Block The Noise & Love Your Home

Are traffic sounds, lawn mowers, weed trimmers, construction, music, barking dogs and other aspects of our modern world driving you to distraction?  You are not alone—as you are all too well aware!  Noise is more than just a nuisance; it can contribute to hearing loss and stress.  According to research published by the World Health Organization in 2007, three percent of deaths caused by coronary heart disease are due to chronic noise exposure.  Loud noise is also a common reason people wish to relocate.  Before you move (or decline a great home purchase), there are ways to turn down the volume. 

Windows are typically the main source of noise transmission from the outdoors to the indoors.  It can come through the glass itself as well as through tiny cracks in the frame seals.  In lofts and other types of homes with plenty of windows, noise can easily reach intolerable levels.  Upgrading the windows is an effective solution. 

The Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating system is one way of measuring how much sound can pass through a window, wall, ceiling or floor.  The higher the rating the less outside noise you should hear inside the home.  If the windows are single pane, the STC is typically 27.  At this level, it would be possible to hear someone speaking outside the window when you are standing indoors.  Oddly enough, double pane windows are only slightly better with an STC of 29 perhaps because the gap between the panes is too small to reduce sound vibration.  (However, double pane windows offer important reductions in wintertime heat loss compared to single panes.)  Newer, soundproof window systems are a good option.  In such systems, a second window is applied over top of the first one allowing a larger gap to muffle sound.  Some manufacturers of soundproof windows claim to have achieved an STC of 48.  At this level, you would not be able to hear someone speaking loudly outside the window.

People who live in townhouses and apartments have a unique challenge: they can get noise through their windows as well as their common walls.  Who wants to hear a neighbour’s television, appliances, parties, or even their snoring?  As a 2002 study in the United Kingdom discovered, snorers can be very loud indeed!  One sleeper set a new record: 103 decibels.  To put that into perspective, Scottish bagpipes come in at 111 decibels!  Even military bagpipers are instructed to limit their playing to 24 minutes per day to protect their hearing.  If you have a snoring neighbour, you likely know the 24-minute rule does not apply.  When talking with the neighbour or strata council doesn’t solve the problem, what can you do?

First, consider how sound functions.  When a sound wave enters a room, it will bounce off hard surfaces such as walls, ceilings and floors.  You may have noticed how sound echoes in an empty room.  To reduce this echo effect, increase the soft surfaces such as carpets, rugs and fabric upholstery.  The next step, if needed, is more involved. 

To block loud sounds from a common wall, you need to add some type of temporary second wall.  A relatively inexpensive option is to cover low-emission plywood or fibreboard with fibrefill then cover it in decorative fabric to match your décor.  The panel should cover the entire wall, side-to-side and floor to ceiling.  For a more polished look, consider panels and boards specifically designed to provide acoustic control.  One of these products is the DesignWall® by Homasote.  This American company has a long history of producing a variety of durable products from recycled, post-consumer paper waste.  Each production day, they save 250 tons of paper from going to the landfill.  You may also find other tiles and panels at your local home renovation store and online.

If you live in a house, you have an excellent opportunity to reduce traffic noise through landscaping.  Solid fences and tall, dense shrubs at the edges of your property can help to block noise while providing privacy.  Another option is a water feature such as a fountain or cascading waterfall.  These can produce broadband noise that helps to block the perception of traffic and irritants.  Note that this effect is localized.  It will not solve the problem entirely but it can make your backyard more inviting.  

In terms of internal noise, don’t forget your renters.  Renting a suite or a room can be a wonderful mortgage helper but a renter may not stay long if they can hear every footfall across the hardwood floors or conversation in a neighbouring room.  Acoustic control insulation and panels for walls, ceiling and/or floors requires an initial investment but it will pay off with many years of peaceful living.

Another type of internal noise comes from family members.  Televisions, video games, music and other activities can create a loud environment.  Use soft, sound-absorbing materials such as carpeting and fabric drapes as well as acoustic panels, if needed.  Also, try this: ask everyone to turn down the volume.  Suddenly, the clamour of competing noises will be reduced without any loss of enjoyment.

With some adjustments, you can find inner tranquility and a quiet refuge from the outside world.