Why school acoustics are so vital, worries over zero-carbon homes, and cynicism about the house price recovery

Kevin McCloud backs call to improve school acoustics

Hear hear! (Sorry, couldn't resist it!) Seriously, this is an important issue, not just for hard-of-hearing pupils, but for all who care about the effectiveness of that critical period in our lives from aged 5 to 18. A lack of attention span is often cited as a major contributor to non-participation, which itself, in my view, is the greatest injustice we can hand down to our progeny.

Kids should never grow up to regret what they could have done if only... And while popular culture is often blamed for short attention spans, it certainly doesn't help to have a learning environment where the teacher's voice is reduced to a reverberant drone. It's not just the bright images of the TV that makes the 'live' message less attractive, it's also the crystal clear speech intelligibility coming out of our sets that sets the bar for our classrooms.

Yes, of course, we all remember concrete-walled classrooms (at least if you went to a provincial comprehensive built in the 70s, as I did) and perhaps wonder "What's the issue?" But I've also been to lectures in converted townhouses, hard rendered shells and over-long meeting rooms with poor FCUs and in each case the mental effort required to lift the words out of the acoustics filches from the mental capacity we brought in order to lift the meaning out of the words and the wisdom out of the meaning.

It IS entirely possible to get room acoustics for classrooms right by luck rather than judgement, by default rather than by design. But it is also possible to screw it up badly, in ways that are rarely fixable later. BB93 is meant to apply the pressure to avoid the latter, so often a review is all that is needed to avoid the worst offences. Please don't let BB93 blunt its teeth on the stale bread of poor architecture.
Paul Malpas

Acoustic testing upon completion is not the only issue affecting the deaf and hard of hearing in schools. Whilst we believe that such testing should be mandatory to ensure compliance with BB93 in both design and construction and the remediation of defects, there are further issues to be addressed.

BB93 is weak when it comes to providing appropriate acoustic conditions for 'vulnerable listeners'. These include not only the deaf and hard of hearing, but children with ASD (autistic spectrum disorder) and those for whom English is not a first language. Whilst standards are given in BB93 for "classrooms designed specifically use by the hearing impaired", these are typically only applied to dedicated SEN or speech therapy spaces.

As BB93 has been in use for some five years, we believe that the time is right for a post-occupation evaluation study to assess whether BB93 is in fact providing appropriate acoustic conditions for learning for all pupils, including but not limited to vulnerable listeners. A revision of BB93 in the light of such an exercise would be beneficial not only to pupils, but also to clients and contractors, allowing appropriate and targeted acoustic design throughout.
Susan Witterick, Capita Symonds Acoustics

Bill Dunster completes first code level six homes

I really want to believe all the claims made about these homes, but I am very sceptical about the quoted marginal costs on the build and would be interested to see details how these were calculated and what benchmarks were used. I am also doubtful of the decision to use sunspaces on such a public aspect of the properties and have to agree with other comments regarding how long it will be before the curtains go up?

I worry that the 'zero carbon' designs we are seeing so often will look very good in pictures but would very quickly become tiring to live with. I will be watching with interest to see the results of monitoring and POE will be published after a year or so of use, but I'm not holding my breath.
Chris Jones

ZedFactory should be applauded for this project. The only way to learn is to get on and do it and ZedFactory do that brilliantly.

House prices on the rise, says government

So there you go, soft landers, flat liners, negative plateau'ers and vested interests… there's your spring bounce before the great house price crash recovery.

This time next year we'll all be releasing a shed load more equity from our overinflated houses prices to pay the credit card and get a new car; maybe I can get one of those 125% mortgage thingies too… long live the boom - stuff the next generation. Get real.
The Realist