Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction


Date of this Version



Reprinted by permission from ASHRAE Transactions, Vol 116, Part 2, 2010. ©2010, American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. www.ashrae.org. This material may not be copied nor distributed in either paper or digital form without ASHRAE’s permission.


This study investigated the effects of noise from building mechanical systems with tonal components on human task performance and perception. Six different noise conditions based on in-situ measurements were reproduced in an office-like setting; all were set to approximately the same sound level (47 dBA) but could have one particular tonal frequency (120 Hz, 235 Hz, or 595 Hz) at one of two tonal prominence ratios (5 or 9). Thirty participants were asked to complete typing, grammatical reasoning, and math tasks plus subjective questionnaires, while being exposed for approximately 1 hour to each noise condition. Results show that the noise conditions that had tonal prominence ratios of 9 were generally perceived to be more annoying than those of 5, although statistically significant differences in task performance were not found. Other findings are (1) that higher annoyance/distraction responses were significantly correlated with reduced typing task performance; (2) that the noise characteristics most closely correlated to higher annoyance/distraction responses in this study were higher ratings of loudness followed by roar, rumble, and tones; and (3) that perception of more low frequency rumble in particular was significantly linked to reduced performance on both the routine and cognitively demanding tasks.