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9 DIY Hacks for Managing Noise & Acoustical Comfort at Home

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

Managing Noise & Acoustical Comfort at Home is important because:

  • In Toronto, 60% of all noise in the city comes from traffic, a statistic which can be extrapolated to other major urban cities around the world

  • 50% of residents in low-income neighborhoods in Toronto are exposed to 55 dBA of city background noise at night, which is almost equivalent to the sound of human speech (60 dB)

  • The majority of urban cities do not meet the World Health Organization’s guidelines of staying under 30 dBA of background city noise at night, which is the sound level most conducive to good quality sleep for bedrooms as per the organization’s recommendations

(Source: Toronto Public Health, 2017)

Sleep disturbances caused by unwanted noise should therefore not be overlooked. Poor sound control can lead to a myriad of short- and long-term health effects, such as hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), stress, anxiety, depression, mood disorders, to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Poor noise control also impairs our cognitive abilities, our work performance and productivity.

To mitigate the potential harm caused by noise, we must identify where and how they are transmitted in a space. In doing so, we can holistically design our spaces using architectural interventions, materials and devices to create a more acoustically comfortable environment at home for our health and well-being.

Such an environment not only benefits our sleep and mental health, but an acoustically comfortable space(s) allows us to stay focus as we continue to work from home due to COVID-19.

Here are therefore 9 DIY Hacks for Managing Noise & Acoustical Comfort at Home (from spatial control to the individual’s control) within a reasonable price range:

1) Hire an Acoustician for Consulting

Cost: $100 to $200 per hour

Sound is a highly technical field in architecture and interior design, so there is so much one can do to remedy the sound issues at home without hiring an acoustician or an architect/interior designer for their professional services.

Despite this, if there is considerable amount of sound issues that is disrupting your sleep and is causing you severe anguish, consider hiring one.

An acoustician can give you immediate feedback on how to remedy your space, with or without doing renovation work.

2) Identify the Acoustical Goal of your Space(s)

Cost: $0

What do you intend to use your space for? Is your goal to reflect, isolate, absorb or delay the sound in your space?

These two questions will help guide you through the following process in how you can redesign your space to better manage noise and to provide acoustical comfort in your home.

3) Purchase a Sound Measurement instrument

Cost: $30 to $100

One thing that you must purchase for these DIY Hacks for Sound is a Sound measuring instrument. With it, you can measure the background noises of your spaces (in dBA* or NC**), and the Reverberation Time*** of noise (time it takes for sound to dissipate and drop by 60 decibel) caused by HVAC equipment, external sounds and more.

For reference, the WHO’s guideline for community noise recommends that our bedrooms do not exceed 30 A-weighted decibels (dB(A)) in the evening so as to promote good quality sleep, and not more than 40 dB(A) from exterior noise at night. A home office should not exceed 35 dB(A).

4) Identify the Spatial Parameters relating to Sound

Cost: $0

If you choose to remedy sound issues of your space on your own, here are some questions to consider:

  • What is the space used for during the day, afternoon and evening?

  • What are the dimensions of your space (length, width, and height)?

  • What are the walls, floors and ceilings made of?

  • What types of hard, reflective surfaces are used in the space (concrete floors, marble countertops, wood finishes)?

  • What types of soft, absorptive surfaces are used in the s(i.e. mats, clothes, fabrics)?

5) Identify the Acoustical Parameters relating to Sound

Cost: $0

Next, identify the acoustical parameters of your sound source that you are designing around by considering the following:

  • What is the source of the sound?

  • Where is the sound coming from?

  • Is there additional background noise?

  • Is there too much noise or too little?

  • Do you find it hard to hear what another person is saying?

  • Is there echo or not enough echo (this deals with reverberation)?

  • Can you hear sound coming from another room?

6) Make use of Materials to handle Sound

Cost: Varies

Based on your acoustic goal identified in (2), your acoustical measurements in (3) and your DIY assessments in (4) and (5), strategize how you will make use of hard and soft materials / surfaces / finishes to reflect and absorb sound, respectively.

A healthy balance between the two typically results in an acoustically comfortable space. Be sure to make use of Healthy Material choices when appropriate by referring to this article here.