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Letter to Contractors

Letter to contractors working on new church construction or renovations


In any church renovation or new construction project there are many details in the design which are very important to pay attention to. Many details are in place to ensure the acoustics of the facility are exactly what is needed. Because we can’t fix acoustical problems with electronics, our only option is to ensure the physical construction of the structure is done with good acoustics in mind.

You know your specific job better than anyone else involved in the project, and you may have done a number of projects similar to this one in the past. With that in mind, I merely wish to provide a few reminders and state a few requests that will help ensure a quality building for the church as well as provide fewer change orders for you.

There are many details on the prints for this building that you may have never seen before; there may be construction techniques you question because it seems expensive or overkill to do. Most likely, these are some of the things put in place to ensure a proper acoustical environment.

Acoustics for a church is something often forgotten. Basically, the acoustics of a church can be described like a violin. Everyone knows that it takes a great craftsman to design and build a great violin – and usually at a pretty special price, too! A violin is an intricate instrument – and so is a church sanctuary. Being in a church sanctuary is often described as “being inside a violin” or other instrument. Every little detail in the room counts toward making the room good or bad. This includes the shape of the room, the size of the room, the construction materials and methods, how walls, floors, and the ceiling are finished, plus all of the post-construction additions like pews and carpeting.

The church has hired the services of many great companies and people to provide them with the knowledge, talents, and physical labor required to build the church they’ll be worshipping in for many years to come. While your personal involvement, and the involvement of everyone else that works on this project is only over a very short period of time compared to the overall life of the building, this involvement is extremely important. You’re setting the foundation of this church for years to come.

I don’t need to give examples like making sure the concrete floor is done right the first time so it doesn’t have to be replaced in 10 years because of cracks and pieces shifting up or down! To ensure things like this don’t happen, you pay attention to the small details that can all add up and make or break the final outcome. You need to pay attention to how the rock and sand is leveled, you need to make sure the vapor barrier is of the right thickness, you need to make sure the concrete bag mix is in the correct proportions, and of course, you need to make sure it’s poured and handled correctly.

All of these steps that you’re familiar with are very much the same when it comes to the acoustical details put in place. Curved walls look nice, maybe the architect used them for aesthetic reasons – actually their primary function is acoustical. Using insulation at 50% compression in interior walls may seem like a waste of money, but once again, this is an acoustical issue. Using two layers of 5/8” drywall where a single layer of 1/2” would suffice isn’t so we can raise the cost of the project, it’s to ensure good acoustics. These are some of the larger details you probably won’t miss.

Then there are smaller details on the prints – things like sealing all openings, cracks, crevices and such with a caulk. This is an important step to seal out the sound from one room to another. Many contractors will use a typical silicone or similar sealant when an acoustical seal is asked for. USG actually makes an acoustical sealant. Its cost is very much the same as any other caulk ($3 or $4 for a large tube is typical), but what it does is much better than any other caulk. It remains flexible over a wide range of temperatures; it won’t pull apart, and is self healing; if it does pull away from itself. A test was done about 25 years ago with different types of caulk; other types dried up, shrunk, turned to powder or worse, while the USG acoustical sealant continues to last. It’s being aware that these details make a difference that matters most.

My request to you and to your fellow contractors working on this project is simple and straightforward. Please follow the prints in every detail shown and written. If something doesn’t make sense, seems it could be done an easier way, a cheaper way, or whatever – rather than using that method, just check with the GC and/or architect before you proceed. I’m confident there’s a wealth of knowledge contractors and workers have on the jobsite that even the best architects are not aware of. Things they know how to do even better than how the design on paper says it should be done. Sometimes these are very good tips and tricks, other times they result in a finished product not quite what the client had in mind. Based on that, if someone has a better way to do something in the field than what was drawn in the office, talk to the architect. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t do something a better way than originally designed if it doesn’t compromise any of the originally designed features (acoustical, mechanical, and even aesthetic!).

You know your trade well; you could probably teach me more in an hour than I know about your trade right now! Don’t misunderstand this letter as suggesting the church doesn’t have confidence or trust in your abilities – it’s really the opposite. They’re putting all of their trust and confidence in you that you will see this building project done correctly all of the way through.

You have a difficult job, and I’m sure it’s not easy to keep on schedule if questions arise and you need to make contacts and wait for answers. But again, since it’s even the smallest of details that make a big difference many times, we would all appreciate your attention to even these little things that seem insignificant or unimportant.

Thanks for your time in reading this letter and passing it on to anyone involved in the project that should have a copy.

A concerned Church Audio & Acoustics Consultant

-Blake Engel,
All Church Sound