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Focus on Acoustics: Keeping Bowling Alley Noise in the Gutter

Related: Seven Steps of Tech Design Success / Modern Building Design Demands Partnership between Tech Designers and Architects / Reconciling Architecture and Acoustics in the LEED Era

Modern bowling alleys have transitioned from the stale, smoky lounges of decades past to family entertainment centers that offer a variety of activities.  Frequently, bowling alleys are now part of larger buildings such as shopping malls and even mixed-use developments that include residences.  This shift has brought with it a host of noise and vibration concerns for both bowling alley owners and their neighbors.

In a bowling alley there are two different types of noise that must be considered: steady-state noise and impulsive noise.  The sound system, used for typical background music and announcements, and also for louder, popular rock ‘n bowl events, is the primary source of steady-state noise.  Impulsive noise results from the crack of the bowling ball striking the lanes and the pins. bowling alley with green chairs

The transmission of both types of noise to adjacent spaces can be reduced through the use of standard construction methods.  However, in bowling alleys the impulsive noise is typically much louder than the steady-state noise.  Additionally, a sudden, impulsive noise seems louder to most people than a steady-state noise even when the two are actually the same volume.  These two factors combine to make it more difficult to effectively reduce the transmission of the impulsive noises from bowling alleys.  This results in much more substantial construction and planning than would be required to reduce the steady-state noise transmission from the sound system alone.

To help mitigate both types of noise, special floor-ceiling and wall constructions must be used to reduce the noise transmission.  These constructions can include massive structural slabs with resiliently hung finish ceilings and double wall constructions.  The noise produced by the sound system can be of particular concern if retail spaces or residences are located above the bowling alley in a multistory building.  In these cases, the loudspeakers should be located below the finished ceiling to minimize their impact on the spaces above.

In addition to the noise concerns, vibration produced by the bowling ball striking the lane and by the equipment setting up the pins for the next frame can also be transmitted to adjacent spaces.  Using a floating floor system is typically the best way to reduce this problem.  This system should consist of a neoprene or foam isolation system placed on the existing slab or grade that is then topped with the ‘floating’ finish slab to support the interior structure.  The floating finish slab is then effectively isolated from the rest of the building, reducing the impact of vibration on other parts of the building.  This system is only necessary under the area where the bowling lanes are located.  Standard slab construction can be used underneath other portions of the bowling alley such as the seating areas, the bar, or the kitchen.

By following these design and construction practices, noise and vibration transmission from bowling alleys can be effectively controlled and allows the facility to be integrated in larger developments without annoying the neighbors.

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