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Modern living and acoustic comfort: Tackling mental health and noise pollution


Modern living and acoustic comfort: How do we improve our increasingly noisy lives?

The modern world and our lifestyles are becoming increasingly noisy. Our television screens are getting bigger and louder, our living spaces more minimal and open plan, and our roads are becoming more congested.

On top of this, with a drive to build more accommodation to meet the housing crisis, more and more families and households are living in apartments or homes that are attached. So, with continued focus on developing properties that are both affordable and sustainable, what can we do to protect the acoustic comfort of our homes?

Nuisance noise and modern living

According to figures from 2017, the majority of us are living in homes that are directly adjacent to at least one neighbour. Based on data from the Land Registry UK House Price Index and UK census figures, only 25% of British residents live in a detached house, with the remainder occupying either a semi-detached, terrace, flat or maisonette.

And with so many of us living with other people to the side, above or below us, it’s not hard to see why there have been so many reports of noisy neighbours, antisocial behaviour and stressed out homeowners in the news in recent years. According to figures published by Churchill Home Insurance, around 580,000 statutory nuisance complaints were filed with local councils across the UK between August 2017 and August 2018 (an average of 66 complaints per hour), 48% of which related to noise.

And yet, we continue to fill our lives and our homes with noisy products and gadgets. Figures from Statista show average TV sizes have increased by nearly five inches between 2015 and 2018, and that this is a trend is expected to continue. And, with streaming video services like Netflix keen to stand out from their rapidly growing list of competitors with features like 4K UHD and Dolby Atmos, our home entertainment isn’t showing any signs of getting quieter.

What makes an ideal home?

Our own research shows 11% of homeowners and renters cite noise from adjoining neighbours as one of the things they’d most like to change about where they live, with noise from outside coming in at 7%. And, when asked about what they would look for in a property, occupants also listed ‘a home that helps you relax and unwind’ and ‘a home where you’re not disturbed by noise from neighbours or outside’ among their top ten ‘ideal home factors’.

However, while many of us have a very clear idea of what we feel our ideal home might look like, it’s a very different vision to the ideal homes of the past. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, decorating trends would typically lean towards rooms that featured thick soft furnishings and carpets, as well as walls filled with shelves, pictures and books. Today though, we’re much more likely to want cool clean lines and minimalist design, with sparsely-populated bookshelves and just a few, statement pictures. The problem being, this type of design doesn’t really offer much in the way of sound absorption.

A threat to mental and physical wellbeing

Homeowners certainly seem aware that their health and wellbeing is important, with around 95% of survey respondents saying they are making some effort to look after it. But how worried should we be about how our proximity to traffic, high streets and other people is affecting us, both mentally and physically, in the home?

There’s plenty of research out there that shows how noise pollution is bad for your health, but The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also reiterated in its Environmental Noise Guidelines that the problem should be considered a genuine threat to public health. Beyond mental wellbeing, WHO lists cardiovascular problems among its short and long-term, noise-related health concerns.

In addition, research from Dr Yutong Samuel Cai of Imperial College London has suggested long-term exposure to traffic noise can have a direct effect on our blood biochemistry, while a study from Barts and the London School of Medicine has linked noise pollution with the type 2 diabetes. With similar research from The Remark Group revealing around 34% of us believe workplace noise is having an impact on our wellbeing, surely we have to do more to ensure we are able to escape the hustle and bustle of the day at home.

How do we achieve acoustic comfort?

People will go to all sorts of lengths to seal off the noise of the outside world, whether to get a better night’s sleep or just book some time away from their increasingly digitised lives. Sales of earplugs are on the rise it seems, with increases of over 10% expected between 2016 and 2022. Meanwhile, spas across the country are now offering customers the chance to float away their troubles in special saltwater-filled floatation pods.

But there are more practical ways to achieving acoustic comfort that will make for healthier day-to-day living. First off, homeowners and developers should look carefully at how individual spaces will be used and by whom, as well as how noise behaves in a room or building and what additional, external noise factors need to be considered. From there, acoustic comfort can be designed from the start, with products like double or triple glazing, insulation, or if necessary, sound absorbing pads which can be applied to ceilings and walls.

For some developers, acoustic comfort is proving to be an essential part of the planning process from the outset, as it provides such a unique selling point for those who are looking for a home that can provide a sanctuary from the outside world.

One example of this is Jonathan Twentyman, managing director of JP McGuire Developments, who has been keen to ensure his recent Loom Wharf project has this kind of thinking built in from the start. As the building itself is A Grade II Listed cotton mill originally built in 1882, extra care had to be taken throughout with the renovation, with the very best quality Isover insulation installed between apartments to help minimise noise, as well as keep homes a comfortable temperature, and special devices fitted to ensure toilets didn’t flush too loudly.

“My aim with Loom Wharf is to provide premium housing at an affordable price to local people,” explained Twentyman. “We’ve spent years refining our plans and designs so we can bring a luxury feel to these apartments and offer residents a great lifestyle and sense of community – all while remaining sympathetic to the mill’s heritage. We’ve no doubt all experienced living in an apartment or staying in a hotel where you can hear your neighbours coming and going, or even talking. It’s not a relaxing environment. That’s why we’ve specified products and designed the spaces of these apartments to make sure you can’t hear your neighbours around you.”

Keeping sound in mind

It’s clear homemakers and developers alike can do plenty to ensure they are creating spaces that can offer true acoustic comfort, but that this is a consideration that needs to be made in the design process as early as possible.

However, with so many great products out there that can improve soundproofing, help with mental and physical wellbeing – while having the added bonus of improving thermal comfort too – there really isn’t any excuse why this shouldn’t happen.

Disclaimer: The sole responsibility for any views expressed lies with the author(s). Any opinions shared do not necessarily represent the views of Saint-Gobain.

Ieuan Compton
Ieuan Compton Head of Marketing Services
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