Contact noise in new homes

Recommendation 69
Measures around floors and walls

Chapter (theme)
Architectural spaces (sound)

Because of
sensory issues, weak powers of imagination, disturbed perception

In order to
lessen noise and related problems.

By contact sound we mean sounds which enter the home from other homes and buildings by way of communal constructions, mainly walls, ceilings and floors. Sound consists of a wave and a frequency and enters the ear when the air vibrates. Contact sound is from a source (e.g. music, machines, slamming doors) which makes the construction vibrate, which in turn makes the air vibrate. The construction functions as a sounding board and increases the noise level at the other side of the structure.
The transmission of sound doesn’t only depend on the construction of the partition, but also on the character of the construction and the fit of various parts (cracks and seams). As the mass increases, so does the sound insolation. Concrete, stone and wood have a relatively high mass which blocks much of the sounds. Lighter constructions will resonate more readily in frequencies which are audible to the human ear. (Derived from Eerens & Baars.)

Structural measures against noise in new buildings is the competence of the architect. The measures he or she takes depend on the local situation, while every day new techniques to this end become available. For these reasons our recommendations are modest and should be taken as no more than suggestions.
These suggestions are to lessen noise transmitted through walls and floors by:

  • adding a floating top floor
  • place a felt band on the foundation wall on which the floor rests
  • using coreless cavity walls with sound-insulating padding
  • avoid wall anchors as much as possible; these are formidable sound bridges.

In order to illustrate how taxing inside noise can be, we quote Hedwich, a young autistic woman whose Odyssey from place to place, trying to find a noiseless home, is described in a Dutch study. As is not unusual, her experience with noise goes together with acute hearing. Hedwich:
“I hear all the neighbors are doing: conversations, flushing the toilet, the opening and closing of doors, entering, walking back and forth, telephone conversations, whether they have visitors, the washing machine, de vacuum cleaner, the extractor. I hear everything and I hate it.”

When Hedwich hears such sounds she has to stop what she’s doing:
“I have a great need for being alone, so I can experience quiet and to sort the thoughts in my head. If I hear the neighbors I’m only occupied with that. I have difficulty switching between my inner world and what happens around me. It’s exhausting. I can’t shut out the sound of the neighbors. I experience them as if they live with me in my house. Because of all these sounds I’m constantly aware of what they’re doing, vacuuming, phoning, at times I understand literally what they’re saying…”

Only after three years she mustered the courage to ask them if they would glue felt to their door posts, which they did.
“… I heard every door close. Also at night. Each time they closed a door it gave me a thump through my heart and my blood. I felt it in my whole body and it caused me physical pain.”


Lighter constructions

I.e. with a mass smaller than 100kg/m2
Eerens & Baas
Eerens, Mark en Rudi Baars, Passend Onderwijs.‘De fysieke omgeving van het kind’, Groningen, Hanzehogeschool, Bouwkunde, 2011.
Dutch study
Visser, Joke, ‘Overgevoelige zintuigen’, In: Engagement (2008)6 (december),44-4 6. I