,” he says. “When the practice started, environmental noise was not part of the lexicon. Now a major portion of our work relates to measurement and control of environmental noise and vibration. People’s sensitivity to noise has increased greatly, and municipal, provincial and federal governments have legislation to control environmental noise.”
In Ontario, where Valcoustics has its headquarters, the way in which large infrastructure projects –such as hospitals and government buildings – are implemented, has changed significantly with the introduction of public-private partnerships. This has made the process of proposals and submitting designs much more complex and time-consuming.
The ever-innovative company has worked on several unique projects that allow it the opportunity to develop innovative design solutions that are driven by the unusual acoustical requirements. One example of such a design project was a large, acoustic anechoic (reflection free) laboratory chamber created for the federal government. The chamber required extremely high isolation from external sound and ground vibration. In order to achieve a positive outcome, a large inner concrete structure was used that ‘floats’ on massive, custom-made spring isolators, within an outer concrete building.
“Because Ottawa is in an earthquake zone and a seismic event could cause the building to fly off its springs, a design for seismic restraints that would protect the building and would not short-circuit the isolation was worked out with the structural engineer,” says Lightstone.
Another challenging project for Valcoustics was a large casino expansion, which involved a 10,000-seat entertainment venue. The decision was made in advance that the area above the theatre would be comprised of banquet halls that could be used simultaneously for loud events such as weddings and live bands. Knowing that drastic measures were required to mitigate noise and vibration, Valcoustics designed a solution that involved the use of independent structures in supporting the second floor and the top of the theatre.
With the help of a structural engineer, a final design was created with two sets of independent, interleaved seven-metre trusses, one set for the floor above and another set for the ceiling of the theatre. “The building ended up with additional height of seven metres, about two storeys, of inaccessible space dedicated to structure and acoustics,” comments Lightstone. “It took a bit of convincing of the client to allow this, but it got built and works.”
Valcoustics recently received an innovation award from The Community iPerformance Awards for the development of its remote control sound and vibration monitoring instrumentation package which allows continuous control, monitoring and data collection from local and remote sites. The company was recently informed that it has been included in the PSMJ Resources’ 2015 Circle of Excellence which recognizes the top twenty percent of architectural and engineering firms across North America. The inclusion acknowledges companies that demonstrate outstanding achievement in management, productivity, staff growth, business development and other areas.
Valcoustics welcomes the opportunity to take on challenging projects and looks forward to the future of acoustic works. “We are very much client and quality oriented,” says Lightstone. “We like to form relationships with our clients based on competence, mutual trust and professional integrity. Valcoustics is in it for the long haul. As a result, we have been working for and with many of our clients for decades.”
Its diverse number of recent projects range from the Spadina subway expansion for the Toronto Transit Commission to the Public Library in Orillia, Ontario; numerous hospitals; datacentres; schools; industrial facilities and residential condominium works. Some of Valcoustics’ specific noise and vibration services include room acoustics design; sound isolation – acoustical privacy; sound and vibration measurements in buildings and in the environment; controlling the noise and vibration of mechanical and electrical equipment; investigation and remediation of noise and vibration complaints and proof of performance testing.
With the goal of adding value to every project it takes on, Valcoustics works to make the world a quieter, more pleasant place.