How to Reduce Echo in a Room or Office (Tips for Large, Empty Spaces)
Echo can be an incredibly annoying, if fairly standard, fact of life. Fortunately, in this article, I’ll share several decorative solutions to this problem. In addition, you’ll even be able to learn about some more serious options for sound absorption.
In an ideal world, no rooms would have an echo. However, if you must choose between several places in which to implement echo-reducing measures, I recommend focusing on the rooms people spend the most time in. So, living rooms, offices, and conference rooms should all have some defense against echoes.
A persistent echo can disrupt even the most interesting discussions, so taking steps to prevent echoing in rooms where people like to gather makes sense. And, in professional surroundings, echoes can be downright detrimental to business deals. For example, if you had to conduct a video conference and the room you were in was causing audio issues.
For people who anticipate having to deal with this problem, I have assembled a number of actionable steps to ensure an echo-free environment. Before I get to those, I’ll reveal why some rooms tend to have an echo, while others don’t. Then, I’ll share information about some of the best echo-canceling techniques and materials.
Why Does Your Room or Office Space Have an Echo?
People who’ve spent time in completely bare rooms know that echoes can be pretty fun. Unfortunately, the fun only lasts for so long before your ears become sensitive to the extra noise. So, why do empty rooms produce more echo than rooms that are fully decorated?
Well, that’s a simple question of physics, isn’t it? Because there are no obstacles, the sound created in an empty room can travel freely, only bouncing off the walls, floors, and ceilings. Therefore, adding furniture and other décor creates obstacles that distort some of those unwanted reverberations.
However, larger rooms or offices, and those with higher ceilings, present a more difficult problem regarding echo reduction. Large spaces allow sound waves even more freedom to travel around. That’s why ensuring that a large room has no echo will take more than a few pieces of furniture and rugs.
Still, you might not be able to flood some areas with sound-absorbent decorative elements. Boardrooms, for example, often have a fairly standardized look to them. They might have a table, some chairs, a TV, and several plants around, but not much else. Some of these items might soften the echo a bit, depending on the materials they were made of.
But, it’s more likely that you would have to ensure that sounds don’t bounce off the walls and floors themselves. Floors, in particular, can produce a considerable amount of noise and echo. The general rule is that harder surfaces make rooms more prone to echoing. So, avoid hard floors, like hardwood.
A great tip would be to make sure a room has plenty of soft surfaces that can absorb sound, or at least soften it. One of the ways to do that would be to cover a room with thick carpeting. In the case of conference rooms, the floors are often covered in wall-to-wall carpeting.
What Techniques and Materials are the Best at Cancelling Echoes?
I’ve already mentioned that adding furniture and carpeting to a room will help reduce its echo. So, let me explain why that is.
As I previously explained, echo is always caused by the free travel of sound waves. Having more furniture in the room makes the sound waves bounce multiple times, which causes them to lose energy more quickly.
However, furniture – such as desks or tables, chairs, and various storage pieces – is often made of wood, metal or plastic. Those materials aren’t ideal for reducing echo. So, the second thing to do while fighting echo is to add porous or fluffy materials. Soft materials, like couch cushions, are much better at absorbing sound than hard ones.
In fact, many of the best professional sound absorbing materials are made from soft foam or fabric. Although these materials can sometimes double as soundproofing, their primary goal is to improve the acoustics of a room. There are three types of sound absorbing materials:
- Porous absorbers – various textiles, wool insulation, and foam
- Membrane (panel) absorbers – windows, doors, floors, and furniture
- Resonance absorbers – which dissipate noise by oscillating
I have a whole article on this subject. It lists 14 best absorbers on the market, for anyone who’d like to see specific examples of products that can reduce echoing and reverberation. However, I have some great product recommendations coming up in this article as well. So, let’s get into the specific steps you can take in order to make your room more acoustically pleasing.
Tips for Reducing Echo in a Room or Office
And so, we’ve finally reached the list of steps you can take to reduce echo. I’ll begin by listing more decorative options and end with a few professional solutions. However, some decorative tips will also have professional alternatives. For example:
1. Hang Curtains (or Tapestries)
When I say “hang curtains,” I do mean everywhere – even walls. Heavy and thick textiles can dampen the number of reverberations and echoes in a room. It is a relatively easy step to take: all you would need is a drill and some screws if the room doesn’t already have curtain rails. Otherwise, the rails, rods, and brackets you’ll need are available at any hardware or home improvement store.
If you don’t like to get hands-on with these types of projects, you can hire a professional. However, I don’t really think that’s necessary, as this is a very simple and pretty effective solution. You could even use soundproof curtains. I wrote another article on how to choose the perfect soundproof curtains and even listed the best ones.
Beige or gray curtains are a classy option we can use in a professional setting. On the other hand, patterned curtains will make a living room seem much cozier. In either case, curtains are a perfectly acceptable decorative element for both a home and an office.
2. Replace Metal Blinds with Fabric Blinds
While we’re on the subject of light-blocking fabric, I’ll mention one more. If you’re trying to reduce echo, look into replacing your metal blinds with fabric ones. Metal blinds provide another hard surface sound waves can keep bouncing off, while fabric ones would absorb and soften the noise.
