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Other Voices, Other Rooms
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 October 2006 Spotlight

Other Voices, Other Rooms

Our world gets noisier every day. Everything from freight trains to computers to cell phones contributes to the cacophony. Fortunately Alf Warnock and his fellow ASTM members on Subcommittee E33.03 on Sound Transmission are on the case. While they can’t simply “stop all that racket,” the standards that the subcommittee has developed have been instrumental in the effort to contain sound as much as possible.
Warnock, who was born in Glasgow, Scotland, but has lived in Canada since 1967, recently retired after 35 years as a research scientist in the building acoustics section of the National Research Council. He joined ASTM Committee E33 on Environmental Acoustics a few years after starting at NRC. While there, Warnock researched airborne sound going through walls and floors, impact sound going through floors, work in open offices, and sound absorption measurements.

Multi-instrumentalist Warnock, shown here with banjo, poses with Jade, one of the folk music groups in which he plays.

Warnock’s NRC work naturally lent itself to Committee E33’s standards developing activities. While Warnock has been involved in work on nearly all standards, he considers E 90, Test Method for Laboratory Measurement of Airborne Sound Transmission Loss of Building Partitions and Elements, to be the most important. “It tells you how to measure sound transmission through walls and windows and doors,” says Warnock. “We’re continually working on that one.”

Other standards that Warnock has contributed to either directly or through his research include C 423, Test Method for Sound Absorption and Sound Absorption Coefficients by the Reverberation Room Method; E 492, Test Method for Laboratory Measurement of Impact Sound Transmission Through Floor-Ceiling Assemblies Using the Tapping Machine; and E 2179, Test Method for Laboratory Measurement of the Effectiveness of Floor Coverings in Reducing Impact Sound Transmission Through Concrete Floors.

Warnock notes that the effects of powerful modern sound systems and low frequency sounds employed in contemporary music offer challenges to sound transmission researchers since these factors are not addressed well in the sound frequency ratings adopted by various building codes. “It’s a problem coming up with a rating system that deals with modern music,” says Warnock. “It’s not that easy to do because low frequencies are much harder to measure.”

In addition to music and sound systems, Warnock notes that impact noise continues to present challenges to those studying sound transmission. “As people start to move into expensive condominiums, they want no noise intrusion at all, they don’t want to hear the neighbors walking around. But the test that’s been used worldwide for decades isn’t good for evaluating lightweight joist construction. You get a lot of low frequency sound and the rating system just ignores it. There’s a big problem there that still has to be solved.”

When Alf Warnock is not busy studying sound, he is making it, as a member of several different folk music groups in Ottawa. Though he started out playing rock’n’roll, Warnock has played folk music on banjo, fiddle, mandolin and guitar for most of his adult life. Currently, Warnock is a member of Jade, a quartet that plays Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton and Canadian music; the Ottawa Ceili Band; and the Ottawa Fiddle Ensemble, an 18-member group that released a CD, Waters of Northumberland, in 2005. Warnock says he can be found three to four nights a week playing weddings, parties, and dances.

An ASTM 1993 Award of Merit recipient, Warnock has chaired Subcommittee E33.03 for over 25 years. He also acted as chair of the entire E33 committee for six years. Though he’s now retired from NRC, Warnock plans to continue his ASTM activities.

“I hold ASTM up as a model for the way things ought to be done,” says Warnock. “It has a great process in which everybody gets their say. Even if one person is voting negatively he gets listened to and people can accept or reject what he’s saying. There are not many places you can do that sort of thing. We fight like cats and dogs sometimes in the meetings but then go out to dinner afterwards and there’s no rancor at all. It’s a great organization and though I’m retired I’m not quitting ASTM.”

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