Sound-proofing is a craft requiring knowledge, care and skill. Architects consider soundproofing; they plan the soundproofing, the soundproofing scheme is approved. Then they use the plans to steady a wonky chair.
I have, throughout my tenure in Dovecot Towers, suffered a recurring and persistent fear. It’s this: on those atmospheric bright and quiet early mornings, can I really hear the people above me peeing freely in their en-suite bathroom? I’m sure there are minimum standards for new buildings, but in my view (and if that really is the sound of blissful bladder emptying - I think it is - and they are obviously keeping well hydrated) then standards are inadequate.
The days when every boy dreamed of a nuclear stereo with cupboard sized speakers that would blast him across the room like Marty McFly in Back To The Future have passed. Ipod docking systems and tinny music played through laptops or feeble DAB radios may conspire to vex those preachy stereo purists but at least they’ve mostly seen off intrusive bass-boosted, thudding noise (bedroom DJ’s notwithstanding).
These days, the loudest culprit are enormous booming plasma screen tellies. The sound now jolting me awake me in the early hours is CBB’S!!!! Or THE OPEN UNIVERSITY MATERIALS SCIENCE PROGRAMME!!! (Also: I think I hear the presenter’s shirt.)
When the weather warms up, doors and windows are left permanently agape. Tenants play it loud until they realise they can hear their neighbour who in turn can hear them.
Voices are raised. The penny drops. The window shuts.
I recently heard some neighbours fighting aliens loudly through the telly. The more engrossed they became, the more senseless the slaughter and the gore, ergo - the higher the volume. I stood on my balcony with many other residents, all of us shouting for them to be quiet. When they realised we could hear everything, amplified to a stadium gig standard they did turn it down, mumbling sulkily ‘…it wasn’t that loud!’ (It was.)
A common problem in revamped and newly built developments is the curse of laminate flooring, a hard shiny surface which reflects sound so much that even dainty little tippy-toes dancing up a quiet storm sounds like a clumsy giant ‘River Dancing’ in clogs. I regularly hear washing machines from next door. That can’t be right.
Developers are often the villains here; the crafty ones (ie all of them) prefer to forget the double glazing and pay the fine, which is cheaper than the glass. It’s unfortunate that when technology is better at dulling noise, developers stick to the bare minimum (the conspiracy theorist in me wonders if they even bother with that). If you sit in my flat and shut all the doors and windows, then turn down all the sound, it’s disturbing to be able to hear human voices barely raised, babbling in the background.
In a culture of corner-cutting, architects rely on outdated notions of community spirit to keep a lid on ambient noise. Times have changed: why would you care about your neighbour’s beauty sleep, when you’ve never even met them?