With the Government continually pushing the social housing sector to provide ever-greater standards of comfort, meeting the demands and requirements for modern homes can be challenging. Especially for multi-tenant occupancy developments, which have to accommodate different families with different lifestyles. Noise can often be an issue, causing numerous complaints.
For housing providers looking to ensure a comfortable living environment is created for all in the long-term, taking building acoustics – and the optimisation of both sound insulation and sound absorption – into consideration early on in the design and specification process will certainly bring benefits in the long-run.
But first, understanding how noise is created within a home environment goes a long way to getting the specification of the internal elements and linings right. Noise can be generated in two ways. Airborne noise, such as music, voices and outside traffic, occurs when soundwaves pass into the building structure or through separating internal elements and linings like ceilings and floors. Impact noise, however, is the transmission of noise from heavy footsteps or the movement of furniture.
Reducing noise on a residential development
One of the most effective ways to minimise noise is to start with design considerations such as room layout and the positioning of rooms. It’s vital to think about the noise generated in high-traffic corridors or communal areas and noisy rooms such as bathrooms, kitchens or utility-type spaces. Where possible, position these away from quieter spaces that may require a more peaceful setting such as bedrooms.
Another key design aspect that can really make a difference is how the internal elements and linings interact with the associated structure.
To optimise sound insulation against airborne and impact noise, the aim is to reduce or eliminate air paths that allow the sound to pass between two spaces separated by a dividing element. The ceiling, floors and walls which flank the dividing element constitute the main paths for flanking transmission, but this can also occur at windows, doorways, heating or ventilation ducts, for example.
Get the walking surface right to stop noise entering the floor structure
However, if you get the walking surface right in the first place, you can significantly reduce noise transferring into the floor surface.
To help provide an effective separating floor solution, look for systems on the market that not only meet regulatory requirements but also offer enhanced acoustic performance levels.
For example, to reduce the risk of impact sound flanking transmission, a system such as a batten floating floor could be specified in addition to the de-coupling of the ceiling.
For this application, it’s worth considering the use of a concealed metal suspended ceiling system such as CasoLine MF, which ensures enhanced acoustic and fire performance improvements can be achieved.
For lightweight timber joist separating floors, partially de-coupling the plasterboard ceiling from the floor structure using, for instance, Gypframe RB1 Resilient Bars, can help to achieve the required performance. Gypframe RB1 Resilient Bars are acoustically engineered channels to separate floor fixings from the joists and add only 16mm to the depth of the ceiling. Where floating floor treatments are specified, for example timber battens, a cavity depth of at least 70mm should be incorporated to avoid low-frequency resonance effects in the critical low-frequency zone.
Acoustic performance can be enhanced further by specifying plasterboard with additional thickness as an internal layer beneath the walking surface.
Pay particular attention to junction details
Developers should also ensure that all supporting regulations and legislation are followed when it comes to acoustic performance. In England, Building Regulations Approved Document E offers guidance for both new-build and refurbishment projects on how to provide reasonable standards of sound insulation in dwellings and other residential buildings.
When developing designs, it is advisable to pay particular attention to flanking construction and junctioning as poor detailing may prevent full design performance from being achieved on site. The areas to take special care over are the junctions between the separating floor and external walls, other separating structures, penetrations and door openings.
Never view sound absorption surfaces as a substitute for sound insulation
Acoustic performance can also be improved through the intelligent design and specification of sound absorbing materials to combat reverberation. In acoustics, reverberation refers to the multiple reflections, or echoes, of sounds inside a building that merge and persist for up to a few seconds before fading away.
The choice of material will be influenced by its acoustic efficiency as well as its appearance, durability and fire protection qualities. By converting some of the sound energy into heat, sound-absorbing materials will also help sound insulation because less noise will be transmitted to other rooms. However, this reduction in noise is very small when compared with the potential reduction due to sound insulation. Sound absorption is therefore never a substitute for adequate sound insulation.
Stop noise before it even gets into apartments
Section E3 of the Building Regulations covers reverberation noise in the common internal parts of buildings containing flats or rooms for residential purposes, stating that: “The common internal parts of buildings which contain flats or rooms for residential purposes shall be designed and constructed in such a way as to prevent more reverberation around the common parts than is reasonable”.
Lining the common internal parts of buildings with sound absorbing materials can control reverberation effectively; however, the introduction of these materials into communal areas can create design issues. Carpet, for instance, is capable of giving the high levels of sound absorption required; yet, conversely, this can lead to problems with ongoing maintenance and long-term durability. Equally, installing common mineral fibre tiles on exposed metal grids can give areas an institutional feel and detract from the overall building design.
For these reasons, it’s worth taking a fabric-first approach and looking to ceiling ranges that companies have to offer.
There’s plenty of support available to ensure both flexibility in design and construction as well as exceptional acoustic performance. Specifiers get to realise fully the visual and acoustic ambience of their designs. Installation is rapid and simple, and for the end user, a comfortable living environment is created.
Getting the design and specification of the internal elements and linings right from the outset not only reduces cost in the long-term but, importantly, future-proofs developments for flexible living requirements as people’s lives change.