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Home soundproofing

Noise in the home

Noise in the home is an issue that affects all of us - everyone generates some noise but for some of us, it can be an unbearable problem, usually when the noise is generated by others. The problem with noise is a bit like ‘one man’s medicine’ – what is pleasurable noise to one person can be extremely annoying to others, this is often the case with music being played. Some people love to listen to loud music but we all know that loud music can be very annoying, particularly if the music is not to our taste. How often do you hear music blaring from a car coming down the street? Do you sometimes feel like tearing the music system out of the car and stamp on it? Likewise, a neighbour may seem to be inconsiderate with the volumes of their stereo, radio or television.

At night, noise can be even more stressful especially as different people have different living habits. If your neighbours are ‘night owls’ and stay up late while you are ‘early birds’ and turn in early for some beauty sleep, any noise or music from the other side of your party wall or from the flat above or below you can be disturbing and keep you awake even if the noise is not particularly loud and would not normally (during the day time) be considered a nuisance. Of course, you might not be the ‘early birds’, that could be your neighbours. A peculiar thing about noise is that low levels of noise during daytime are rarely a problem because they are masked by activities and other background noises but at night, many of these background noises have ceased, so we become more aware of the low level noises and noise seems to travel much further.

There are a number of DIY solutions to the noise problems in your home that will eliminate, or at least, significantly reduce the levels of noise you are being subjected to.

If the noise you wish to reduce is coming from your neighbour, the simplest solution could well cost you nothing, or very little. For this, invite your neighbour(s) around for a cup of tea or an evening drink and while they are in a convivial mood, explain your problem to them and, in many cases, you will find that they are completely unaware that they have been creating a problem for you and will be anxious to do something about it. Little things like relocating their stereo or television away from a party wall to the other side of a room can make a vast difference and likewise, moving your bed away from a party wall will also help. Negotiation is always much better than confrontation but if all else fails then soundproofing is the answer.

The most common noise problems stem from neighbours on the other side of a party wall and this article will deal with this issue. We will cover soundproofing ceilings and floors in flats in another article. Sound insulating a party wall is the only solution when all else fails. For best results you will have to be prepared to lose up to about 6 inches (150mm) of room space from the party wall to allow for the insulation which is as follows.

A timber stud framework should be installed so that the timber is about 1 inch (25mm) away from the party wall and fixed to the floor, sidewalls and ceiling. The voids between the studs are then infilled with a suitable sound absorbing material - usually mineral wool will suffice but for best results use acoustic mineral wool slabs which are the correct density. Many think the higher the density of these slabs, the more efficient the noise reduction will be but this is incorrect - too high a density can make the noise problem worse by making the structure so stiff that noise causes it to vibrate rather than absorbed - it is always better to buy the correct sound insulation material from a reputable supplier to ensure that it performs as required.

Once the sound absorbing infill has been put in place, the framework needs to be cladded. Two layers of plasterboard are always required to get the best sound reduction. Don’t even consider one layer because you will most definitely be disappointed with the results.

Other soundproofing options

Soundproofing techniques has moved on in leaps and strides in recent years and now there is a clever piece of kit called resilient bars that are fitted across the front of the studwork and to which the plasterboard is flexibly fixed. With this system of sound control, the mineral wool acts as a sound absorber and the plasterboard, due to its heavy weight, as a sound barrier - the combination of the two work remarkable well in soundproofing a wall. But with the inclusion of resilient bars, the additional sound loss that can be achieved is remarkable and well worth doing. All of the materials required for this are cheap and an average wall of say 9m2 can be insulated for about £350 in material costs - so it may be cheaper than you may have thought.

If you are prepared to pay a bit more for the optimum sound loss, there is a heavy soundproofing mat that can be sandwiched between the two layers of heavy plasterboard and this can give you an additional 3dB of soundproofing.

We have just discussed the best way to soundproof a party wall but, as previously mentioned, this can take up to 6 inches of space. A thinner version is available which only takes up about 45mm or less than 2 inches of space. It must be appreciated, however, that a thinner system is not going to be as effective as the thicker system but may still be worthwhile in some situations. This system uses a 20mm recycled rubber sound absorber (instead of the stud framework) with two layers of 12.5mm heavy high density plasterboard fixed on top (without resilient bars and screws), a spray adhesive is used so the entire system is glued together with no mechanical fixings whatsoever. This system is referred to as an M20AD system and a wall of 9m2 will cost about £490 in material costs. This is more costly than using a stud framework but still not expensive and is the answer for those of you that can only afford to lose a small amount of space.

Soundproofing a party wall alone may not be all that is required and you may have to consider addressing the flanking noise that comes around the wall. This is more of a problem in houses with uninsulated cavity walls and lightweight masonry and we will talk about this issue in another article.

www.soundservice.co.uk or ring Sound Service (Oxford) Ltd directly on 0845 363 7131 at local call cost from most UK landlines or 01993 704981 from UK mobiles.