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Noise - Environmental  - Insulating the Home


This is our guide to improving the sound insulation or acoustic insulation of a home.  After the first section, the content is relevant both internationally and to the UK.  Reducing sound in Industrial and Commercial Premises is considered here.

Main Elements of this Section are

There are no simple remedies such as "acoustic paint" or putting "egg boxes" on the walls for improving sound insulation. The basic principles for good sound insulation are mass (weight), structural isolation (forcing sound to pass through two separated layers, i.e. two lots of noise reduction) and ensuring that there are no gaps or cracks through which sound can pass. The single exception to this is for impact noise (typically footfalls on floors) where a dramatic improvement can normally be achieved by the addition of a relatively lightweight but soft floor covering, e.g. a thick carpet or spongy lino.

Sound Insulation treatments are normally expensive and generally involve loss of living space; therefore, before improving sound insulation it may be worth considering other courses of action.

  • First, if you believe the noise which you experience is a nuisance, then you could complain to the Environmental Health Department of the local authority; if they agree with you, they can take action to abate the nuisance  and the noise maker could be made responsible for noise control.
  • Secondly, if the perfectly reasonable behavior on the part of neighbours is causing a nuisance because the sound insulation is poor, it may be possible for the Environmental Health Department to take action against the owners of the building to require them to deal with the matter. Although if you are the owner of the building, this may not help much!
  • Thirdly, if your house is fairly new (or recently converted) and covered by a guarantee, such as the NHBC's or Zurich Insurance, and the sound insulation is inadequate, then it may be possible to force the builder or guarantor to comply with the requirements of The Building Regulations and carry out improvements.

Before considering possible treatments, note that it is not possible to devise a scheme of insulation for a specific case, without inspecting the premises and performing complex measurements; therefore the following information must necessarily be general in nature; it may not produce a significant (or any) improvement, depending on a variety of factors such as background and source noise levels; for example the lower the frequency of the "problem" noise, the more difficult to achieve a significant reduction, conversely, the poorer the existing sound insulation the easier it will probably be to achieve a significant improvement.

The Building Regulations 1991 contain specifications with which new properties and new conversions have to conform. Approved Document E "Resistance to the passage of sound" of the Building Regs, states that either the constructions have to be of an approved form, or they have to meet various performance requirements. Note the approved constructions do not have to (and sometimes do not) meet the performance requirements.

The 1991 Approved Document E requires that BS 2750 be followed in the making of the measurements and that BS 5821 be used to assess the measurements to produce a single figure rating for the construction; these documents have been replaced by ISO 140 and ISO 717 respectively. The measurements are "horribly" complex, and the single figure rating can be based on 384 separate measurements. These measurements are not for the fainthearted, but generally they are necessary if specific and relevant schemes for improving sound insulation are to be prepared.

The directory can be consulted for suppliers of suitable instrumentation, proprietary methods of improvement, consultants to draw up recommendations, or training organisations for sound insulation tests.

Finally, before considering treatment to various parts of a house, if you are wanting to convert a garage for use as a music practice room or recording studio, there are tips available on Airo's website elsewhere.  Also the UK's Building Research establishment have produced a document on sound insulation in PDF format.

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