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Chapel Acoustics

Hello colleagues!  We are in the process of building a new chapel.  It will be a traditional rectangular shape with vaulted ceilings and a choir loft in the back.  The choir loft will have wood flooring.  I am being asked if it is OK to have carpet in the pew area with the aisles and sanctuary tiled (stone).  Your experienced feedback would be appreciated.  Thank you!  Anne
Replies (8): Threaded | Chronological
on June 3, 2014 7:57am
This always baffles me. Not sure why someone would want to put carpet where people's potentially dirty/wet shoes will be for the majority of the time. Anything but carpet would be so much easier to clean - and keep in good repair! Sounds like someone is just trying to keep the stone tile cost down by not tiling the entire floor.
I would strongly advise against the carpet - acoustically and otherwise. And billing your protestation as "Carpet is hard to maintain, harder to clean, needs to be replaced etc." might be one alternate way to "skin the cat."
Carpet offers no reverberation whatsoever. Terrible for acoustics. Yes, there will be several equally sound-absorbing/non-reverberent human bodies in those pews - but not all - and not always. Any surface that can be acoustically treated to serve the needs of the music and the space should be treated! Carpet is not an acoustical treatment, but a detriment.
When in doubt, find an acoustician and get his or her professional opinion.
Best of luck.
on June 3, 2014 11:52pm
I'll stick to one topic for this post:
Carpet under the pews or padded seats may actually improve the stability of the acoustic signature of the space - empty or full, the area represented by the seating plane could amount to about four-and-a-half Sabins every lateral 18" between the aisles.  It will also present less foot-shuffling as a competing noise. 
Now carpet on the platform or altar area much less in the choir loft...
Don't get me started...!
Gene Lysinger
on June 4, 2014 8:53am
Hi Gene,  Thanks for your input.  Can you share with me your credentials and experience in acoustics?  So you think carpeting in just the pew area would still allow the voices to ring?  Right now, we are in an aweful space where no one feels like singing because they feel like the lone voice in the wilderness.  They might be John the Baptists in other areas of life, but not in singing!
on June 4, 2014 11:33am
Since 1986 I have been doing acoustic design and implementation in connection with my work as a sound system designer, as well as a manufacturer of custom loudspeaker solutions for hard-to-fit acoustic and logistical spaces.
I have a couple of recording stuios under my belt, as well as some novel choir loft applications of diffusion to enable singers and other musicians to hear each other better, and the listener to perceive a better "mix" of live, un-amplified sound.
Send me an e-mail at: meljr-la(a), and I can e-mail a couple of the jobs on which I worked to make a choir loft work...
All that is in aid of paying bills so I can do the choral work I want to...  :-)
Gene Lysinger
on June 5, 2014 4:51am
Agree with the person who advised the dirty shoes, wear and tear, etc.  Our church is over 300 years old.  Under the pews is wood - modern translation would be laminate. Haven't replaced it in 300 years.  Carpet.. . . seriously consider replacement costs.  You didn't say which state you lived in but particularly with ice-melt, etc. . . penny wise - pound foolish.
on June 5, 2014 6:59am
I have dealt with acoustical issues my entire musical career. Recently, a local performing arts center (small) hired an acoustician to guide them in the building process. I was called in for an 'opinion'...of which I said: 'Make the space as reverberant as possible...when people enter the space, their bodies/clothing will soften the sound...and, if it's too reverberant, there are easy ways to soften it.' Well...they followed the advice of the professional, who sold them on some 'material' to control the sound. The space is terrible...dead, dead, DEAD! advice is as stated above. Go with hard surfaces which are easier to maintain and provide the most reverb. You can easily 'soften' the reverb if it is too much, which is doubtful!
Michael Main, artistic director
The Arts Chorale of Winchester
on June 6, 2014 8:40am

Dear Anne,

The question of carpeting can't be taken in isolation.  More would have to be known about the surface materials of the walls and ceiling.  Some thought also needs to be given to the focus of the church.  Is there more interest in spoken word or music.


In an ideal world the decision whether to add carpeting would be made after the main construction is finished.   My home church, House of Hope in St. Paul is a beautiful gothic building with a very high roof and stone walls. We have no carpeting, yet the general consensus is that a bit more reverberation would be preferred. The floor is hard tile in the aisles and some form of composite wood under the pews. The church has a very good music program and a wonderful Fisk organ. 


Of all the churches I've worked in, I'd have to say that more often than not we'd rather there was less carpeting than more.  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.


Preston Smith

on June 7, 2014 6:28am
Too many «architects» have never experienced a fine acoustic, likewise too many Building Committees who allow themselves to be sold a Bill of Goods by those who profit from pushing all sorts of costly and horrendous «acoustical treatments» and ear-destroying artificial voice-amplification.
A properly designed building will have every possible interior surface made as SOLID and reflective as possible.  Deadening is simple and cheap, but a dead room will always be dead, unintelliglble, and ugly.  
Amortized over the lifetime of a building, the possible but often non-existent extra cost of a good acoustic pales into insignificance, and in the meantime generations of the building's patrons will enjoy beautiful, clearly-intelligible, NATURAL sound.   What more could you hope for?   The ONLY «good» thing about carpet is that it's easy to rip up and use to smother the knotweed forest behind the parking lot!  BTW, with attractive, sturdy and economically mass-produced church CHAIRS now available you should FORGET anachronistic «pews». 
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