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Sound progress: a review of homeowner feedback on noise in new homes (NF56)

Overview

In the 1990s noise transmission was a major cause of dissatisfaction for occupiers of attached homes.

To address this problem, sound insulation standards were tightened in the 2003 edition of Approved Document E (AD E) and in 2004 the Robust Details scheme became available as a compliance route for designers and house builders.

To understand the impact of these measures on the ground, this NHBC Foundation report examines feedback on noise from occupants of new homes built since 2004.

For attached homes the work identifies an encouraging downward trend in the number of concerns on transmitted sound, suggesting that AD E and supporting guidance has progressively improved performance for the benefit of purchasers of new homes.

Summary of content

This NHBC Foundation report examines feedback on noise in new homes built since 2004.

Background

During the latter part of the 20th century, noise transmitted between homes was a growing concern for homeowners and social landlords, and the subject of complaints to local government environmental health officers. In extreme cases, there were health implications for occupants subjected to noise nuisance. By the 1990s the issue had gained a high profile and a political dimension.

While many of these noise problems were associated with apartments and conversions of existing buildings to multiple-residential occupancy, some new build houses were also failing to prevent sound transmission at intrusive levels. Despite progressive tightening of the acoustic performance requirements in successive versions of Building Regulations (England and Wales) Approved Document E (AD E) Resistance to the passage of sound(1), noise transmission between homes remained a persistent problem. In response, in 2002, the Government proposed that a system of pre-completion sound testing be introduced for some types of home as a means of complying with the soon to be published AD E 2003. During the subsequent period of consultation with the industry an alternative option to pre-completion testing, Robust Details, was proposed and rapidly developed. The use of Robust Details, originally a set of 13 construction details which met more stringent acoustic performance standards, was formally accepted by Government in mid 2004 as an alternative method of complying with AD E 2003.

The portfolio of Robust Details has been steadily expanded over the years and the number of house-building plots registered with the scheme has increased rapidly. By 2010 (the last build year assessed in this research) over 58,000 homes(2) per annum were being built with Robust Details – over 70% of all attached homes under construction at that time. With Robust Details, compliance levels to AD E exceeded 99.4% in 2010(2), giving a high degree of confidence in the approach itself, and reassurance to designers and house builders that future occupants should not be troubled by noise transmitted from adjoining homes.

Purpose and scope of this research

The main aim of this NHBC Foundation research was to uncover any trends in occupant feedback of noise problems following the introduction of AD E 2003, and to test if, in practice, occupants were benefiting from the technical improvements encouraged by its introduction. The study therefore focuses particularly on noise transmission through party walls and party floors of attached homes (the AD E E1 noise category) which the Robust Details scheme was set up to address.

For evidence, the study draws on the feedback provided by occupants of new homes between 2004 and 2010. Under the terms of the NHBC Buildmark warranty, builders are liable to put right any defect or damage in the first 2 years after completion of the home, and it is this 2-year period which this research relates to. Contacts from homeowners made to NHBC relating to noise in new homes have been analysed and classified according to the type of noise and its source.

Noise between dwellings is only one sub-set of noise problems that are recognised by occupants. Other noise problems reported to NHBC include those generated by the fabric and services of the home itself, and noise transmitted between rooms. Contacts from homeowners to NHBC relating to these other sources of noise in new homes have also been reviewed in this report, which is also widened to cover feedback on detached homes.