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Date: 25 September 2018

Taking a fabric first approach to sound

You may have heard about the importance of taking a ‘fabric first’ approach to your self build, but what does this really means from an acoustic design perspective?

Self building with a fabric first approach is all about focusing on the quality and performance of the building materials and components that make up the property. Cutting corners in this area or choosing basic grade materials can have lasting consequences – and when it comes to acoustics, this can seriously hamper the enjoyment of your new home.

Whether it’s your other half’s late night TV sessions, your teenager’s new drum kit or just the dishwasher clunking away while you try to relax, the hustle and bustle of every day life can be deafening. What’s more, the requirements for acoustic performance laid out in the Building Regulations will do little to ease the pain; most standard internal wall will meet the fairly minimal 40dB (decibels) of sound reduction necessary but in actual fact, this will not deliver a significant improvement to the noise levels in your home.

A much better approach is to take a holistic view to acoustics, by designing out sound disturbances from the outset and upgrading the building fabric in the areas where this is not possible.

Sound Solutions – Noise Issues

Planning is key

The first step towards good acoustic design is to prevent noise conflicts from happening in the first place by carefully planning the layout of the rooms in your property. If possible, try to avoid locating designated quiet spaces such as bedrooms and nurseries next to noise sources such as bathrooms, stereos, TVs and household appliances.

Next, it’s worth spending some time looking at your designs, thinking about how each space is going to be used and whether noise intrusion from the surrounding rooms is likely to be a problem. So for example, if a utility room is located next to a lounge area, there’s a good chance that the washing machine could be making a racket through the wall as you’re trying to watch TV. If rearranging the design layout of your self build home is not an option, it’s worth upgrading the construction of the internal partition to deliver a higher standard of acoustic performance.

Sound Solutions – Girl playing guitar

A simple way to do this is by using a 70mm metal stud, with a double layer of acoustic plasterboard and acoustic insulation. This sort of construction can be very effective in achieving a meaningful reduction in nuisance noise. British Gypsum’s Silent Wall system, for example, delivers an additional 15dB more than the basic Building Regulations standard of just 40dB.

Other areas where this sort of approach could be effective are: adjacent bedrooms, en-suite bathrooms, studies and home offices. Additionally, unless you live on your own, we always recommend upgrading the internal floors or ceilings in non open-plan properties (more on open-plan in a moment.) This acoustic zoning will prevent noisy footsteps from upstairs disturbing the occupants of the rooms below and vice versa. 

With all of that being said, it is absolutely crucial to consider the location and performance of any internal doors, as this will have a serious impact on sound transmission. If possible, try not to locate doors in the wall between noisy and quiet spaces. Where this is not possible (en-suite bathrooms for example) it is vital to choose a specialised internal door that can deliver high levels of acoustic performance, as otherwise the noise disturbance will simply leak through and render the wall upgrade redundant.

Sound Solutions – Mum reads in peace

What about open-plan designs?

Although they can be beautiful spaces, open-plan designs present a number of challenges when it comes to acoustics. While it’s true that most designs have some enclosed spaces such as bedrooms or bathrooms, with nothing in the way to inhibit sound transmission, noise from the TV or kitchen can quickly reverberate around the property becoming a problem for anyone trying to catch some shut-eye or relax.

To properly enhance the acoustic performance of these rooms, all elements of the enclosing partitions must be tackled in sequence. So for example, if the door doesn’t achieve a high enough standard acoustically, there is little point in upgrading the specification of the walls. Similarly, it’s only worth installing a high quality acoustic ceiling or floor if the door and walls have also been dealt with.

Overall, the most important thing is to ensure your architect knows that you wish to use achieve enhanced acoustic performance, so that they can be accommodated in the plans right from the outset. It’s much better to plan for acoustic performance that goes beyond the Basic Building Regulations in the early design stages, as new build solutions are far less disruptive than having to retrofit a solution when you find you have a problem further down the line.

Get your free guide

If you want to know more about taking a fabric first approach in your project, whether that’s for better acoustics or more durable walls, request a copy of our self build guide.

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