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Did You Hear That? Acoustics In Your Home

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I am sure all of us have experienced being in a restaurant where even casual conversation is difficult. Often when I am seated by a hostess, I do a quick scan to assess the table placement; am I in a quiet corner or right by the server’s station? But even more importantly, I notice the finishes. Is the floor carpeted or a hard surface? How high is the ceiling and are there acoustic panels to diminish the sound? There are so many facets of design that effect the sound levels and acoustics in a space. And these elements effect our homes just as easily. Here are some major points to think about when you are considering how to deal with sound in your own interiors.

Basic Principles of Acoustics

The most important thing to understand is how sound travels – just like ripples of water in a pond, sound moves through our spaces in waves. Those waves react to the different surfaces that they encounter in four distinct ways:

●      Absorption

●      Reflection

●      Diffusion

●      Transmission

Translating acoustic concepts into interior spaces:

●      If sound waves are absorbed they are stopped by something physical. Drapes or carpet, will quiet the sound.

●      Reflected sound waves bounce off a surface, so instead of dissipating they travel to other surfaces. Like a noisy clang when a waitress drops silverware the clang seems to echo – it can reflect from one surface to another.

●      Diffused sound means is gets scattered – as sound waves scatter they diminish.

●      Sound transmission means that the sound enters other spaces by passing through surfaces, such as walls that are not insulated.

Room Arrangement

The function of your rooms and the relationship they have to each other, especially bedrooms, is crucial to keep in mind when considering sound levels. Designating the functions of adjacent rooms is not only about proximity but often about noise levels and which family members are louder than others – for instance does anyone in your family snore? A lovely two-story family room with a balcony to the second floor can be an issue when a loud TV or even group conversation transmits to the upstairs bedroom areas while children are trying to sleep. And perhaps most importantly the noise of water through plumbing can be a huge factor when entertaining guests!

Of course, there are typically pre-existing conditions that need to be address, but with careful planning and often the input of a professional designer sound issues can be creatively reduced.

Materials and Finishes

We all want our homes to be quiet, adding to the feeling of privacy. This is all very important to understand when designing rooms in your home. For instance, where you sleep you will want a quiet space, so having things that absorb sound will help you accomplish a quiet setting. Think drapes and carpets.

Making some simple choices with interior materials you use in your home can mitigate some of your sound issues. Types of doors is an example I see often. I love a good French door because they allow for a lot of light but they are poor when it comes to keeping sound out. Lately we see a lot those sliding barn doors being used. They are beautiful, but they won’t keep sound out due to them not being sealed properly from floor, ceiling and sides.

What’s on your floor? Wood and tile floors may be luxurious, but they transmit noise and make small rooms louder by enabling stronger reflections. Upstairs floors that are wood can be squeaky and creaky at times. Consider carpet on upper levels, or add large area rugs or runners on stairs.

Acoustics shouldn’t be an afterthought – and like a good lighting plan – it’s more cost effective to approach sound issues in the construction phase. By considering your surfaces selections you can proactively create a more inviting and peaceful home interior.