Room Acoustics How to make
your cry room both
comfortable and acoustically sound.
By Tim Bott
rooms—soundproof and comfortable—are indispensable for
many churches. For parents who want to attend a service, but must
care for their infants, escaping to a cry room during a short tantrum
helps calm down the child and allows the rest of the sanctuary to
continue a peaceful service. However, a sealed off room may not
be right for some congregations, as feelings of exile can surface
when a parent steps out of the spiritual community of a sanctuary.
Art Noxon of Acoustic Sciences Corp.,
who has consulted on many church cry spaces, has noticed this problem.
“I have seen plenty of churches with cry rooms, and they are
seldom used,” says Noxon. “There are more options for
families than a closed cry chamber.”
Noxon has recognized three basic designs that cater
to the needs of parents with young children, while promoting a peaceful
service for the congregation. All three designs handle the noise
of children to some degree, but they differ on how they approach
the needs of the parents, the children, and the church community
as a whole.
Direct vs. Indirect Sound
The acoustic goal of these three designs is to block as much direct
sound as possible and muffle as much indirect sound as possible.
Direct sound is the sound that goes in a straight line from the
sound source to the listener’s ear. Direct sound is a complete
signal, full of all the original harmonics and overtones. When an
infant cries out in a public space, nearly everyone hears the direct
sound, because little stands in between the voice of the infant
and the ears of the listener. Indirect sound, on the other hand,
is sound that does not follow a straight path to your ear, and is
instead reflected on surrounding surfaces. Indirect noise is much
more comfortable to listen to than direct noise.
“The acoustics of a cry space is all about moving the noise
of the children from the foreground (direct sound) to the background
(muted, indirect sound) of everyone’s mind,” says Noxon.
By blocking direct sound, the ear will locate the sound out of the
listener’s immediate vicinity. Reducing the strength and clarity
of indirect sound will remove the conscious distraction.
All three cry space designs control acoustics and are effective
at reducing or eliminating the public distraction caused by the
noise of upset children. Building or remodeling a cry space that
meets the needs of everyone in the fellowship will ensure that it
sees continued use.
option is ideal for parents who wish to leave their children under
supervision, but also want their children to have the option of
hearing the worship through a sound system. Along the sidewall of
a sanctuary, a complete daycare facility can be built, with windows
installed at a low enough height for parents to keep an eye on their
children while also participating in the service. A daycare facility
along the side of the sanctuary allows parents and children to share
in the church services from separate sides of the sanctuary wall.
Acoustic materials in this space are typically placed along the
walls and ceiling. The space should be about as soundproof as a
shared condominium wall, and also present no visual distraction
to the sanctuary.
The Traditional Cry Room—The
traditional cry room is built for parents to supervise and be with
their infants. It is acoustically more intimate, fully carpeted
and has abundant sound absorption. It has smaller dimensions, and
is typically located at the back of a sanctuary. The desired effect
here is for comfort and serenity, creating a warm feeling for infants
and toddlers to help ease the stress of both parent and child.
There are some drawbacks to this design. When a child becomes restless
or upset during any part of a service, there is a certain level
of embarrassment felt by the parents, and this emotion continues
as the parents take the child into a traditional cry room. While
total isolation may remove the distraction from the sanctuary, feelings
of exile and banishment make this design unattractive.
“I have seen numerous cry rooms remain empty while parents
either remain seated or try to remove their child completely from
the room,” says Noxon. “It is astounding to see cry
rooms empty while parents stay seated, with children who squirm
until they are taken out of the building. ”
The traditional cry room is a technically correct
solution; the soundproofing and acoustic characteristics perform
extremely well, and is easier and less expensive to adapt and staff
compared to a larger daycare facility. But because of the isolation
associated with this space of the space, the church may see this
style used less often or for shorter durations.
The Walk-in Cry Room—
This open cry space redefines the social context for a cry room.
The design has all of the same basic components as the closed cry
space, except there is no door. The walk-in cry room shares the
same air as the rest of the sanctuary. Not unlike many public restrooms,
the layout of the entryway requires a few turns to enter the space,
which breaks up the direct sound path. The walls of the entry are
treated with the same acoustics as the rest of the cry room, and
much of the indirect sound becomes attenuated and muffled. A loud
infant will still be heard in the sanctuary, but only as a distant,
muted presence that is not distracting to most people.
Not only does this design connect the two areas acoustically, but
also more importantly, it joins the two areas emotionally.
“A walk-in cry room takes away that discomfort and emotional
separation of the traditional cry room,” says Noxon. “Probably
the best thing the church building committee can do with a deserted
cry room is remodel it into an open, walk-in cry room.”
The basic ingredients of a soundproofing project include four different
areas says Noxon. “If you leave one out it is no longer a
soundproofing project. Here are the four components of a soundproofed
Sound lock— To enter a soundproof
room, a sound lock is employed, where people pass first through
one door into the sound lock, and then through a second door into
the cry room. All soundproof spaces have some form of sound isolation
that does not change when someone enters or exits the room.
wall surfaces should employ some method of soundproofing. Generally,
the inside wall, ceiling, windows and door surfaces are not rigidly
connected to the outside wall. In a soundproofed room, noise hitting
the inside surface materials is not conducted to the exterior surface
Interior acoustics—Once the
sound is contained in a room, it builds up due to reverberation.
The interior walls and ceiling surfaces need sound absorbent products
to minimize the buildup of reverberations. Without interior acoustics,
the soundproofing benefits are lost.
Sound baffles—Sound travels
freely through air ducts, electrical outlets, and suspended ceilings,
so baffles and other mechanisms should be used to keep sound from
exiting the room.
There are other common elements that need to be
considered. All of the windows should be laminated safety windows,
and the more rectangular the window dimensions, the better—tall
and narrow or short and wide. Double-paned thermal windows have
very poor acoustic properties, so they should be avoided for acoustic
spaces. Tinted, one-way, or privacy windows are recommended for
all three designs, to minimize visual distractions, and ensure privacy
for nursing mothers, etc. For the sound lock doors, sweep seals
should be used on all four edges of the doors to keep a good sound
seal that is also easy to open with a child in hand, and all child
care rooms should have an alternate exit to the foyer or outside.
The soundproofing materials for the walls and ceiling should be
capable of blocking the vibrations caused from the cries of children.
A wall system that both isolates and dampens is typically the most
“Isolation and dampening is like a car suspension with springs
and shock absorbers,” says Noxon. “Both are needed for
a comfortable ride.” Noxon adds that Acoustic Sciences Corp.
does provide soundproofing and acoustic packages for cry spaces.
The Iso-Wall Soundproofing System includes resilient channels for
isolation, and patented viscoelastic materials to dampen room noise.
“Rooms work best when the interior acoustics are voiced specifically
to the type of use the room will see,” says Noxon. Consultation
may be needed to determine the best placement of acoustic materials.
Noxon has voiced all parts of a church, and has an understanding
of how a cry room needs to be acoustically voiced.
“Acoustic absorption, like our ASC Sound Planks, are placed
differently in cry rooms, optimized for the frequency range of children.”
Although the placement of the acoustic products may be the most
involved part your soundproofing, installation of these products
is as easy as hanging a picture frame.
It is important for the building committees and concerned congregation
members to understand the subtle but critical differences between
these three styles of childcare spaces. The congregation will be
pleased to see and hear a solution built that best reflects the
personality, style, and social values of the church. The right type
of cry room or daycare space will ensure that every member of the
church, from infant to elderly, is supported and better able to
connect to the service.