Noise pollution is a thorny issue for many people. Unless you live in a remote rural setting, you are likely to be able to hear a variety of sounds within your home from outside, from neighbours and even between rooms in your home.
In the workplace there are regulations that state ear protection must be provided if noise levels exceed 80 decibels, but in the home, noise nuisance is a more subjective issue.
It is covered by part III of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which enables local authorities to deal with noise from any premises, if they conclude that it causes a statutory nuisance.
While the Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act of 1993, made street noise a statutory nuisance and offers guidelines for what noise is acceptable at what times of day.
Whether any noise which disturbs you in your home is regarded as a nuisance is open to debate and it may not be possible for anything to be done to reduce it, particularly if you live close to an industrial area or airport for example.
Soundproofing your home is a practical step you can undertake to reduce outside noise and to make your home a more comfortable place to be.
Reasons to Soundproof a Property
Noise from outside can be a problem in your home if you live in a built up area. Traffic noise, neighbours playing loud music, car and burglar alarms, and general street noises can all be an annoyance when you are trying to relax in your own home.
If you live near an airport or a railway station you are very likely to experience routine noise throughout the day and night which can affect your standard of living. Even things like fireworks, barking dogs or a neighbour who is keen on DIY can disrupt your day to day life.
Sound that is louder than 120 decibels is considered to be deafening, as a guide a quiet conversation will reach 30 dB, a car passing in the street 70 dB, and a plane taking off at a range of 100 metres would reach about 100 dB.
How does Soundproofing Work?
Sound travels in low frequency waves. When a noise is made, these waves travel in all directions until they reach an object or a resistance in their path. Most surfaces will dampen the sound by absorbing sound waves, but may also ‘reflect’ the sound waves causing echoes and reverberation.
Sound waves can be stopped by three general principles. The space in-between you and the source of the sound will help to reduce the noise as the sound waves have to travel much further to reach you.
Mass will also reduce noise, the heavier and denser a wall or object the harder it will be for sound waves to travel through it. Dampening sound is the third way to reduce noise; similar to the way you can stop an item vibrating by holding it.
Materials which absorb sound can be used to stop noise reflecting and reverberating, and causing an issue.
It is important to differentiate between noise reduction and noise absorption. Noise reduction involves stopping the noise; preventing the sound waves from penetrating the walls or windows of your home.
Noise absorption involves managing the noise within the property. Carpets, upholstery, soundboards and acoustic ceiling tiles will help to reduce vibration and the reflection of sound by absorption, but will not stop outside noises from entering the house.
Sound Insulation Materials
Gypsum board can be used on the inside of walls to increase the noise reduction. It can be applied to the wall with silicon sealant to hold it in place, which also acts as a dampener for sound.
Specialist sound insulation board is also available which is lined with lead. Lead has excellent sound resistant characteristics, its mass helps to reduce noise, but it is also soft enough to be a good absorber of sound waves.
Walls and ceilings can be soundproofed with Z shaped lengths of steel known as resilient channels. They are designed to control the reverberation and echo of sound, and are effective on walls and ceilings which already suffer from severe vibrations.
Specialist vinyl, known as MLV (Mass Loaded Vinyl), is another type of material which uses mass to lessen the amount of noise which can be heard inside the house.Insulating the cavity walls can also help to reduce noise.
Some insulation, such as mineral wool, may not help to reduce sound and may even have a negative impact, as it fills the air gap which had previously helped to reduce noise levels.
Other types of insulation such as sprayed on cellulose offer greater noise reduction properties, but will be more expensive.
Windows are very important in sound proofing. It is the area through which most sound travels into the home, so there is little sense in soundproofing walls and ceilings until the windows have been assessed.
If you do not already have double glazing, it should be the first thing you do to reduce noises entering your house.
Most companies also offer triple-glazed windows, which give even greater sound reduction; they may be worth considering if you are dealing with a very loud noise problem.
Wall plugs are custom made plugs that fit into your window frame and close the window off. They are not expensive and help to reduce the noise, but will also block out any light. They are more likely to be considered as a temporary measure rather than a permanent one.
The majority of soundproofing materials come with a STC (Sound Transmission Class) rating, the higher the rating, the better the material is at reducing noise. Before you buy any materials or arrange the installation of soundproofing, check the STC rating of all of the proposed materials.
If you suffer from what you consider to be excessive noise, whether from outside, from neighbours or within your own home, there are steps you can take to sound proof your property.
Sound proofing works by either stopping sound waves from entering the house, or by using materials which will absorb sound and reduce vibration and reverberation.
The most important thing to do is to double or triple glaze the windows of your home as they are the areas through which sound is able to travel through easiest.
Beyond that, there are other materials you can use to provide sound insulation for walls and ceilings, but take the time to check the STC rating of the products to make sure they are suitable.