Noise management should be considered in every aspect of design and development

By William Gati

As available development sites become harder to find, builders are choosing locations in noisy areas. Building near highways, train tracks, manufacturing areas, schools etc. present certain challenges in noise pollution mitigation. 

Examples of situations in which noise management is necessary:

Libraries are quiet. Construction sites are noisy. Dental offices are noisy. Performance spaces are quiet but yet produce noise. Private offices are quiet, produce noise but must be discrete, etc. Very often, considering ways of treating noise from both outside and inside the space becomes the responsibility of the owner or tenant.  Noise complaints and quality of life violations from excessive noise are rising and people who live and work in close proximity to unwanted noise are fighting back. 

Impact of environmental noise:

Sounds have an impact on our emotions and affect our emotional health. If the noise is your own choice and control, it is perceived as pleasant. But if it is unchosen and lacking personal control, it’s perceived as unpleasant.  If you have some choice and some control, it is perceived as neutral. Sounds can have a positive impact too.  Music, conversation, water fountains, etc. can be perceived as beneficial and positive.

Tools to use for noise control:

Sound is an energy frequency manifested in oscillating waves. They can be bounced, absorbed or transmitted through materials. Most exterior acoustical insulation attempts to bounce noise and absorb the remainder. Most interior acoustical insulation attempts to absorb as much as possible. Isolate the source of the noise or create a soundproof space. Insulated sheetrock walls, insulated concrete blocks, gypsum acoustical wall treatments, etc. can be used to create a “sound proof wall” with low sound transmitting qualities. These materials absorb the sound vibration frequencies and prevent them from being transmitted. Vibration dampers, mufflers, lubrication, etc. are physical ways of reducing noise. Most of these methods are costly so manufactures will comply when forced by codes and standards. Zoning ordinances, building codes, consideration, education, legislation, regulation, inspiration, etc. try to create a pleasant environment for us, but it is our jobs in the real estate community, to be informed and to abide by these regulations.

Mirrored surfaces, smooth services, doors, windows and partitions have a reflective quality to them and shield spaces from excessive noise. A good architect or engineer with training and experience in acoustics can help specify the right materials to literally bounce sound waves right off the exterior surfaces.  Acoustical ceilings, carpeted floors, human mass, curtains, shades, etc. can be used for sound absorption. Fountains, white noise, mechanical system sounds, background music, etc. can be used for sound masking and to cover up any noise that wasn’t deflected or absorbed. There are many devices that can be used for this purpose but a good interior designer must consider these in their planning. If the noise is absolutely necessary and can’t be mitigated, it can be directed out of the building or in a less obtrusive direction. Change the direction and projection of the sound away from the quiet zones. This technique treats sound transmission as a projectile and directs it away from areas that require low noise.

Actions to take to mitigate noise pollution:

Negotiate, regulate, litigate, mitigate, isolate, etc. Take action, because it is important to manage noise.

Sounds that interfere with tasks at hand can be mitigated. Sound proof walls, floors and ceilings can be constructed relatively inexpensively. Using fiberglass insulation in sheetrock walls has a considerable reduction in noise transmission. Creating an air barrier alone does much less. Close the door, speak clearly and directly, use visual tools, write, etc. a little common sense and good habits can have a profound effect on reducing environmental noise, improving productivity and communication. Noise levels vary depending on time of the day, day of the week, or even weather condition. Choose the quiet times to perform tasks that require quiet. 

Reduce the sound of the neighbor’s barking dog by installing insulated, double or triple glass, sound insulated windows. Installing a quiet split system to reduce the need to open the window, install curtains or drapes, talk to the neighbor, report the noise, etc.  Sound reduces proportionally to the distance from the sound source.  The most immediate and effective method of reducing unwanted noise is to increase your distance away from the source of the noise. Wear ear plugs when you are exposing yourself to loud noises. They will protect your hearing and your health.

In summary, noise management needs to be considered in every aspect of development in order to create and maintain a positive healthy environment for people to live and work. 

William Gati, AIA, is the president of Architecture Studio, Kew Gardens, N.Y.

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