Noise pollution and noise annoyance is not only irritating; it can directly impact our physical health. Higher levels of noise pollution, such as an aeroplane roaring past as it flies overhead, are associated not only with a greater risk of stroke, heart, and cardiovascular disease, but even an increased mortality risk.
In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recognised environmental noise as something that “seriously harms human health and interferes with people’s daily activities” causing adverse psychosocial and physiologic effects such as sleep deprivation. In 2017 the European commission even referred to noise as “the silent killer”.
The two terms mean slightly different things: noise pollution refers to an area that is really noisy. An area where there are a lot of factories is likely to generate high volumes of noise; in this sense we could say that the area is ‘polluted’ with loud noises.
Noise annoyance is the harmful effect this noise pollution has on humans. If there are a lot of noisy factories clunking away in an unpopulated area, then there is likely to be no annoyance to the general population. It’s a case of ‘If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’If we are referring to noise annoyance and not noise pollution, then the answer is no.
Noise pollution and noise annoyance: The two terms generally go hand-in-hand, but not always. An industrial estate far removed from any housing may generate plenty of noise pollution, but relatively no noise annoyance — simply because residents aren’t around to be annoyed.
Over the last century a majority of the world’s population has moved from the countryside to live in growing, sprawling, major cities where noise pollution and annoyance has become a greater concern. Parts of London for example, such as the Underground, are so loud they would require hearing protection if they were workplaces.
Some of the most common complaints of noise pollution stem from busy roads, airport approach corridors, and the general hustle-and-bustle of commuters in cities that are increasingly New Yorkian (in that they never seem to sleep).
Increasing urbanisation and noise pollution are generally seen as ‘facts of life’; while they are literally still keeping us awake at night, there is perhaps one source of noise annoyance that is the most ‘acute’: noisy neighbours. Unlike “the rest” noisy neighbours seem to intimately intrude on our private lives — and the matter quickly becomes personal.
It’s a really big problem. In fact, an estimated five million people in the UK are “annoyed with their neighbour, generally because of noise” — that’s more than the population of Wales and Northern Ireland combined.
But whether it’s a busy road or a neighbour with the TV on high, noise annoyance can seriously impact our quality of life.
Fortunately, there are ways to snuff out unwanted noises once and for all.
If noise annoyance is making life at home insufferable, then soundproofing is really the only actionable course other than relocating. A common question that is often asked is if an existing wall can be soundproofed. The answer is, of course, yes. There are some quick fire ways to minimise noise — although with limited efficiency — including:
Specially formulated acoustical paint — “Sound deadening” paints have clever-sounding properties including sound-absorbing resins, fillers, and hollow ceramic microspheres. A heavy coat will minimise sound, not eliminate it. Another downside is the lack of colours available.
Wallpaper — Similarly, acoustic wallpaper can help to reduce noise annoyance. The colours available are plentiful, but the severity of the noise pollution will play a big part in how effective it is.
Noise control curtains — Perhaps the cheapest solution; the microfibers on the softer materials will absorb sound waves. Thick velvet, or suede, is often used. Downsides include limitations with aesthetic taste, and minimal effectiveness.
If used together, the above choices could have some positive effects, but there are far better options for serious noise reduction. These alternatives are more complex, however, and will most likely require outside, expert help:
Soundproof insulation — Not to be confused with everyday insulation. Typical insulation, for example, such as fibreglass, makes a great thermal regulator; helping to keep a house cool in the summer and warm in the winter but, in order to combat noise annoyance, an acoustical insulator is required. Rockwool, for example, is a great mineral wool acoustic insulator.
Soundproof plasterboard — Also referred to as “drywall” (in North America). Soundproof plasterboard installation is one of the most straightforward and effective ways to eliminate noise annoyance. The process usually comprises of the application of a soundproofing adhesive in order to bond the plasterboard to a brick wall, for example a Genie Clip wall system or Maxi Independent wall panels. The soundproofing is then reinforced with an additional layer of acoustic plasterboards.
Another consequence of the world’s population moving into cities is that there are now more people living in apartment blocks or flats than ever before, including around 15 – 20 per cent of the UK population and an incredible 42 per cent of the European Union member states. As a result, more people are exposed to noise pollution rising up through the floor, from noisy tenants below them.
Floor soundproofing is usually required to remedy a common source of noise annoyance known as airborne noises. Loud chatter, music, or barking dogs — all are sounds that typically get transferred through weaknesses in the floor below.
That is a lot of people at the mercy of noisy neighbours.
There are a number of ways to insulate the floor from noise annoyance: including the installation of a thick membrane to absorb much of the sound, sand-filled boards and the above mentioned acoustic mineral wool; usually a combination of acoustic mineral wool and membrane works best for soundproofing floors and maximum noise reduction.
Say there are two noisy neighbours, one from below and the other above — or a neighbour is unhappy about perceived noise coming up from the apartment or flat. In the case of the neighbour above, the most likely source of noise annoyance is what is known as impact noises. Impact noises include footfalls, the dropping of items, or the moving of furniture, and are generally the result of vibrations transmitted through the ceiling.
For maximum effectiveness it is best if the ceiling and the floor above are given the soundproofing achievement — obviously, this may not always be possible. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce both impact noise from above and airborne noise from below using a combination of mineral wool; sound planks, sound shield acoustic plasterboards, and acoustic hangers (see our ISO hanger ceiling system).
It is worth remembering that soundproofing a ceiling often reduces the overall height of the room — but only by a few inches at most.
There is also a neat adhesive known as green glue that helps to combat noise pollution by capturing the sound waves and transforming them in to heat. The heat quickly dissipates and, with it, the noise. The scientific name for this process is called damping.
The cost of soundproofing a room depends on many variables including the quality of the materials used and the location of the property. Generally a price can be estimated by considering the number of material-pieces required, such as the number of mineral wool rolls or plasterboard sheets.
Most homeowners can expect to pay between £700 – £1,000 to soundproof an average-sized wall, though this is only an estimation. Obviously an entire room will require more work — especially if the floor and ceiling also need soundproofing. In which case it is important to receive a full estimate in writing before the project begins, eliminating any hidden or unsuspecting fees.
Sometimes noise annoyance can come from within: the children playing on the video games console too loud, perhaps. The good news is that stud walls often fall in the DIY range of construction. Just substitute the usual plasterboard and insulation with their sound-deadening equivalents for homemade sound proof walls.
We have discussed much of the processes to do with soundproofing a room, but there is a method of insulation installation that has not been considered: that of ‘blowing’ insulation into a wall. This method requires the drilling of holes into the desired wall and then using a system of specialises hoses, pumps, and machines to insert a mineral wool, such as Rockwool, into the target wall.
‘Blowing’ is not to be tried at home. It requires specialist, precision tools, and an expert at the helm — but it is very effective.
Soundproofing naturally is very effective, because it works to smother out and absorb the sound waves that transmit noise pollution. This is why a good soundproofing underlay reduces airborne noises from below, and why a fully soundproofed room is remarkably effective at cutting out “flanking noises” (that is, noises that seem to indirectly find their way into a room other than through a wall).
A soundproofed surface is also a great echo eliminator, as sound waves bounce more easily off smooth, hard surfaces. The very qualities of a soundproofed room will serve to absorb these sound waves and diffuse them, creating the very opposite of an echo chamber.—
Noise annoyance is a serious matter. If your home is in an area of heavy noise pollution, remember there is something that can be done. Noise annoyance doesn’t have to be permanent.