Additionally, metal blinds create an unpleasant rustling noise when you’re adjusting them, or even when the wind catches them. In contrast, fabric blinds are almost completely noiseless when you unroll them, and they don’t rustle as much when the wind moves them either.
3. Add Rugs or Carpeting
Adding a rug is another really easy way to make a room feel much more welcoming, as well as remove a lot of the echo. As I mentioned, hardwood floors can be one of the biggest culprits when it comes to echoing. So, covering parts of your floors will definitely produce a noticeable difference in the room. For optimal results, you can completely cover the floors with wall-to-wall carpeting.
Like curtains, rugs of different colors, materials, and patterns can greatly affect the whole mood of a room. Also like curtains, you can even hang up interesting rugs, if you’re feeling adventurous. However, area rugs are hardly an acceptable choice for office décor, so covering the whole floor with carpeting would actually be the better option there. If a business is looking to reduce echoing, they might want to switch out their laminate flooring and replace it with carpeting.
4. Get Couch Crazy
Again, I’ve already explained how furniture, especially pieces made of soft materials, can improve the acoustics of a room. The best sofas for echo reduction are big, cushiony and upholstered in soft materials, rather than leather, for example. Although, a leather couch would still obstruct sound waves as they bounce around the room.
If you’re decorating a completely empty room, you should try to add and rearrange furniture until you’re satisfied with the reduction of the echo.
5. Fill Up the Bookshelves
Having bulky furniture in the room where you’re looking to reduce echo is always a good idea, as it will disrupt the path of sound waves. Wooden shelves, in particular, are great because we can fill them up with books. And, as you know, paper is great at sound absorption, so having shelves full of it will slightly reduce the echo.
Bookshelves without back panels let sound waves pass through to the hard wall behind them, which still causes some echo. However, bookshelves that do have back panels redistribute the vibrations that reach them, so the echo is reduced.
6. Stock Up on Plants
Adding plants to a room is another way to make your décor echo-canceling. While some other methods may only make an area seem cozy, plants are fairly versatile. So, you can have them in homes as well as offices. Big potted plants would even work to fill out some of the space in larger rooms, which will reduce echo.
7. Bring in Some Cushions and Blankets
Cushions and blankets will reduce the echo in a room the same way curtains and sofas would. However, you can see why they wouldn’t be the best option for, say, a conference room. Like curtains and rugs, blankets and cushions make a room more welcoming. That might not be the look you’re trying to achieve in office spaces.
Blankets can even be used for soundproofing, as well as to improve acoustics. Some musicians even use blankets and other fabric to ensure that their audio recording doesn’t capture reverberations and echoes. They do this by completely covering a singer and the microphone with a blanket so that the mic only records the sound of the singer’s voice. So, why not use the same trick to your advantage?
You could also hang blankets on the walls just like curtains or tapestries. Of course, some blankets are more effective than others at reducing echoes, like soundproof (moving) blankets. If you’re interested in reading an article that explains the purpose and use of these blankets, as well as my favorite ones on the market, you can read it in the link above.
8. Apply Acoustic Foam and Fabric Panels
Acoustic foam is an excellent porous absorber for people who are serious about wanting to improve their acoustics. Audio enthusiasts can find squares of this squishy, textured stuff online, but many home improvement stores sell it as well. This foam catches sound waves that are on their way to bounce off a wall.
You can apply acoustic foam directly to walls and even ceilings with adhesive spray. For more information about how to shop for acoustic foam, and which ones are the best, read this article about Best Acoustic Foam Panels. Also, it’s good to note that professional acoustic materials can greatly affect the look of a room, as they too come in many colors, shapes, and sizes.
Acoustic fabric panels can also prevent sound from bouncing off your walls. These are fabric-wrapped porous materials with a solid wooden back that can hang from your walls. I’m partial to these ATS Acoustic Panels (link to Amazon), which are a nice fit for both living and office spaces.
9. Lower the Ceiling
If a room’s size, and height, in particular, is preventing your echo-reducing measures from working, you may need to lower the ceiling itself.
Now, you can do this by constructing a wooden frame and building a new ceiling. You’d most likely need a professional construction crew for something like this, though.
Alternately, you could lower the ceiling using methods we’ve already mentioned, and other temporary measures. For example, as I said, you can apply acoustic foam squares directly to the ceiling. Or, play around with decorative elements like moldings and light fixtures. Any of these things would create obstacles for the sound waves that bounce off the ceiling.
More on Getting Rid of Echo
As you can see, preventing a room from echoing can be as simple as implementing a few design tips, or as complicated as physically lowering the height of the ceiling.
Before diving straight for the more drastic measures, though, I would suggest that you add a potted plant or two first. Actually, all of these suggestions reduce echo at least a little, but it’s also important to remember that every room will be different.
So, every room will need individual adjustments and some furniture rearranging before you find the winning combination of steps to completely stop all echoing. With that in mind, I’m confident that every room you end up working on can achieve a blissfully echo-free state.