A Sound Solution – Addressing Acoustics in Residential Buildings

Unwanted noise in the home continues to have a direct impact on the wellbeing of homeowners, particularly in the bathroom, with research showing that the issue is far bigger than many of us might think. Here, Sophie Weston, Head of Marketing at Geberit, explores the challenges of designing out noise inside the home.


Architects and specifiers are increasingly aware of the need to mitigate the impact of external noise, such as road, rail and air traffic, for building occupiers.

Noise impact assessments are commonplace in planning applications and are required to show that any new development is not adversely impacting residential or commercial properties located nearby. And, the World Health Organisation, which has been tracking noise levels for over a decade, describes noise pollution as an “underestimated threat” that contributes to everything from stress to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, dementia, diabetes and, of course, hearing loss.

However, the issue of noise is not restricted to the outside world. Rapidly-increasing numbers of connected devices, poor end-user awareness and lack of clarification in UK standards and Building Regulations can leave many people unable to shake off the effects of noise in the home, too.

There is even an argument that increased external sound insulation has actually amplified noise within the home, highlighting internal noises more than ever before.

Identifying the issue

The issue is bigger than some might think. Geberit research published in a previous white paper1 shows that 38% of people say noises inside the home, such as electrical appliances, bathroom noise or central heating systems, affect them more than traffic from outside.

In the bathroom, one in four of us (28%) are regularly disturbed by bathroom sounds at night or when trying to relax, and one in five (19%) homeowners are regularly disturbed by flushing toilets, running taps or pipe and drains.

Critically, more than half of respondents (51%) cited unwanted noises as having a negative impact on their wellbeing.

Part of the challenge is that 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, nor does it mention the use of any acoustically-optimised products.

Presenting solutions

The onus, it seems, is on designers and architects to make well-informed choices to reduce the impact of noise inside the home and, in turn, increase wellbeing.

There are products available in the UK market to mitigate the impact of noise in the bathroom. Sound-optimised drainage piping can reduce noise transfer from flushing water, washbasins or showers. Likewise, wall-hung toilets with concealed cisterns can prevent noise from travelling down the wall and through the floor.

However, 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.

This is in contrast to Germany, where the DIN 410 acoustic standard outlines maximum acoustic levels in a building. It also outlines buildings’ sound insulation with requirements and verifications, as well as clear requirements on internal noise. It sets maximum requirements for sanitary noise at 30dV(A) in terms of LAFmax, n.

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 – as is the case for heating or energy loss.

Some leading manufacturers, including Geberit, are working to the best practice German standards for products sold in the UK market. Still, until UK standards are revisited and maximum figures outlined (not to mention a defined approach to testing acoustically-optimised products), it will remain a challenge to specify a well-informed, collaboratively-tested solution across an entire building. And, as our research shows, 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 work together to achieve better results for our end users.

Find out more at the website below.

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