Professional Sound - October 2017 - Page 9

INPUT House of Worship Design: Higher Ceilings, Higher Efficiency By Joseph De Buglio C hurches these days are building lower and lower. I guess when so many churches have experienced only poor quality acoustics, many wonder what the point of building a taller worship space might be. As it turns out, a lot of churches are getting their acoustics fixed, sounding better today than they ever have before. When a church builds a low ceiling, it limits congregational singing and makes you more dependant on technology. But guess what. The same things that limit congregational singing are what also limit the performance of all sound systems. So, instead of getting 100 per cent out of your high-quality, expensive sound system, you’re getting only 40 to 60 per cent of the system’s true performance abilities. It is actually cheaper to build higher than the added cost of audio technology to compensate. The chart below should clear the air as to the minimum height your next church should be. Also, a taller worship space does not mean you’re stuck with longer reverb times. A higher ceiling means natural room reverberation is adjustable and tuneable. With a taller ceiling, you can change the frequency response of the whole room independent of a sound system or equalizer. Note: This data is based on 2,800 churches from North America, Europe, the Philippines, and Central America.  Church height is important for a worship space. One of the biggest parts of worship is singing – congregational singing, to be specific. When singing as a group, several elements are required for a good and healthy worship experience. There is chorusing, harmony, the volume of the singing, and being able to hear yourself and the people around you. When all of these elements are in balance, the worship experience is like no other. People get a lot of satisfaction from the singing experience in rooms that have ceiling heights that match the size of the seating capacity of the worship space. The chart shows minimum heights. If you want to build higher you can, as the singing experience gets even better though the improvement is subtler. In countries with freedom of religion laws, the worship space portion of a church building has no roof height limits, regardless of local city building height restrictions. High ceilings allow better and less expensive sound systems to be used. Higher ceilings permit better gain before feedback and make it easier to isolate drums and floor monitors. The performance of the sound system is also much better when this is coupled with a good quality acoustical management system. There are economic advantages, too. The higher the ceiling, the cheaper it is to heat and cool when using a vertical displacement HVAC system, which is specifically designed for large gathering spaces. Such systems use smaller HVAC components, cost less to install, and about 30 to 40 per cent less to operate. In addition, the cooling systems last two to three times longer. Another thing to consider: if building new, don’t build a flat ceiling that is parallel to the floor. Many churches that are moving into commer- cial buildings are learning the hard way that flat ceilings limit the quality of live musical performances and congregational singing. Sure, with the right acoustical panels, you can improve the room for amplified sound for a static congregation, but a vibrant and interactive audience will be very limited. There is little that can help congregational singing even if you have the height. Vertical standing waves are harder to manage than horizontal ones. If you know what you are doing, horizontal standing waves can be controlled to create an outstanding room. It is part of the formula for the almost perfect worship space. Funny, concert musicians that perform in a church that I have fixed often make comments like, “I wish our concert hall sound- ed and performed as well.” That is almost like saying, “Concert halls make for lousy worship spaces but worship spaces can perform as concert halls.” This piece was originally published on Joe De Buglio’s Church Sound & Acoustics Blog, found at Joseph De Buglio is an acoustician and the owner of JdB Sound Acoustics, which has been working exclusively with the church community in solving acoustical and sound system problems since 1981. In that time, hundreds of churches have had their acoustical problems fixed, expanding the performance of their sound systems at the same time. For more information, visit PROFESSIONAL SOUND 9 PROFESSIONAL SOUND 9