11 Aug 2020

The Sound of Silence

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Since the start of lockdown, councils across the country have reported an increase in noise complaints. While this doesn’t necessarily mean people are any louder than before, it could be down to the fact more people have been at home. It neatly illustrates the lack of consideration sometimes given to acoustics and soundproofing in residential areas across the UK, writes Ben Hancock, Managing Director at Oscar Acoustics.

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While excessive noise is often considered a minor irritation, it is, in fact, a recognised physical and mental health hazard, impacting on residents’ wellbeing. Last year, England’s Chief Medical Officer said that unchecked noise pollution was the second biggest contributor to disease after air pollution. Recent Danish research looking at noisy neighbours found that those reporting problematic noise also had higher rates of physical pain and issues such as anxiety.

People often don’t think about acoustics and soundproofing, but it’s as important as the aesthetic for any construction project. So perhaps now’s the time we put a little more thought into acoustic design, whether considering a large-scale development, or, for the purposes of this article, the self-builder and home renovator.

Both impact noise (people walking about) and airborne noise (music and talking) should be accounted for when considering the optimal acoustic design for your property.

Sound effects

Installing double glazing and shutters can significantly reduce external noise. However, this won’t do a lot to help reduce the volume of loud music, TV or computer games inside your home, especially if you’re designing a family property where these may all compete on a daily basis.

Sound passes through floors and ceilings as vibrations generated by footsteps, music and voices. You can prevent this by installing a ‘floating soundproof ceiling’ which effectively breaks the path of the sound vibrations. Equally, they will help to reduce sound transmission between properties, particularly if you are converting semi-detached or terraced housed or an apartment in a block.

Sound and vision

Home cinemas have become a popular trend amongst self-builders and need to be accompanied with carefully planned and installed acoustic solutions. This will ensure those iconic films scores don’t become the soundtrack to your daily life. First off, install a staggered stud wall complemented with robust acoustic panelling and insulation, ensuring it’s appropriately sealed at the wall and floor junctions. Coupled with a floating ceiling, it effectively creates a sound-proofed box. Of course, you can go a step further, taking a leaf out of classic cinema design and have a lead-lined door.

It will allow everyone in the property to enjoy the ‘sound of silence’, whether watching a movie on the big screen or reading a book in the room next door.

Softly specified

More broadly, careful thought has to be given to material specification as what you choose has a direct impact on the acoustics. Some materials, such as wallpaper, absorb sound, and soft furnishings, strategically placed around a room can become effective noise mufflers. Tiles, on the other hand, reflect airborne noise.

However, there are innovations which will allow you to bend the laws of physics to your advantage, still allowing for soaring double-height ceilings whilst stopping problematic echoes. For example, special acoustic plaster and acoustic spray finishes that absorb sound.

For floors, there are rubber membranes that will insulate from impact noise so you can still use hardwood floors without a problem. However, nowadays, when most new builds and refurbs include underfloor heating systems, these also reduce impact noise. Ultimately, you no longer have to suffer in silence as modern acoustic and soundproofing methods can reduce noise and improve comfort and give a better quality of life. Now, I like the sound of that!

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