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Party Wall between terraced houses

Time to take the health risks of noisy neighbours seriously

London was plagued with poor air quality for centuries which people could often see and taste when smog formed. But when the ‘Great Smog’ of 1952 hit due to unusual weather conditions that trapped the smog for several days, the government decided to take action – this unprecedented level of air pollution was obvious to all and the danger had to be curtailed.

This led to the Clean Air Act in 1956 and ever since the air quality in our major towns and cities has been noticeably better – so we think. Unfortunately, as a number of recent high profile cases have illustrated, the air in our towns and cities may look clean but it still poses lethal dangers in the form of exposure to nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter (PM) pollution in excess of World Health Organisation guidelines – principally from traffic emissions.

The dangers lurking in the air are no longer so visible, but they are still there. The good news is, however, that the health problems associated with air pollution is finally being taken more seriously in the UK and targets for improvement will make a huge difference in the coming decades.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for another form of everyday pollution that poses a danger to human health – noise. Despite the effects of excessive noise on human health being known for decades, there still seems relatively little appetite amongst governments and regulators to tackle it.

As numerous studies have shown, the major problems resulting from exposure to noise include cardiovascular disorders, hypertension (high blood pressure), high stress levels, tinnitus, hearing loss and sleep disturbances. This is why in some aspects of life action has been taken to prevent or limit exposure to dangerous noise levels, such as when working in factories or around aircraft.

But one issue that is overlooked is how human health is affected when we are unable to get a good night’s sleep as a result of noise from adjoining properties or the external environment. The NHS website sums up why a good night’s sleep is so important:

“The cost of sleepless nights is more than just bad moods and a lack of focus. Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes – and it shortens your life expectancy. It's now clear that a solid night's sleep is essential for a long and
healthy life.”

One of the problems is that this is an under-researched area of science, so the basis for taking action is not as strong as it is for noise that can be measured consistently, such as that from a busy road. An interesting study in 2015 by Diana Weinhold of the LSE Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, however, does shines a light on the problem.

This survey of over 5000 adults in the Netherlands between 2007 and 2013 found surprisingly widespread health effects of residential noise annoyance, with neighbour noise relatively more damaging than street noise.

Diana Weinhold concluded: “We find strong suggestive evidence that residential noise annoyance, especially neighbour noise, is significantly correlated with health. Our results indicate that noise annoyance is associated with increased likelihood of cardiovascular disease through disturbing sleep, higher cholesterol levels, arthritis and other joint and bone disorders, and that loud neighbours is highly related with increased headaches.”

What does this mean for the way we design and build our residential properties? Firstly, it points to a need for far better minimum standards under the Building Regulations across the UK, but there is no sign of this happening any time soon.

Despite there being no legislative driver, architects and developers can still build homes to higher acoustic standards today using materials and fully tested systems that are proven to deliver results.

This should be part of a joined-up approach to building ‘healthy homes’ that are warm without overheating in summer, well ventilated for maximum fresh air, safe, secure and quiet.

To help meet design objectives to address noise nuisance in connected homes, Hush Acoustics has developed a wide range of complete systems which can be applied to walls, floors and ceilings of virtually any type of construction. By adopting these systems – and complementary acoustic insulation products – as the norm, regardless of what the building regulations say, the building industry can transform acoustic standards to create healthier, happier homes.

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