Do new sound control products work as good as they look?

Photo courtesy of abstracta

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

It’s wonderful to see architects, designers and manufacturers developing attractive ways to address noisy homes and offices! But it’s important to note that architects and designers know little or nothing about acoustics at all—they’ve never been taught it. So the products they develop are often simply visual barriers that have very little acoustical effect.

Sound, like water, will leak through any hole on a surface, so no matter how thick a product is if you’re on one side and a noise-making person or piece of equipment
is on the other, you are definitely going to hear what’s going on!

You can also buy sound curtains–you can find a selection by running a simple internet search. Typically they’re made for industrial settings where exposure to loud noise is actually regulated by OSHA. So many sound curtains may not be very attractive, unless they are covered with a cosmetic treatment like another layer of fabric.

If you are interested in buying sound control products, be sure to ask what the sound rating is of any designer sound screen or curtain. Because if the designer and/or manufacturer haven’t bothered to have their product tested by a licensed testing lab, their product is probably not going to be very effective.

Please note that the European Union, where noise is regarded as a health hazard, puts noise level labels on 50 classes of products ranging from dishwashers and food blenders to power tools and construction equipment. But Americans never see those labels because they aren’t included on products entering the US. Why? There is staunch and powerful resistance among American manufacturers to making noise ratings available to the public. This is an old battle. In the 1980s, several major industries fought back against the EPA, which was required by the Noise Control Act of 1972 to publish noise ratings. Result: they’ve never done so.

In fact, that may be a good a reason to buy products that are manufactured by EU companies, because you can get noise ratings from their corporate websites.

Caveat emptor!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Comment (1)

  1. Debby Quashen

    What do you do when a neighbor refuses to be quiet and argues with you. Even if the sounds happen to include moving a chair at 5:30 AM then again at 6:45 AM. Or coming in after 11 PM slamming doors walking around. Or air conditioning unit that pulsates, stops then starts in again?


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