Q&A with Oscar Acoustics
MD Ben Hancock speaks with magazine - August issue 2020
What's the story behind Oscar Acoustics?
We’re a family business set up 42 years ago by my father John Hancock. For over twenty years we’ve been providing architectural acoustic finishes for many types of buildings including offices, schools, restaurants and homes.
We’re passionate about our commitment to the environment and to wellbeing. Our range of acoustic decorative finishes enable designers to create beautiful, calm spaces that sound as good as they look.
What's been the biggest highlight throughout Oscar Acoustic's lifetime?
While it’s a buzz to land a big job, nothing quite beats the satisfaction of inventing and launching your own innovation. We’re lucky enough to have launched some real ground breakers over the years; some we have kept and some we have sold the patents on.
With Oscar originally being an engineering company, designing and inventing has always been in its DNA. This has become our USP over the years. If there is a problem where others can’t overcome it, we take great pleasure in designing a solution.
What is Oscar Acoustic's most notable project?
That has to be Warner Bros film studios and the Harry Potter Studio Tour at Leavesden. The Harry Potter part was intended to be a temporary thing until ‘the whole Harry Potter thing died down’ as one contractor once put it. This was over 10 years ago now and the continued popularity of it has pushed them to extend it twice, the last being a doubling in its size.
By the end of 2020, we will have sprayed 21 studios for Warner Bros. When I say studios, I mean giant hangers totalling way over 100,000m2 of SonaSpray K-13 in black.
What is Oscar Acoustics most challenging project?
There’s Oscar Elite acoustic plaster in the stunning five star Four Seasons Hotel in Trinity Square London designed by Awkette. This was a challenging project as we were having to make a product with a fairly ridged baseboard and create some truly incredible shapes. We were having to mosaic it to the GRG shapes as they were curving in every direction possible. Fortunately, the advantage we have over other smooth acoustic plasters is that we can sand the final coat. When you trowel shapes like this, it is impossible not to have imperfections and trowel marks. Rather than that being the limit of the finish we were able to achieve, we were able to hand-sand to absolute perfection. The result was extremely satisfying!
What's the most frequently asked question you receive from architects and building specifiers?
I have been told I need a Class A absorber; What class is SonaSpray?
SonaSpray is any class you need it to be as we adjust acoustic performance by increasing and decreasing the material depth to suit the acoustic requirement and budget. Mostly when a Class A absorber is requested, it is not needed due to several factors. Sometimes they have been told to apply a Class A to 80% of the soffit. In applying the SonaSpray to 100% of the soffit, it not only looks better but it reduces to the material depth required to the equivalent of a Class B or C. As our test data is worst-case onto a concrete slab, the actual substrate can also have a huge impact. If spraying onto a flat hollow rib deck, you are gaining a huge amount of material depth over the ribs which increase low-frequency performance and thus the Class.
Likewise, if you are spraying onto something like a D60 profile steel sheet, the surface area is increased. Not only this but on the diagonal slopes of the profile, the material is a lot deeper when the sound is hitting it vertically. This means that we can dramatically reduce the material depth to save a huge amount of time and material which allows us to make the system even more economical for the client.
A happy client usually becomes a regular client.
In which area of acoustics do you find building specifiers and architects need to improve?
The correct detailing of acoustic products is key to a great looking, long-lasting project. Because acoustic products are comparatively new and very different from conventional plasters, it is easy to get the detailing wrong if not consulting with a very experienced installation company.
Our decades of specialising in spray-applied architectural acoustic finishes enable us to give sound advice on such matters. Did you know that 95% of flangeless downlighters are not suitable for a long-lasting finish in acoustic sprays and plasters? It seems that many acoustic product installers are unaware of this too. We have developed a detailing of acoustic products presentation to help along with a contractor pre-start checklist to help avoid problems.
Do you believe there's enough emphasis on acoustically sound spaces within today's building industry?
No, not yet, unfortunately. I see a lot of new office photos where tiled ceilings have been removed in favour of nice high ceilings and exposed services yet with absolutely no acoustic treatment.
High noise levels are a huge problem and they can damage people’s health in ways far beyond hearing loss. The Chief Medical Officer in England says it is second only to air pollution in damaging heath, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) highlights issues such as tinnitus, sleep disturbance, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, adverse birth outcomes and cognitive impairment in children. I think we’re on the edge of something big here. There’s a real lack of knowledge among employers, putting their employees’ health at risk.
Do you believe there's enough acoustic training readily available to architects and specifiers?
There are plenty of general acoustics overview presentations available by manufacturers if you don’t need them to be RIBA approved; I just don’t think they are promoted enough, unfortunately.
We have our own RIBA approved CPD along with a comprehensive do and don’t’s the presentation with correct detailing practice included. When architects see this practical advice they find it helpful as it’s so practical.
Have you witnessed higher demand for healthier buildings with optimum acoustics following the pandemic?
Many of the buildings we are currently working on have been in the design process for some time so it may take a little time for changes to filter through. With the WELL Building Standard becoming ever more popular, office spaces are becoming healthier places anyway. I suspect WELL may introduce some COVID related tweaks.
The great thing about the spray-applied finishes is that you can spray entire buildings either during the Cat A build or the early part of the Cat B build before services go up.
This gives the end-user complete flexibility around the layout. If they find they need to change it due to COVID or any other reason, they can do this without affecting the acoustic spray above it; something that traditional acoustic products make very difficult and expensive.
How do you feel acoustic products will evolve in the future?
The health of our planet and buildings are both high on the agenda. Products will have to be environmentally responsible. There is also a big push towards low VOC emitting materials to increase the health of building occupants. We spotted these trends some years ago, we already have everything in place to take advantage of this. We’ve got products made from recycled materials, all achieving M1 certification (amongst many others) for low emitting building materials.
Fire performance should also be high on the agenda. When specifying a product, ALWAYS ask for a copy of the full test report and don’t rely on a website claim or a single page certificate.
What can we expect to see from Oscar Acoustics in the next few years?
This year, we’ve doubled in size to meet demand, and we’re building a purpose-built training facility, the ‘SonaSpray Training Academy’.
By the end of 2023, our target is 400% growth on the acoustic spray side which we feel is ambitious yet achievable. We’ve also globally ambitious and we’re gearing up to export the innovative Oscar Iso-Mount soundproof ceiling system. Watch this space!