Stop noise from entering your house while minimising the sounds within
No matter where you live, life can be noisy. If it’s not planes, trains or cars assaulting your ears, it could be the neighbours, a barking dog or the demanding blips of technology.
Soundwaves are able to enter the home through windows, doors, floors, walls and ceilings, so your goal is to block them out.
Inside the house, the challenge is to dampen or absorb noise. Contemporary building design can sometimes work against us in this regard. Open-plan layouts and hard flooring look fantastic, but they don’t absorb noise well.
There are, however, many approaches you can take if a quieter life appeals.
There’s good news for anyone who is building or renovating: you have the opportunity to soundproof your home.
If you’re living in a multi-dwelling situation or you’re located near a train line, airport or busy road, you will need to explore noise-blocking building materials. For standalone homes on most residential streets, the use of double-brick will block external noise effectively. For all other finishes, added insulation should do the job.
“Inside the house, acoustics are an easily overlooked but critical dimension to designing comfortable living spaces,” says Chris Stanley, architect with Splinter Society Architecture. “Timber absorbs very different frequencies of sound to soft furnishings, and masonry is prone to directly reflecting sound,” says Chris.
A few simple design strategies will keep noise under control, says Sydney architect Danny Broe. “Zone your home to keep living spaces as far away from the bedrooms as possible,” he says.
Insulation is one of the most powerful tools with which to soundproof your home. However, your window of opportunity is generally limited to when you build or renovate.
“Ordinary thermal insulation in your external walls will certainly help,” says Leisa Caines, retail segment manager for Bradford Insulation, “but if you’re concerned about noise, you need a higher density specialised insulation that will stop sound from travelling through your internal walls.”
Bradford Insulation makes an insulation product called SoundScreen, which is designed to fit between wall studs. To upgrade your insulation to SoundScreen could cost less than $1000, says Leisa. “You don’t need it around every room, but it is very effective around bedrooms and bathrooms and between storeys.”
Should noise issues be causing you major problems you could always pull down a wall, and add specialised insulation and better plasterboard. “It’s not ideal, but it’s cheaper than moving house,” says Leisa.
Your flooring can have a profound impact on noise levels in your home, says Kendall Waller, national technical manager of Quick-Step. This happens in two ways: the first is ‘walk’ noise and the second is the floor’s acoustic properties; that is, how much sound it absorbs.
“Floating timber, bamboo and laminate flooring can create substantial walk sound if not installed properly,” says Kendall. “It’s vital to prepare the subfloor so you reduce that ‘hollow’ sound you can get. Underlay will also dramatically reduce footfall noise.”
Not all hard floors are created equal. Brick and concrete floors will be quieter than timber, says Danny Broe. “They’re more expensive, but more effective when it comes to sound absorption.”
Cork is another good flooring option, and a great insulator to boot, says Kendall. “Its softer surface acoustically dampens your rooms and today’s offerings look as good as timber.”
For outstanding sound absorption, you can’t go past carpet, especially when it’s teamed with a good-quality underlay. “The thicker the carpet the better the sound insulation,” says Desiree Keown, marketing manager at Cavalier Bremworth.
Appliance of silence
Whitegoods can be a big contributor to household noise. “You don’t want to come home after a day at work and have to listen to your washing machine or dishwasher while you unwind,” says Aleks Efeian, brand manager for Bosch. The proximity of many appliances to living zones has driven manufacturers such as Bosch to invest heavily in improving operating sound levels.
Mind the gap
The windows and doors in your home can make a huge difference to noise levels inside. Like air, noise will get in through any gap so ensuring your doors and windows seal well is vital.
Internal doors are commonly made with 2.5mm skins and are hollow in the centre, which means they don’t effectively reduce noise transfer.
“If noise is a concern, look for internal doors with skins of between 5mm and 9mm,” says John Kassis, director at Doors Plus.
Sydney architect Bayden Goddard says that choosing external doors with a lot of glass can help control noise inside – with a caveat. “They have to be double glazed, so you optimise external soundproofing and thermal properties while maximising views and aspect. Just make sure you avoid poorly detailed or lesser quality glazing.”
If your fridge sounds noisy, check it’s not vibrating against cabinetry. One quick fix for older models is to place a small square of carpet under your fridge, says Colin Jones, appliances expert at Winning Appliances. “Dual compressors in new models now cool both the freezer and fridge sections independently and this reduces the noise and wear-and-tear on your fridge,” he says.
Words by: Sarah Pickette. Photography by: Maree Homer, Martina Gemmola, Chris Warnes /Bauersyndication.com.au.