Making an impact on noise

Recent research links unwanted noise levels with a heightened risk of mental and physical health problems. Karen Wilding of Forbo Flooring Systems says this shows that architects must adopt tools and materials that mitigate these effects

Without effective management, unwanted levels of noise can pose a serious challenge across a wide range of common buildings. From enhancing the likelihood of developing cardiovascular conditions and limiting speech intelligibility, to increasing the chances of hearing loss, there is now a body of evidence to highlight how problematic excess sound can be on occupant health and wellbeing. In turn, there is now an expectation for building designs to incorporate noise reducing measures.

Understanding sound
Sound can take one of two forms: airborne noise, or impact noise. It is important for architects to understand the specific properties of each, as this will help to make more informed decisions when designing in acoustic systems. Impact noise occurs following a physical impact on a building, or solid material, such as footfall, or a banging door. Airborne noise applies to things like TV noise, people talking or dogs barking, and travels through the air, reflecting off or being absorbed into various building elements.

Each individual project will have its own unique challenges, and the level of acoustic performance required will vary for different types of buildings and rooms.

For example, with an increasing number of people in the UK now renting homes, the demand for private and social housing buildings is on the rise. The main issue is that multi-occupancy buildings often struggle to prevent excess noise transferring from room to room and floor to floor, affecting an individual’s ability to sleep. Similarly, in healthcare, hospitals should be optimised for rest and recovery, and efforts should be made to mitigate sound transmission between wards and floors. For England and Wales, Health Technical Memorandum HTM 08-01 sets out the acoustic criteria for the design and management of new healthcare facilities.

Meanwhile, classrooms up and down the country struggle with indoor environments that create excess reverberation and noise transference between levels, and limit speech intelligibility. This can adversely affect students’ health, concentration levels and performance. It is clear that acoustic performance needs to be addressed.

From the floor up
With all of these challenges in mind, the good news is that advances in sound insulation solutions mean that acoustic performance within all types of buildings can be improved. Most notably, acoustic flooring is an effective measure for reducing noise transmission through the floor and into the spaces below. Acoustic floor coverings are specifically manufactured with a high-performance foam backing to enhance impact sound reduction and solutions typically range from 14 dB to 30 dB to suit a variety of project requirements, where the higher the number is, the better the performance. Not only can acoustic flooring be installed as part of a new build, it also offers a good retrofit solution for older buildings.

There are a number of effective acoustically-engineered flooring solutions available in different materials, styles and installation formats. Acoustic vinyl is one of the most popular choices across a variety of sectors thanks to its ability to deliver superior impact sound reduction, as well as fresh and striking designs. These solutions will commonly be in 15 dB and 19 dB variants. As well as contributing to sound control, acoustic vinyl is also heralded for its exceptional indentation performance, providing an ideal solution for heavy traffic commercial areas and environments where rolling loads will be used.

In addition, the latest developments in acoustic vinyl now means that there are rapid and reusable options available that offer easy installation, as these can be installed without the need for adhesives, or compromising on aesthetics. Due to the nature of healthcare and education facilities in particular, looking to reduce downtime in such environments is vital, and these ‘fast fit’ solutions can avoid disruption and impact on the daily activities of occupants. Not only can these floor coverings be installed quickly, but floors can also be walked on immediately after installation.

For areas that require a softer finish, flocked floor coverings and carpet tiles combine warmth, comfort and impact sound reduction properties with outstanding durability performance, even in the most demanding environments. With products available on the market that can reduce impact noise by up to 30 dB, the flooring can minimise the sound of footsteps, voices and ambient noise.

Finally, acoustic luxury vinyl tiles are a good choice for buildings where beautiful design, noise pollution and the wellbeing of occupants are vital considerations. Offering the perfect balance between high impact sound reduction properties and dimensional stability, it is a resilient option that has proven popular particularly within high-rise private rental accommodation.

Karen Wilding is senior marketing executive at Forbo Flooring Systems