Noise Pollution In Residential Spaces
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How To Keep Your Home Noise Free!
Written by: Jordan Chia
Noise pollution problems are recently growing in condominiums and public housing estates. With the rapid increase in population density, a house built with little or no consideration to noise issues can be very expensive and difficult to fix in the long run. If you are buying a new home, this post will alert you to some common pitfalls that plague many homes in the market. We will also look at some possible solutions if you already own a home affected by noise. But first…
Where Does All That Noise Pollution Come From?
The first step in solving a noise problem is to identify the noise pollution sources
External Ambient Noise – Loud TV from the neighbours, drilling during renovation, traffic, etc, are all examples of external noise pollution that originate outside the house. These unwanted sounds usually leak in from the windows, but can come in through other means as well. Be extra careful when choosing a home and listen to the surrounding environment carefully before making any commitment.
External Impact Noise – This refers to impact noises created by neighbours or heavy objects, in the unit directly above you. Loud footsteps, furniture movement, and jumping transmits impact noise and increase noise pollution to your unit.
Airborne Noise Within the Home – Home entertainment, such as hi-fi and karaoke systems can disturb adjacent rooms. Normal speech and even quiet sounds transfer readily through the walls in badly designed units. Privacy is compromised.
Machinery Noise – Air conditioning units, ventilation ducts, etc, can generate both airborne and structural noises. In addition, they can become pathways for other unwanted airborne sounds.
Is A Perfectly Quiet Home Even Possible?
City dwellers are constantly exposed to high levels of noise pollution. While we can find a home without at least one of these noise problems above, it is nearly impossible to find an apartment completely free from noise pollution. Even if home is “perfectly quiet”, the neighbourhood can be subject to upgrading works or even the construction of a new shopping mall. Certain features of a home can either improve or worsen such noise. Here are some.
Watch out for…
Windows – Sliding windows offer poor noise reduction, allowing airborne noise to leak in through the little gaps that must be there that allow the sliding mechanism. Shutter windows are the worst of the lot. Instead, choose casement windows because they seal better at the edges, preventing outside noise pollution from coming into the home. If you still require more noise isolation (in a particularly noisy area, perhaps), try installing a second window over your existing one. This should reduce noise pollution levels far more than just a single window ever can. A cheaper solution would be to create an acrylic window plug on top of your existing window. Cut a 2 inch thick clear acrylic to the same size as the actual window, and fit it within the frame. Seal it at the edges with foam tape or neoprene.
Balcony – Some condominiums and apartments have a balcony that is separated by a sliding glass door. This isn’t a good idea. Similar to a sliding window, it is basically impossible to seal a sliding glass door acoustically, especially if there is loud traffic or construction work outside. If you value peace and quiet over such a design, try to avoid it altogether.
Walls – Make sure that the walls between your unit and the neighbour’s are thick enough. The thicker the wall, the better. Walls need to meet an STC (Sound Transmission Class) of at least 45-50 to ensure a decent level of privacy. If loud music is being played in one particular room, an STC rating of 60 is required. If you already own a home, and noise pollution is coming through the wall shared with a neighbouring room, try putting a bookshelf filled with books against that particular wall and see if it helps to reduce the pollution level. The most serious problems require renovation. Improving the walls require building at least 2 layers of drywall to reduce noise pollution. A layer of acoustic glue should be applied between the original wall and the new dry wall, and the walls should be filled with rock wool or fiberglass wool. If you are unable to do this yourself, get a contractor.
Floors/Ceiling – Your neighbour’s floor could be coupled to your ceiling, or vice versa. Make sure that floors and ceilings have IIC (Impact Insulation Class) ratings of about 50-70, depending on tolerance level of the individual. For example, if doing jumping exercises annoys the neighbour downstairs, jumping instead on a neoprene rubber mat can do much good to damp impact noise to a tolerable pollution level. The thicker the rubber mat, the better. The same principle applies to the kick drum of an electronic drum kit, or pounding spices. The problem becomes harder to solve if that activity is not insulated at that stage, requiring the resident below to install an acoustic ceiling.
Such a solution requires professional help and can be costly, so it is best to avoid that altogether if possible. Negotiating with your neighbour upstairs tactfully to use some of these suggested solutions can go a long way in saving cost and reducing impact noise pollution.
Doors – Even in a room with thick walls, a door with a small crack or hole can transmit unwanted sound in and out of room. Make sure that the doors are relatively thick, sealed well at the edges and have no holes. Adding acoustic seals around the edges of the door can do much to reduce noise pollution. For more serious problems, a thicker, “soundproof” door can be installed. You can learn more about soundproofing doors with our guide.
Air Conditioning Compressor and Other Machinery – Make sure air-con compressors are damped well in an appropriate housing because they can emit structural noise that travel through walls. Locate them outside a thick wall to minimize their disturbance. Electrical boxes between walls can also open physical holes that allow airborne sound to pass through. Seal these with acoustic putty such as QuietPutty.
Solving noise pollution problems in an existing home can be a complex affair and engaging a qualified acoustic consultant is often be the best choice. Better soundproofing is worth it in the long run because of the benefits of having a quiet home. In future posts, we will look in detail on how to soundproof different parts of a room for specific applications.