Research to cut the noise from above

Thumps and thuds from the actions of people on the floor above is a common nuisance which can impact on the health and well-being of people living below.

Noisy neighbours thudding on the floor above can make sleep impossible. Photo: iStock

The move to apartment living plus current trends for hard surface flooring in living areas means issues associated with impact noise are on the rise; issues that range from disturbance and annoyance to serious health problems associated with sleep deprivation.

Currently, building codes and practices in New Zealand do not meet internationally recognised acoustic comfort and privacy standards designed to protect health and well-being.

Researchers from the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Engineering – Dr George Dodd, Associate Professor John Cater, Dr Andrew Hall and Gian Schmid, all from the faculty’s Acoustic Research Centre – are aiming to address this shortcoming.

They are working in collaboration with Dr Emilio Calius from the Auckland University of Technology, Professor Raj Das from RMIT University in Melbourne and Dr Grant Emms from private industry specialists Marshall Day Acoustics.

With a $1m Smart Ideas grant from the MBIE Endeavour Fund, the team will develop a cost-effective solution that will challenge the notion in the construction and home development sector that better insulation means increased expense.

“The aim of our research is to avoid the expense of providing impact noise insulation by adding more material and weight to buildings. Instead, we are using our findings from research on impact noise transmission with new understandings about the behaviour of both ordered and disordered granular materials,” says Dr Dodd.

The team is looking at integrating these granular materials, which are either naturally occurring such as sand or seeds or manufactured such as bearing balls, and metamaterials (artificial materials with properties that do not occur in natural products), into floor and ceiling systems commonly used in New Zealand and Australia.

These means the noise insulation solution will be incorporated into existing building techniques.

“This helps us overcome one of the challenges of this project which is the reluctance of the building sector to adopt new methods. By offering the solution as an improvement to lightweight buildings such as timber frame houses, we will maintain the economic and sustainability advantages of existing systems and build on the experience that developers and the construction industry already have,” he says.

The problem of sound travelling down through floors is caused by vibrations from impacts such as footsteps and scraping chairs. These vibrations can be heard over a wide range of audible frequencies, particularly low frequencies.

“Without carpets, both heavy and light-weight floors transmit loud and startling sounds because of the vibrational energy that results from walking compared with, say, airborne sound waves from speech,” says Dr Dodd.

“By tackling this problem, our aim is to lift housing quality in New Zealand and beyond while helping the local construction industry meet emerging international standards that protect occupants against intruding sound, specifically thudding, thumping and footfalls.”

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