Reducing Noise Pollution and Improving Acoustics

Noise is one of the most commonly-found contaminants in the construction sector. Construction sites produce extensive amounts of noise pollution, the effects of which are experienced immediately.


In the UK in 2019, noise breaches on construction sites were reported to be up 25%. With the sector now preparing to ‘build, build, build’, the situation will worsen without action.

Many construction activities are intensely noisy, resulting from both the equipment and materials used. In the USA, 51% of construction workers have been exposed to hazardous noise, and 14% have permanent hearing damage. Clearly the effect on workers’ health and wellbeing is profound.

The negative effects are not restricted to the construction site, with noise pollution creating a problem for surrounding areas. Local residents often report varying levels of stress, sleep disturbance and high blood pressure. Noise pollution can also disturb the natural cycles of animals and reduce the size of their habitat.

One method used to reduce the damaging effects of construction noise is to implement a noise reduction plan. Kiss House Co-Founder, Mike Jacob, says this is a good start but will only take you so far. Jacob prefers a more far-reaching approach focusing on modern methods of construction and new materials. He explains: “At Kiss House, we are developing new materials that significantly reduce the use of concrete and steel, both reducing the use of polluting materials and the intensely noisy processes they require. Add to this the smart use of offsite manufacture, and you achieve far less local disruption and far shorter build times.”

The way we build has an essential role to play as there is currently no requirement for acoustic performance for most residential dwellings in the UK.

“If we build better, we ensure that building occupants are separated from harmful outside noise,” Jacob continues. “We do this by building to the Passivhaus standard and then go further by separating internal noise.” Building to the Passivhaus standard cocoons and protects building occupants from noise pollution.

Where construction noise cannot be reduced sufficiently via design and process, then retrofit control measures are necessary. Whilst noise barriers are the most generally effective option, it is essential to understand how innovation has changed usage best practice.

Conventionally, unwieldy acoustic blankets were deployed at the edges of sites to reduce offsite noise pollution. However, more sophisticated and mobile modern barriers have been developed. These allow sites not only to reduce offsite noise by an additional order of magnitude but by positioning them close to sources, occupational noise exposure is also cut dramatically – a double benefit.

Several factors affect the local residents’ subjective impressions of site sounds and, therefore, the number of complaints. These include amplitude and ‘character’ and non-noise factors such as appearance and dust.

Echo Barrier Technical Director, Peter Wilson, admits: “We have taken full advantage of a powerful placebo effect. Hand-finishing the barriers for aesthetic reasons provides around three times the perceived attenuation, reducing complaints. Coupled with design features facilitating barrier mobility means they move with noise sources to provide the maximum objective attenuation of both environmental and occupational noise.”

Understanding the relationship between noise and health has been of significant interest to the design community as of late. Building off of the success of programmes such as Passivhaus and certification like the WELL v2 rating system rewards projects that are designed to achieve onsite verification of metrics related to the health and wellbeing of occupants.

WELL recognises the risks associated with noise and health with the dedicated Sound concept, authored by IWBI Sound Concept Lead, Ethan Bourdeau. Ethan explains: “The consideration of sound and noise in the built environment ought to occur throughout all design stages: preliminarily, concurrent to and following the construction of a space. Whether we know it or not, our bodies constantly react to sound and noise, registering audible cues that may contain information pertinent to communication, the sense of threat, or unwanted distractions. We know that, over time, continuous background noise from traffic, for instance, plays a role in the development of child learning capabilities, healthy sleep and risk of myocardial infarction (i.e. heart disease) in adults. Though we are still learning more about the extent of these conditions, the effects of noise on human health are inextricable.”

Having a company’s building achieve the WELL standard provides businesses with an attractive way to demonstrate to their teams that their workspace has been improved with their wellbeing in mind. Something that might be necessary to entice workers from their homes and back into the workplace, post-pandemic. And thanks to the institute’s, first national campaign – directed by Spike Lee and starring Lady Gaga, J-Lo, Michael B. Jordan, Robert DeNiro, Venus Williams, all encouraging the public to look for WELL’s seal at restaurants, retailers and – offices, those employees are now more likely to know WELL and understand its benefits.

In February 2020, Quiet Mark launched the Acoustics Academy, an online platform to further equip architects and the building sector with third-party, verified acoustics solutions for all types of building applications. Poppy Szkiler, who co-founded Quiet Mark with her mother, Gloria Elliott OBE, CEO of Noise Abatement Society (Co-Founder & Chair of Quiet Mark), in 2011, set out the core benefits of this platform. She says: “By creating the first definitive industry-champion online guide for the very best approved solutions to unwanted noise across the building sector, Quiet Mark aims to boost best practice for acoustic design solutions to transform buildings and design of outside living spaces.

“With science-made-simple commentary, installation insights and specification know-how bespoke to each building sector product range, the platform demystifies the often poorly-explained science of acoustic application and elevates its importance in the overall design of a building.”

Brand Examples

Quiet Mark-certified products you’ll find listed on include:

•  Armourcoat Acoustic and BASWA acoustic plaster systems

•  Saint-Gobain Ecophon wall panels and modular ceilings

•  Vaillant heat pumps

•  Enfield Speciality Doors

•  ROCKWOOL stone-wool insulation

•  Karndean Designflooring acoustic flooring

•  BuzziSpace acoustic lighting and furniture.

Uniting WELL and Quiet Mark’s missions to elevate wellbeing through improved acoustic comfort in the built environment, CMO and Host of The Quiet Podcast, Simon Gosling, has recently been appointed to WELL’s Home and Sound Advisories. Advisories help shape the evolution of the WELL Building Standard and raise the bar for high-performing buildings and organisations around the world.

“To appreciate the benefits great acoustics has to offer, internal spaces must be carefully designed with a focus on the experience of the end-users,” states Jack Richardson, Senior Acoustic Consultant with leading international environmental engineering consultancy for the built environment, Hilson Moran. Some of its work includes shell and core, fit-out of the stunning 80 Fenchurch Street (pictured), a new landmark 14-storey commercial building located in the heart of London’s evolving city centre comprising 250,000ft2 of Grade A office floor space for client YardNine & Partners Group, designed by architecture firms Foster + Partners and T.P. Bennett.

“Our extensive work in this field tells us that the design of complex, multi-use buildings accommodating uses with differing acoustic needs benefit from computer simulations and auralisations to understand how sound and vibration will behave and to demonstrate to our clients how a space will actually sound. This is a crucial step in the design process that allows the specification and placement of acoustic materials to result in healthier and happier users, when complemented by a detailed technical appreciation of how different material solutions work,” continues Jack, who discusses this topic at length on Ep. 12 of the Quiet Mark Podcast.

As the awareness of sound and acoustics has grown, naturally so has the array of acoustic products that architects and designers have at their disposal. Independent verification or testing schemes – such as that offered by Quiet Mark’s Acoustics Academy – certainly help to filter out some of the ‘noise’ and bring to the forefront tried, tested and trusted products. The effects of using reputable products can be unquestionably felt by the users and demonstrated through commissioning measurements or long-term monitoring. To successfully turn the page on pandemic life and support people as they return to the built environment, it will be vital that our buildings offer a real benefit to their wellbeing and quality of life. This means not just designing positive acoustic environments on paper but ensuring that the construction processes and materials follow suit.

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