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)
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
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
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
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.
7) Purchase a Sound Masking device or a White Noise machine
Cost: $50 to $70
Sound masking are appliances that emit low frequency sounds that can be used to conceal unwanted background noise by “raising the ambient noise level within the room… [thus] mak[ing] a room seem quieter [and] other sounds less distracting” (Resonics, 2020).
Similarly, white noise machines are used to generate natural sounds that can evoke a sense of relaxation for our bedrooms, which can result in higher quality of sleep.
Either of these machines can also be placed in a work space to encourage work productivity, however it will depend upon the user’s preference. Be sure to check the device's specs and functionalities before buying one for your space(s).
8) Identify Adjacent spaces
Sound isolation between two adjacent rooms will be the toughest challenge to tackle for a DIY Hack without doing any renovation work.
Imagine a scenario in your house between two bedrooms or in a condo between two units. Despite our efforts to soundproof the two adjacent spaces via a thick wall, sound can sometimes find its way into the next room. This can happen in the form of impact noise via seals, through air vents, or through the structure via vibrations on the floor.
We can remedy this by closing soundproofed doors and other openings between two spaces, by making use of a louder sound masking device, or to implement more softer, insulative materials / surfaces / finishes to absorb unwanted sound.
9) Purchase & make use of Sound Cancelling Headphones
Cost: $100 to $500
Making use of sound cancelling headphones is an effective way to take soundproofing with you on the go, especially if you are a flexible worker and you like to change up your work space.
Some things to consider when purchasing sound cancelling headphones are cost, comfort, its technical specs, to even headphone breathability when it comes to handling sweat.
*A-weighted Decibels (dB(A)) - a unit of measurement that only considers the loudness of sound (amplitude of sound waves) perceived by the human ear; low frequency sound waves are given less significance in assessing acoustical discomfort
**Noise Criterion (NC) - a standardized noise rating index relative to a set of frequencies (63Hz to 8000Hzin a space, thus producing a series of curves on a graph; useful for determining background noise in a space
***Reverberation Time - the time it takes for sound to decay 60 decibels as a result of reflective and absorptive room surfaces