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Sounds like a lovely place to call home

Acoustics By Daniele Albanese, Head of Acoustics, APAC – 03 May 2022

Pegasus Jesmond Assembly, Newcastle, UK

Luxuriously furnished interior of a new build flat

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Daniele stood on a terrace with elbow resting on a white wall

Daniele Albanese

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For developers of multi-residential apartments that are constructed for sale to either owner-occupiers or investment owner landlords, the aesthetics of the building and its location are probably among the most relevant criteria. But when the development is a build-to-rent property for the private sector, the experience of people living there is far more crucial.

Happy tenants tend to stay in place, which means reliable rental receipts. Unhappy tenants tend to depart, which results in additional costs including administration, any repairs or rectification required, and finding and onboarding a new occupant.

Acoustics plays a vital role when it comes to people’s experience. Just look at any property manager’s website or blog and you will see that noise issues are one of the major sources of complaints and resulting management headaches!

Noise complaints arise from various sources such as roads, rail and air transport, industrial noise, neighbourhood and recreational activities, construction sites and animals (barking dogs, for example). All these noise sources need to be managed as they may cause adverse effects on people. These effects vary in severity depending on the noise characteristics, timing, duration and frequency and a listener’s subjective sensitivity to noise.

You may wonder, what effects can noise have on human health and wellbeing, and how does it impact our everyday life?

There are generally two types of impacts from noise:

  1. Auditory effects of noise exposure – those concerning the auditory system, such as noise induced hearing loss (NIHL); and
  2. Non-auditory effects – which include physical, psychological and behavioural disorders triggered by exposure to unwanted intrusive noise that interferes with our daily activities.

In fact, negative auditory effects associated with human-made noise had been reported as early as the 13th century, with the rapid spread of the use of gunpowder throughout Asia, Middle East and Europe. But the fact that exposure to excessive could cause hearing damage was not recognized until the 18th century.

On the other hand, noise related non-auditory effects including stress, fatigue, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance and behavioural disorders, were practically unknown until more recently. In fact, over the past 70 or so years, with the constantly increasing urban population and changes in urban development, there has been a growing number of people exposed to environmental noise and consequently strong evidence accumulated on potential noise related non-auditory health risks.

Nowadays, the research literature on non-auditory effects has grown substantially, highlighting even more potential risks associated with environmental noise exposure. For example, numerous studies demonstrate that noise pollution is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

This whole new awareness and knowledge resulted in government bodies and regulators being urged to create noise policies and related regulations to reduce environmental noise exposure and protect people’s mental health and well-being.

In many cases, especially in developed countries, the noise regulations are quite advanced in considering the non-auditory effects of noise exposure, but in some other jurisdictions, the regulations are loose and outdated, resulting in often unresolved noise issues and ultimately dissatisfied tenants and communities.

Unfortunately, when BTR assets are being designed, the importance of acoustic design for community well-being and harmony and ultimately for retaining tenants is often overlooked. The acoustic design objectives are limited to the mere compliance with the local and national noise policies and regulations.

This means many projects miss out on the other benefits an acoustic consultant can add through the entire project lifecycle.

By integrating acoustic considerations from early design stages, the balance between silence and ambient sound can be finely tuned based on the needs of the occupants and the intended use of the various spaces. While most people love peace and quiet, a place that is too quiet can be disconcerting. The goal is to find the harmony between vibrant buzz in common areas and public zones, and tranquil privacy within individuals’ living and sleeping areas.

Striking the right note with sound also has benefits for resident wellbeing. Feeling connected to a community has been shown to be beneficial for mental health. Also, however, having disturbed sleep is detrimental for both mental and physical health. So acoustic design is very much like the score for a symphony – a diversity of tones, rhythms and tempos across the entire development is essential.

We also know from experience that it is very difficult – and potentially very expensive – to rectify acoustics late in the design and delivery phases. This is because so many of the design decisions will influence the acoustic performance. Orientation, angles, spatial planning, structural materials, location of plant in relation to private areas, the design of mechanical services, configuration and materiality of corridors and entries, stairwells and lobbies, all play a role in how sound will travel within a building and ultimately affect the tenants.

The acoustics consulting toolkit includes engineering calculation and modelling software that enables acousticians to quantify and characterize sound within and between spaces. When working in a multidisciplinary delivery team, this also means the possible acoustic solutions can inform and be informed by other elements of the project specifications including partition sound insulation, glazing, façade materiality, flooring type, landscaping, outdoor area planning and so forth.

Keep in mind that this is a valuable investment of expertise - a good acoustics approach will result in a more comfortable home for people where they can live happily for decades, not vacate after a matter of months.

For long-term tenancies like BTR there is practically an orchestra of sounds to consider. For example, there are likely to be children in many households. Anyone with children knows there is a whole range of noise to consider – from the midnight baby through to the games of tag, learning the recorder, playing with model trucks, happy birthday singalongs and general family life.

Good design and modelling can ensure that parents are not constantly stressed by the concern everyday sound will make their neighbours unhappy. Measures might include ensuring adequate sound insulation between tenancies; specifying that floors are adequately insulated to prevent noise impacting neighbours below; that the dimensions and configuration of indoor areas does not amplify sound or cause excessive reverberation; and that mechanical plant and plumbing noise do not interfere with the need of a peaceful environment.

The other value acoustic consulting delivers for projects is ensuring the project’s neighbours do not have legal grounds for complaint during the construction process itself. We look at the site context and any specific considerations such as nearby residences, hospitals, aged care or other noise-sensitive environments.

Our engagement with the multidisciplinary project team means we can also factor in the construction specifications, staging and program so we can accurately model construction noise impacts and assist with the relevant noise and vibration management plans for Development Application or Construction Certificate Approval and for project management and environmental protection compliance auditing.

There is value for this beyond getting the project out of the ground with minimal complaints. A well-run site and a smooth project will get noticed by the locals in all the right ways. And for a BTR project, the local grapevine is a powerful form of advertising for quality tenants.

Ultimately, BTR succeeds when it sounds like a lovely place to call home – in every sense.

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