Sound Proofing Article by Blue Tree Acoustics

There is no such thing as sound proof just as there is no such thing as bomb-proof or water-proof. A big enough bomb or enough water pressure will be able compromise the item.

All materials and constructions have a level of sound insulation with a quantifiable value just as they have a quantifiable weight and thickness.

Due to the fact that the sound insulation of a material is not easily measured and the units are complex and logarithmic decibels (dB) - the public tend to not understand sound insulation.

The situation is further complicated because sound passes via many routes or transmission paths. It is also complicated because to some extent the level of noise and annoyance experienced in a flat or house will depend on other factors including the distance from the noise source, the time of day and the person's tolerance.

Noisy Neighbours

When residents complain about noise from neighbours' music, children or washing machines, often there are multiple issues to resolve.

The neighbours may be particularly noisy, perhaps particularly unreasonable, perhaps with a particularly noisy baby for example.

The neighbours may be normal and reasonable, it may be the level of sound insulation that is not sufficiently high.

Many situations have normal activities and normal levels of sound insulation and there is still a noise problem.

Quiet and Peaceful Enjoyment

Often residents quote their right to 'quiet and peaceful enjoyment' of their home but the law is more complex than this.

Just as one resident has a right to quiet, the other resident has a right to have a family, and use their home.

Approved Document E and Sound Testing

Newly built or newly converted homes must meet the minimum sound insulation performance values set out in the Building Regulation Approved Document E. This level of sound insulation is not 'soundproof'. It is simply a minimum standard. It does not mean that neighbour's noise is inaudible.

Sound insulation testing can be undertaken to measure the performance of the separating wall or floor between dwellings. If this is high, but noise from next door is still loud, it is likely that the neighbours are being unreasonable and that legal action can be taken.

Similarly, if may be that the dwelling owner has a claim against the builder or developer assuming the minimum performance level is not met.

External Noise

Noise from the street, aircraft or from industry is even more complicated as the law tries to balance the fact that the world must turn and noise will inevitably be made. We can not individually use cars in a free country and fly abroad on our holidays one moment, then complain about others doing the same the next. The law takes into account the area in which you live and logically the closer you are to a particular noise source, the more likely it is and the more reasonable it is that noise is audible on your land.

It is only right that an established industrial area be allowed to operate, and some activities inherently produce some noise. Of course the precise amount of noise that is reasonable is difficult to define. Generally, new operations which do not have current permission would have an assessment done to anticipate the level of noise impact on any residents.

Often so long as the operator is reasonable, then the neighbours will have to put up with the remaining noise. It is normal for any such issues to be reflected in the purchase price of a property, generally a house miles from any noise is more expensive, a house backing onto a railway line is cheaper. Is it reasonable for the railways to stop running because noise may impact on local residents? This is the problem with noise.

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