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Why the world needs a quiet revolution
By Pauline Pelous
June 09, 2020

The crisis of recent months has put health and well-being at the heart of everything we do and completely reshaped our lives from deserted silent cities to noisy home offices. We've also learned an important lesson, often forgotten. Silence is golden. And, more importantly, it’s good for our health.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that excessive noise seriously damages health, disturbs sleep, causes cardiovascular problems, increases stress, undermines performance and ignites anti-social behaviour.

So what can we do about it?

“We need a quiet revolution,” says Maro Puljizević, Knauf Insulation’s Acoustics Project Manager at the company’s Core Research and Development Department. Acoustic well-being should be factored into every aspect of our urban environment, it improves health, helps us be more productive and ultimately makes us feel better.

“The public health challenges of the past few months have underlined the importance of acoustic well-being. At home, we have quickly learnt how hard it is to do any type of work or how difficult it is to teach our children if there is a lot of distracting noise. However, noise pollution impacts every aspect of our lives.”

Acoustic well-being is critical to all buildings
Maro Puljizević, Knauf Insulation’s Acoustics Project Manager

In schools, noisy classrooms impair the ability to learn; in hotels, noise pollution impacts guest experiences and ultimately returning business; in offices it is impossible to concentrate if a noisy shredder is next to a workstation (with an impact on productivity) and who wants to return to a restaurant where it is too loud to enjoy a conversation?

All these noisy soundscapes add up. Research by the World Health Organisation and the European Commission has found that excessive noise is responsible for millions of lost healthy years of life.

The figures make uncomfortable reading. At least a million healthy life years are lost every year in Western Europe as a result of traffic-related noise; 61,000 healthy years are lost due to ischaemic heart disease triggered by environmental noise; disruptive sounds cause 45,000 years of cognitive impairment in children and 903,000 years are lost to sleep disturbance.

Many individual countries are also counting the cost of sound pollution. In the UK, for example, excessive noise was found to reduce work productivity by 66%, while in schools the average classroom noise level was 72dB (almost vacuum cleaner level) rather than the 35dB recommended by the World Health Organisation. Meanwhile, in France nine out of 10 people say they are exposed to excessive noise every day with the health costs and economic impact adding up to €57 billion every year, according to the National Noise Council.

‘Lockdown was a perfect storm of acoustic discomfort’

Over recent months, we have grown to appreciate a new era of unexpected silence outside our homes and learned the importance of good acoustics at home as we are distracted by noise from other people and from within the building.

“Under normal conditions we would sleep when others sleep and most of us leave our homes during the day. Now we are aware of our neighbours, many of us are sharing space with other people all day and this has become a perfect storm in terms of acoustic discomfort,” says Maro.

“The lockdown has also accentuated our awareness of building noise, the sounds generated from a corridor lift next to a bedroom, water noise from neighbours’ bathrooms, washing machines, air-conditioning units or domestic appliances.”

There has also been the impact of a quiet urban environment. “We have come to appreciate the value of silent streets,” says Maro. “Noise from construction work, flights, bars, trains, restaurants, lorries and heavy traffic has long been associated with stress, sleep disruption and even cardiovascular issues such as strokes.

“Now in many countries, streets have been quieter than ever. This reduction in ambient noise has been so striking that some acoustics specialists have reported bird song is clearer than ever as noise from traffic or aircraft has decreased dramatically.”

How Knauf Insulation can improve acoustic health

Maro believes everyone has the right to a quiet life for the good of their health. “Double glazing and insulation are critical to acoustic well-being. At Knauf Insulation we can help. We offer applications that can acoustically improve the full building envelope from facades, ceilings, floors and roofs to wall.

“We also have solutions for every possible construction element from brick walls, wooden floors and attics to plasterboard partitions, cavity walls and concrete facades.”

The fibre structure of our mineral wool is highly effective at absorbing noise. Knauf plasterboards, our Heraklith Wood Wool and Urbanscape Green Roof solutions can also be customised to provide a large variety of systems that meet any noise absorbing requirements.

Need to reduce the volume of neighbours? Our DRS Sound Supreme Board is a hugely popular with public buildings such as hotels where a quiet night’s sleep is priority.

Green roofs are ideal sound absorbers

Maro, understandably, is also an enthusiastic supporter of planners who factor acoustic well-being into urban developments.

“Our urban landscape is being transformed by more and more people moving to towns and cities. Higher densities of people in limited space inevitably has an acoustic impact. Add to this, urban canyons created as a result of glass skyscrapers, narrow streets and noisy traffic and these ‘soundscapes’ do nothing for our well-being.

“People are familiar with improving the acoustics of buildings, but we are seeing new emphasis on the acoustic performance of entire new neighbourhood developments through, for example, the installation of strategic water features or the planting of certain trees that are effective at absorbing and masking unwanted sound.”

Knauf Insulation’s Urbanscape Green Solutions can also play an important role in these new urban soundscapes, says Maro. “Our Urbanscape Green Roofs and green facades are ideal sound absorbers, great for encouraging biodiversity and offer excellent insulation. They also add a splash of natural inspiration — something we all will appreciate after months inside.”