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“Like most hard-of-hearing people, I have difficulty distinguishing foreground noise from background noise and, as a result, I shun noisy public places such as restaurants and pubs, and social gatherings with more than four people present (my Rule of Four).  But, in my own home, all is peace and tranquillity and I hear family and visitors clearly, right?  Wrong.  Many of the floors in my home are made of squeaky hardwood boards, the walls are painted plasterboard, and the ceilings similarly with recessed lights.  In the kitchen, we have an inherited marble table, a large metallic fridge-freezer, and the storage cabinets and wall cupboards are made from veneer-covered fibreboard.   All these kinds of surfaces reflect rather than absorb sound and, for me, represent bad news.  If there are more than four people sitting around the table in the kitchen, I’m lost.  If the television is on in the background in the living room, I struggle to follow a live conversation.”

This is the opening paragraph of a two-part series of articles I have written recently and which have been published in the Autumn and Winter 2018 editions of the magazine produced by the charity, Action On Hearing Loss, formerly the Royal National Institute for the Deaf.  Part 1 (Autumn 2018) discusses the nature of the problem and presents a list of simple things we can do to reduce sound reflection within the social rooms in the house; the kitchen, dining room, and lounge.  Here is the list:

  • Install wall-to-wall floor carpeting ideally, or place a profusion of rugs on hard wooden floors.
  • Fill bookcases with books and remove glass cover panels.
  • Distribute indoor plants in nooks and crannies.
  • Buy a rough-wood coffee table rather than one topped with smooth glass.
  • Drape thick curtains around windows and hang wall rugs (I like Navajo!) or tapestries on the walls.
  • Replace sound-reflective window blinds with soft-furnishing nicely-wrinkled curtains.
  • Apply a textured coating such as Artex, or similar, to ceilings (modern Artex does not contain asbestos).
  • Paint walls with sound-absorbing paint (yes, such paint exists – see later).
  • Use sound-absorbing acoustic-laminated glass, not ordinary glass, to protect photographs and pictures.
  • Place soft placemats, tabletop runners or permanent tablecloths on hard-surface kitchen and dining room tables.
  • Favour fabric (rather than leather) armchairs and settees and populate with scatter cushions.
  • House full-length wall-mounted mirrors in cupboards with closing doors or close off with curtains.
  • Install kitchen cabinets with non-sound-reflective cupboard doors and surrounds, if you can find them!
  • Keep a large worn wooden chopping board out on a kitchen work surface rather than put it away.
  • And so on…

All these recommendations are based on using objects with decent sound-absorption properties, such as fabrics, carpets and other rough surfaces, to replace or reduce hard sound-reflecting surfaces.

In Part 2 (Winter 2018) of the series, I explored the properties of sound absorbing paint and compared the paint with commercial sound-absorbing acoustic panels of the sort found in offices, schools, restaurants, theatres and in an audiologist’s hearing test room.  I’d never heard of this type of paint before but, as it turns out, its sound-absorbing properties are not as good as commercial acoustic panels.  The panels, however, are expensive although I did find one company that will place a JPEG image of your choice on the surface to make it more acceptable for use in the home.

If interested, you can download a copy of Part 1 here and Part 2 here.  If you are really interested, send me an e-mail.  My original two articles were more technical with discussion of the differences between soundproofing and sound absorption; the definition and use of Sound Absorption Coefficients and Noise Reduction Coefficients; the range of frequencies in the human voice and associated Sound Absorption Classes; why acoustic panels are better than sound-absorbing paint; and links to further technical articles and to the suppliers of the products I mentioned.  The published versions of the articles do not contain all this scientific detail.