Great living spaces, Home, Sound | 18 November 2021
Sound in the home.
Why is it important? Why do we care?
World Health Organisation research shows that environmental noise pollution is the world’s second largest pollutant! It affects both our mental and physical health, whereas quiet, calm, and the chance to switch off, are key to supporting our health. We look at how sound impacts us in the home and the emerging field of Aural architecture, considering along the way how we can apply the lessons learned at Kiss House.
When we close our front doors, our ideal is often to shut out sounds from outside. Interestingly whilst the planning process requires developers to “consider” the noise exposure of a development site and how the homes “may need to be insulated from noise,” due to road traffic and other sources, there is no requirement regarding acoustic insulation and performance.
Instead planning guide “PPG24 guides local authorities in England on the use of their planning powers to minimise the adverse effects of noise. It outlines what should be considered in determining planning applications for noise sensitive developments and for those activities that generate noise,” Planning Policy Guidance Note 24: Planning and noise (Scotland’s PAN 1/2011 (formerly PAN 56) has similar requirements).
At Kiss House we work on the basis that by building better, we can ensure that building occupants are separated from harmful outside noise wherever possible. The way we approach this is by building to the Passivhaus standard because this cocoons and protects building occupants from noise. As, Design Editor at www.treehugger.com Lloyd Alter expresses so simply “…there is another feature that comes with (the) thick insulated walls and triple-glazed windows (of Passivhaus): Quiet.”
Barry Blesser, formerly of MIT and co-author with Linda Salter of “Spaces Speak, Are You Listening?”said to the BBC, the “place you are in is very important to your emotional stability.” Whether it is a cathedral or a basement, a bathroom, classroom, or concert hall. All spaces have characteristic signature sounds that you unconsciously rely on. Blesser reminds us that that,
“There is no such thing as sound without a space.”
He explains that the characteristic signature sounds within the spaces we inhabit unconsciously affect all elements of our behaviour. This can have any number of emotional impacts on us “it can enhance comfort, it can enhance discomfort, create arousal, it can create tension, it can create warmth, it can create relaxation” and so on. Ultimately, you will become tense if there is too much inconsistency between your expectations of the qualities of the space and your needs, with the reality of where you are. It is strange then that architecture schools do not teach their students how to design sound environments within their buildings. However, there is a new discipline emerging which fuses acoustics, architecture, and psychology and it is called Aural architecture. Aural architecture explores the acoustic environment seeking to understand its affects and impacts, and how manipulating the acoustic environment changes the way we feel and behave.
“Aural architecture explores the acoustic environment seeking to understand its affects and impacts, and how manipulating the acoustic environment changes the way we feel and behave.”
Anyone who has ever eaten in a Pizza Express restaurant (or similar) will have experienced first-hand the brittle bounce and clatter of sounds reverberating off of the tiled floors, metal fixtures and fittings and numerous mirrors that adorn the walls. They create a sound environment in which it can become difficult to follow a conversation once it gets busy. Compare this to a theatre with carpets, upholstered seats, thick curtains and wooden fixtures and fittings, and the effect is very different. These issues are the same in all buildings. The materials that we use, the layout, the amount of space all effect our experience within it, and as Barry Blesser says above the way we feel and behave.
Inspired by Salter, Blesser and the field of Aural architecture the Kiss House team has become engaged in how we design for sound within the homes we design. As noted, Passivhaus is a wonderful way of achieving great sound separation to the outside, however there is no acoustic requirement within the standard. Rather the thick, fully insulated walls, high performance doors and triple glazed windows lend themselves to the task by ensuring a superior thermal envelope. Once you get inside a Passivhaus building you still have many of the same considerations found in non-Passivhaus buildings, after-all sound still travels and reverberates, and different internal surfaces affect this in different ways.
Our consideration of the sound spaces that we are creating is taking us on a journey to try to understand how materials, surfaces and spaces work in conjunction. We find ourselves looking at internal wall build ups, insulation materials, acoustic panels, and surface coverings in a whole new light. It is interesting to note that acoustic requirements can differ even within a relatively small space, for example an open plan living space in which the occupants plan to entertain family and friends regularly has a different acoustic requirement to the bedroom of a light sleeper or baby. One may benefit from a lively acoustic with a bit of bounce, the other not so much.
As we begin to build more Kiss House homes it will be interesting and essential to collect qualitative feedback on the living experience to better understand the sound environment and its impacts. In the meantime, we are adopting simple principles to create appropriate sound spaces starting with acoustic separation to the outside. Extending this to acoustic separation between internal spaces, particularly spaces where more privacy is required such as bedrooms, bathrooms, and studies. Careful consideration of surface coverings and materials to ensure that the desired affect within the space is achieved and ensuring that equipment and appliances within the home are well designed and built to ensure appropriate protection from unwanted sound. To this end we are delighted to be working closely with Quiet Mark — read Quiet in the home for more.
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