Sound proofing your home

How do you sound-proof your property to prevent noisy neighbours?

Could you give some advice about the best way to sound-proof a mid-terrace new-build two bedroom house? The family next door have small children and it is very noisy. Voices can be heard but it is mostly thudding noise which is most distressing. There seem to be so many systems and it is very confusing.

There is no easy answer to this one, I’m afraid. Having bought a newly-built house you must be disappointed that the sound-proofing is so poor. Back in 2002 complaints about sound transmission between new homes reached such high levels that the Blair government proposed compulsory testing of sound insulation as part of the Building Regulations.

The big housebuilders – who are all major donors to political party funds, of course – kicked up such a fuss that the idea was dropped almost immediately. The new home you have bought will be a result of this embarrassing U-turn.

Sound-proofing an existing structure can be very costly, and the results are far from guaranteed. High frequency sounds – such as music, or children’s’ voices – are best dealt with by lightweight materials such as mineral wool fibre. This can be added by building a new timber stud wall next to the party wall, inserting the mineral wool in the spaces between the studs, and plaster-boarding over. Or there are proprietary products such as the Hush Multi-Panel system, where the insulation is attached to a sheet of plasterboard, and can be fixed to the existing wall with dabs of adhesive.

Lower frequencies are better stopped by dense materials such as concrete block work. As recently as the 1980s, party walls were built with 225mm dense concrete blocks for this very reason, but regulations have since been relaxed, and party walls can now be legally built even from timber and plasterboard. Building a new separate concrete block wall on your side of the party wall would be hideously expensive and disruptive, and would mean sacrificing a lot of internal space.

There are other proprietary products on the market, such as plasterboard sandwich materials incorporating layers of dense vinyl, which are claimed to be based on the sound-proofing methods used in recording studios. I’m afraid I don’t have any experience of these, and couldn’t say whether they are worth the money or not. It would be as well to have such a system installed professionally, and to obtain a warranty.

But be warned – instrumental measurement of sound is a complex subject, and you might find that an industry “expert” visiting your home will use the decibel readings from a sound-level meter to prove that the noises you hear are within acceptable limits. But these readings are not the same as human-perceived loudness, which is better measured using a loudness meter.

The problem with neighbour noise is that it can become preoccupying. Even when the neighbours are silent, you will be listening out for them.