Noise is everywhere. Yet, consider those less extreme noises that are around us daily. The ones inside our home – those that might not directly relate to volume or pitch. Consider, for example, the emotions that are stirred by a constantly dripping tap, how we feel if our sleep is interrupted by the hum of an extractor fan switching on or the flush of a toilet, even the constant buzz of an electrical appliance on standby in an otherwise silent room.
We surveyed more than 2000 adults across the UK to get greater insight on the impact of these ‘everyday’ noises – and the findings told us that the issue is far bigger than many of us might think.
Noisier than ever?
Architects and specifiers are increasingly aware of the need to mitigate the impact of external noise such as road, rail and air traffic. Yet, there is an argument that this increased external sound insulation has actually amplified noise within the home, highlighting internal noises more than ever before.
Indeed, this seems to be the case, according to our survey. More than a third of respondents (38%) told us that noises inside the home, such as electrical appliances, bathroom noise or central heating systems, currently affect them more than traffic from outside.
What was even more concerning, however, was the impact of this internal noise. More than half of respondents (51%) cited these unwanted noises as having a negative impact upon their wellbeing.
We are letting down homeowners – and existing regulations around the control of noise in buildings are far too vague. In fact, they offer little guidance on the specification of potential sound-optimising products which is why they need a serious rethink.
Regulating the issue
Let’s focus in particular on the issue of bathroom noise, one of the main culprits of unwanted sound in the home. One in four of us (28%) is regularly disturbed by bathroom sounds at night or when trying to relax. And yet, despite the fact that installation elements in the bathroom have direct contact with walls and floors, there still remains a lack of stewardship and specific, clear regulations governing the control of wastewater noise inside new buildings. And it’s this wastewater, in particular, that is an issue – our research found that one in five (19%) of homeowners are regularly disturbed by flushing toilets, running taps or pipe and drains.
There are, of course, products available in the UK market to mitigate the impact of such noise. Sound optimised drainage piping can reduce noise transfer from flushing water, washbasins or showers. Likewise, wall-hung toilets with concealed cisterns and pre-wall frames decouple from the construction, preventing noise from travelling down the wall and through the floor.
However, there is very little clarification within the relevant UK regulations on what products should be used to achieve specific sound pressures, particularly when it comes to water and bathroom noise.
For example, BSI’s British Standard 8233:2014 ‘Guidance for Sound Insulation and Noise Reduction in Buildings’ simply states that water systems including hot and cold water services and waste pipes “are not to cause disturbance in normal use”. This rather vague guideline is the standard’s only reference to reducing sanitary noise in buildings. The UK Building Regulations are no more specific. Building Regulations (2010) Approved Document E ‘Resistance to the passage of sound’ largely focuses on measures to control external sound. It does stipulate that any wall or floor should reduce the noise transmitted to the next room by 45 dB or more, but then fails to set a maximum noise level. Importantly, too, nor does it mention the use of any acoustically optimised products.
Meanwhile, the Living with Beauty Report (January 2020) by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission also fails to address the issue. The issue of acoustic performance or noise was not referenced to at any point in the 180-page document. It seems noise is at the bottom of both the environmental and wellbeing agenda.
Addressing the challenge
We can all make better-informed decisions to reduce noise and, subsequently, its impact on our wellbeing in the home. But, without specific UK standards on the noise pressure from water systems inside new buildings, there is no requirement for a building to meet a baseline figure.
There is also no defined approach to testing and, therefore, no incentive for different specifiers across a single project to work together and undertake collaborative testing to ensure that they are achieving the best acoustic rating – just as is the case today for heating or energy loss.
In contrast to the UK’s vague regulations, meanwhile, Germany’s DIN 410 acoustic standard sets maximum limits for acoustics inside a building. As well as this, the German standard VDI 4100 outlines proposals for enhanced sound insulation between rooms.
Whilst some leading manufacturers here in the UK will ensure all products adhere to these standards, there nevertheless remains no baseline figure for the sound pressure of water and drainage passing through pipe systems in UK guidelines – and thus no minimum standard for architects and consultants to meet.
So, what is the solution? We are all aware that buildings need to consider acoustics and, of course, many of those in the sector will undoubtedly have an in-depth knowledge of the product solutions needed to overcome the challenge of this unwanted noise in the home.
Yet, without recognised standards to work to, it’s a challenge to specify a well-informed, collaboratively-tested solution across an entire building. And our research speaks for itself. Noise in the home is affecting the majority of homeowners.
It’s time for the UK to revisit standards and outline maximum sound pressure figures and fair testing – thus enabling the industry to work together to achieve better results for our end-users.