The sound of silence

You want your home to be a relaxing and peaceful haven – and it’s easier to accomplish than you might think, as British Gypsum’s sound solutions expert Sarah White explains.

The hustle and bustle of everyday life can be deafening, particularly when you just want a bit of peace and quiet in your own home. The good news is that self-builders don’t have to settle for standard performance levels and can easily achieve superior acoustic performance in their projects.

What do the building regulations say about acoustics?

In England and Wales, acoustic performance in residential properties is governed by Approved Document Part E – Resistance to the Passage of Sound. This document is split into two further sections: E1 and E2. The first section is concerned with noise from adjoining buildings such as flats, terraces and semi- detached houses, while the second deals with sound transmission within the home itself. Generally speaking, this is the most relevant to self-builders, who are normally designing detached properties.

However, the requirements for internal walls and floors in E2 are actually quite minimal – most standard constructions will meet the 40 dB (decibels) of sound reduction necessary. The question, therefore, should not be whether the proposed plans satisfy Building Regulations but rather do they satisfy your expectations in your dream home?

Self-building provides a unique opportunity to design a home that’s tailored to your individual lifestyle – which includes turning the TV up to full volume if you want to or shutting out the kids’ noise for some relaxation time. Taking this into consideration right at the initial design phase will allow you to create an enhanced acoustic design that meets your exact needs, while beating Building Regulation requirements.

How can I maximise room layouts for sound performance?

The simplest way to reduce sound disturbance within a home is to avoid creating acoustic conflicts in the first place, through good room layout. For example, try to avoid locating studies, nurseries, bedrooms or other ‘quiet’ spaces next to noise sources such as bathrooms, TVs and household appliances.

Where this is not possible, upgrading the building fabric is the best solution and can achieve significant improvements for homeowners. Some typical areas where such a measure would be effective might be: ensuite bathrooms, adjacent bedrooms or utility rooms that connect directly onto living spaces.

A simple way to enhance internal walls is to upgrade to a 70 mm metal stud and use a double layer of heavy acoustic SoundBloc plasterboards and acoustic insulation, which is worth considering in any of the above situations. It’s also important to consider the location and performance of doors, as well as flanking paths and electrical sockets, as these can all amplify sound transmission.

What about open plan spaces?

Modern design trends certainly lean towards open plan living, and many self- builders will be looking to achieve the sense of light and space this style of layout offers. However, there’s no denying that open plan designs come with their own unique set of acoustic challenges. Large rooms can look amazing, but they also run the risk of becoming echo-riddled caverns, particularly given the popularity of hard flooring surfaces.

To counter this, it’s useful to incorporate sound-absorbing materials into the design to reduce reverberation. Certainly, soft furnishings such as rugs and carpets will have an effect, but a more efficient way to do this is to use sound-absorbing panels built into the walls – however, these can be obtrusive so choosing the right solution for your home will depend very much on the desired aesthetic.

How do i reduce noise from above?

Unless you live on your own, chances are you will be disturbed by noisy feet in the rooms above at some point – particularly if you have boisterous kids, whose rough and tumble play can be heard throughout the house. What’s more, noise from living rooms and kitchens can easily seep through to bedrooms on the next floor.

Taking an acoustic approach to internal floors is the best way to minimise this disturbance and can be achieved relatively easily. For timber floors, simply adding a resiliently mounted ceiling with acoustic plasterboards and acoustic insulation can result in a 15 dB improvement over the Building Regulations, which is a significant jump in performance levels.

What if I want a home cinema?

As mentioned, part of the beauty of self- building a home is that you get to design a space that exactly meets your needs. So if you want a home cinema – or indeed a music room or a quiet space for study, work or meditation – that’s what you should have! Designing sound solutions into your plan is one way to achieve this without disturbing the rest of the family.

Essentially, this can be created by compartmentalising spaces within the home using enhanced acoustic specifications for the walls, ceiling and floor. This is a very effective means of containing sound within the space or preventing external noise from seeping in.

How much space will the ideal acoustic solution take up?

Although this question is most pertinent to homeowners looking to retrofit sound solutions into an existing property, it is relevant to self-builders too. The answer depends very much on the chosen system but wall lining upgrades and wall solutions are typically between 50 mm and 130 mm thick. However, the very small sacrifice that is made in space can pay huge dividends in the comfort and enjoyment you will reap from a well- planned acoustic design.

The important thing is to ensure your architect knows that you wish to use enhanced acoustic specifications, so that they can be accommodated in the plans right from the outset. It’s much better to plan for good acoustic performance in the early stages, as new build solutions are far less disruptive than having to retrofit a solution when you find you have a problem further down the line.

Sarah White is residential sector manager at British Gypsum