Ten percent of the world's population has some degree of hearing loss, making it the most widespread and chronc disability in the world. Hearing loss caused by noise pollution has been rising steadily since the advent of the industrial revolution in 1750, with no relief in sight. In the upcoming decades, noise-related health problems and hearing damage are expected to rise exponentially unless serious changes are made in the way noise is addressed.
The acoustical environment of most residential, commercial and industrial space is typically given little or no attention during project planning and design. Instead, functionality and aesthetics are the primary focus of the architect, builder, and interior designer. This unwillingness or inability to design and construct buildings with sound absorbing, sound blocking and sound deadening qualities to address different types of noise pollution in today's clamorous world has led to a global population living unnecessarily with permanent hearing damage.
Hearing loss has enormous social, economic and emotional impacts, affecting individuals, families and all members of the community. The impacts are far-reaching in terms of healthcare costs, loss of economic stability, and reduction in quality of life. The ability to remain self-sufficienct is undermined when one's hearing is damaged, as is the basic well-being of everyone exposed to the levels of noise that fill the airwaves of everyday life.
Society loses out when a significant portion of its members are unable to communicate and participate effectively; this affects not only the quality of life, it also affects the economic viability of the community.
Applying the principals of universal design - also called “accessible” or “healthy” design – as a preventative measure by incorporating soundproofing and noise reduction materials into the design of all new construction and renovation projects - from a single room in a residence, to the largest industrial manufacturing plant - may be the ticket to averting noise-related health problems, including hearing loss.
Interior designers are educated in the princiipals of Universal Design, which arms them with the the knowledge necessary to create spaces that incorporate a level of accessibility for people with disabilities. Today, demand is growing for interior design that adopts these same principles to living and working spaces as a preventative measure.
Below are some tips that anyone can incorporate when creating a quiet environment within a space:
Background noise from heating and air conditioning units should be addressed with the right noise blocking / noise absorbing materials.
Hard surfaces (wood, tile, stone) and high ceilings are notorious for causing problematic reverberation and echo. Designers should be familiar with standards of reverberation and available materials to buffer this type of noise. Every room design should include some sound-absorbent materials.
Room adjacency is always an important consideration in good design. No designer should abut a room meant for quiet, such as a bedroom or study, with a bathroom, kitchen, or other noisy room without an intermediary closet or soundproofing material in between, unless the “cheap motel room effect” appeals. A poorly sound-proofed dishwasher or washing machine on a wall adjacent to a living room, or a noisy HVAC unit in a room or closet adjacent to a conference room or office can seriously undermine the usefulness of a space.
When it comes to noise HVAC and plumbing, if you can’t change the layout of an acoustically inferior building or room, make sure that the noise source is treated properly with the right noise abatement material.
Rule of thumb for hearing safety in any environment: If you have to shout to be heard three feet away, then the noise is too loud and is damaging your hearing. (Sound systems with headphones can produce sound levels as loud as 105 – 110 decibels. Children who listen to this much noise for several hours a day face an inevitable hearing loss.)
While these pointers apply to all kinds of interiors, some places and functions require special consideration. A doctor’s office or law office may require a special noise barrier treatment to protect the privacy of patients and clients. Classrooms need special attention to prevent reverberation and background noise. Even ordinary workplaces can benefit from noise reduction measures.