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Hospitality Meeting Room Design – Moveable/Operable Walls

The purpose of this blog is to share what we believe are some of the most common errors in hospitality meeting room design as it pertains to the use of operable walls. Areas that should be avoided when designing and buying wall systems. There are several broad categories in which we have grouped these comments.


ASTM E-557; Walls should be installed and opening designed as per ASTM E-557. Take time to read this important document and insist that its recommendations be adhered to if it is included in the specification.

Bulkhead; an operable wall is only as good as the acoustics of the WALL contiguous construction. If the area above the wall is used as an air plenum or has ductwork or electrical penetrations, then sound will pass over the top of the wall resulting in poor acoustics.

Carpet; if panel base seals rest on a carpet floor then an acoustical flanking path exists. Sound will travel through the carpet fibers. A solid surface (temporary or permanent) is recommended.

Expandable Panels & Pocket Doors: For the best acoustical results walls should seal against perimeter walls by the use of a non acoustic 3 piece pocket door rather than seals against an acoustical pocket door.

Location of amplified sound: When setting up a meeting room, consider the location of speakers. Direct sound away from the walls not towards them.

No such thing as sound proof: Operable walls are not “sound proof”. Question anyone who says they are. Even a brick wall 18” thick is not sound proof.

STC or NIC or what: Two totally different test results. One (STC) is the measurement of a walls ability to stop sound transfer in a perfect enclosure in a controlled environment (testing laboratory). NIC is a similar test but in the field (the real world). Question the need for field sound tests if it is recommended. See previous Moderco blog for additional thoughts.

Appearance: Aesthetics

Standard Surface Finishes: If possible choose from manufacturer’s standards. They are proven, reliable, and readily available if recover is needed, less costly now and in the long run as well have proven cleaning methods.

Special Surface Finishes: Avoid patterns that require panel to panel matching. All ornate finishes such as custom moldings, real wood surfaces, chair rails, mirrors etc. that call for matches to adjacent fixed wall surfaces are best applied in the field if they cannot be avoided (recommended). Ensure that all may be cleaned when needed

Trimless or Protective edge trim: If appearance is more important than longevity then choose “trimless”. Protective edge trim will protect panel edges, provides a location to grip the panels when moving and generally allows for faster and more economical replacement of panel surfaces.

Non steel skins; Always use steel skins with an acoustical substrate. Soft skins such as gypsum board or steel skinned panels with no substrate regardless of steel thickness will not stand up to the abuse long term that is expected and desired

Operation: Reliability:

Manual Continuous Hinged walls: We do not recommend the use of manual CH walls. See previous Moderco blog.

Electric Walls: See previous Moderco blog.

Need maintenance program: In order for an “operable” wall to be an “operable” wall, it must be “operable”. Invest in a contractual twice yearly maintenance agreement with a qualified contractor and it will not only save you money but increase revenue, decrease downtime and maintain aesthetics and reputation.

Choice of product:

Right Angle Turn: Use RAT panels up to a maximum of 22’. Above 22’ always use switch & curve

Steel or Aluminum track: Should always be treated as equal. See previous Moderco blog.

Auto or Mech. Seals: Both work equally as well acoustically however the application of the wall should determine the correct choice.

Location of walls suitable for all setups desired: Too often the desired set-ups are not discussed prior to design. Determine size and configuration of meeting rooms in a multi-setup area to ensure that what is desired is possible.


Choice has to be made on more than price; Too often the supplier is chosen based on his price rather than how the walls will perform. Walls are a revenue producing item and rarely can they be fixed or altered after installation. Ensure that your customer is aware of what he is going to get before he buys.

In conclusions one of the meeting planners we recently spoke to about why they selected hotels for meetings as it pertained to meeting rooms emphasized two basic characteristics: appearance & acoustics. If the meeting rooms (which include the operable walls) look good and have a comfortable atmosphere conducive to listening & learning and if the acoustics are such that meetings in adjacent areas are not disturbing sound wise then they will go back to that facility. If either one is negative then they are unlikely to return.

Something to think about!