Noise is one the biggest complaints made about living in condo and apartment buildings. Whether it’s the result of shoddy construction, poor design or merely the laws of physics, it’s more than just annoying, warns Toronto-based audiologist Beverley Wolfe.is one the biggest complaints made about living in condo and apartment buildings. Whether it’s the result of shoddy construction, poor design or merely the laws of physics, it’s more than just annoying, warns Toronto-based audiologist Beverley Wolfe.
Excessive noise can lead to hearing loss, which according to the Canadian Hearing Society www.chs.ca affects one in four Canadians. And it’s not just hearing that can be hurt — the World Health Organization www.who.int/en suggests over-exposure can even have a negative effect on cardiovascular health.
In cities, noise is all around us, says Wolfe, pointing to subways, construction and stadium noise as common public-space culprits. But our homes, she says, can also have dangerously high levels.
That’s partly because so many urban spaces feature multiple hard surfaces and large expanses of windows that can amplify noise.
Appliances are also to blame. Stand mixers, hairdryers, lawnmowers — all typically register above 85 decibels, the level at which factory workers are required to wear protection.
Wolfe says that people need to “get over the idea that loud means strong” when it comes to home appliances, adding that she wishes more consumers would ask about decibel levels when shopping for appliances. Vacuum cleaners, for example, average about 82 decibels.
Easy ways to reduce noise in the home include not turning on radios and televisions loud enough that you can’t hear someone a metre away talking in a regular voice.
Adding thick carpeting, heavy drapes and soft surfaces is another age-old trick used by designers to muffle sound. That’s because they diminish the reverberation time — the time it takes for sound to dissipate after the source stops, says Janine Gliener of Acoustics With Design www.AcousticsWithDesign.com, a company that sells decorative sound absorption panels made by the Swedish company www.wobedo.com.
Gliener explains that room measurements are used to calculate the number and type of panels needed. Clients then choose from a range of curvy bubble, circles, squares and rectangles shapes. They are even figurative shapes, such as a barn or church steeple, that work well for playrooms and day-care settings. There’s also lots of choice in colours and fabrics.
Sound panels from Acoustics With Design are just one of several products designed to address the issue of noise in the home.
Vancouver-based design studio molo www.molodesign.com makes softwall, a flexible freestanding partition system made of a non-woven polyethylene material. Designed by molo founders and lead designers Stephanie Forsythe and Todd MacAllen, the honeycomb structures have “pleats” that increase the wall’s surface area and improve sound absorption.
Moveable softwall components are tear-, UV- and water- resistant.
As awareness about the effects of excessive noise is raised, Gliener hopes that sound will become an increasingly important element in home design. “It’s not something people typically think of,” she says. “But it can really affect the way you live. Too much noise can seriously affect your health, and your happiness.”