Overheating vs noise – the new homes challenge

DSCN3383With regulation requiring better sealed, thermally efficient building envelopes, many new homes are prone to overheating – and for buildings near roads and rail opening windows means exposure to noise.  Hoare Lea & Partners, a leading consulting engineering firm in the design of new homes is currently undertaking a study into the relationship between overheating and noise. During Noise Action Week they will be assessing acceptable noise levels in homes.  Acoustic engineer Barry Jobling explains.

Modern residential buildings are prone to overheating as regulation has forced better sealed, thermally efficient building envelopes, with an increased dominance of glazing in façade design.  The desirability for natural ventilation, in particular, preference for simply opening windows to manage overheating, poses a risk that we are on the brink of a future stock of homes where people are exposed to excessive noise.  This should not be taken lightly, if we consider the findings by the World Health Organisation that environmental noise is the second largest environmental risk in the developed world and the estimate of Government economists that the annual cost of urban road noise alone in England was £7-10 billion -particularly affecting health and productivity.

Much development is located conveniently close to infrastructure – roads, and the train network – and is commonly mixed with other commercial uses. In an ideal world we would reduce noise at source, make our roads quiet and indeed there has been much advance over recent decades, with electric vehicles, and noise reducing roads surfaces. But the fact will remain that with pressure to build more and more new homes in our towns and cities, it is difficult to get away from unwanted noise which can adversely affect our health and quality of life.  Modern building design needs to respond in an intelligent way with true sustainability in mind, where occupants can expect to enjoy relatively quiet, thermally comfortable conditions, and not have to choose between either too much noise or too much heat.

As part of Noise Action Week, Hoare Lea are bringing together groups of mainly construction industry professionals to listen to a mock-up of different levels of outdoor noise intruding into a living room, typical of urban environments with windows open, and to judge how acceptable the samples are.  They ran a successful session last year where the panel included major residential developers, leading architects, environmental health officers, and acoustic scientists.

Barry Jobling says “We think it will be great to understand what the people really involved in building our future homes think is an acceptable level of noise with windows open and to also compare quality judgments between groups and with historical standards and health research.  Do we all think the same, or will one group push for lower levels of noise.  Are the planners favourite for the lowest or will it be the developers?”.

The listening test started as a fun idea on a small scale but from the last session and various discussions with industry representatives, there is clearly a lot of interest in the topic of overheating and the question as to whether windows can or can’t be opened is a common thread across many schemes in our towns and cities. The planned session during Noise Action week will increase the statistical significance as well as further promote the issue. The intention is to produce a technical paper later in the year which aims to inspire action and good design.


Barry Jobling, Associate


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