The concern for better residential acoustics in homes seems to be on the increase.  How to live with noisy teenagers, or to isolate the booming sound from the home theatre.  Does the neighbour’s air conditioning unit or pool pump keep you awake (or is your’s keeping the neighbour awake)?

Acoustics in a nutshell

The study of acoustics may be complicated, but in a nutshell it is all about the following:-

  • volume and character of sound – means a difference between perceptible, acceptable, annoying or dangerous
  • how is the sound transmitted from source to hearer – it could be by air, water, solid material or a combination of all
  • how you reduce sound transmission depends on how it is transmitted – measures to reduce air-borne sound do not necessarily work to reduce solid-borne sound
  • does echo and reverberation affect ability to hear the sound clearly – many public spaces and restaurants have too many non-absorbent surfaces leading to an unpleasant sound environment.  Multiple sound paths means the ear has difficulty untangling the threads of sound to hear the actual message being delivered.
  • where it is intended that sound travel well (eg performance spaces), it is about reflection to strengthen the sound “beam” and absorption to prevent unwanted secondary paths of travel that would produce echoes.  It is also about keeping out external noise (eg from equipment, or buzz from electronic systems)


Sound becomes noise when undesirable or unwanted.  Tools to enhance sound and cut noise are often the same, and the designer (architects, and specialist acoustic designers in complex situations) provides the skill necessary to achieve the required effect:-

  • airborne sound absorption – eg foam or fibre batts
  • solid-borne sound damping – eg non resonant materials such as lead or some plastics
  • isolation of vibrating materials – eg rubber mounts at fixing points, or vacuum  between two sheets of glass, or plastic between to sheets of glass (laminated glass)
  • containment – eg in heavy solid, non resonant materials
  • elimination of all cracks, by sealing gaps and use of door and window seals
  • use solid core doors, not hollow core
  • double glazed, or thick laminated glass windows
  • baffles in ducting to stop spread of noise via air handling systems.


James Stephenson Architect provides solutions to acoustic issues that use the tools mentioned in a cost-effective manner.  In special cases, JSA engages specialist assistance from acoustic specialists, such as ASK Consulting Engineers.