• Sun
  • Jul 13, 2014
  • Updated: 1:25am

Why you're getting an earful at home

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 June, 2007, 12:00am

Those hard-edged interiors with sleek, minimal rooms, timber floors and high ceilings might be easy on the eye - but not on the ear. An open-plan kitchen and living area full of harsh surfaces have the acoustic performance of a conversation-killing restaurant in which chairs scrape the floor and cutlery clangs on dinner plates.


Acoustica founder Philippe Doneux says sound waves reflect off hard surfaces such as CaesarStone or stainless steel benchtops, glass bi-folding doors or plasterboard walls. Those soundwaves bounce around so rapidly that it takes only fractions of a second to make normal conversation unintelligible.


'It's called the cocktail effect,' Doneux says. 'The soundwaves increase all the time, bouncing back and making the noise levels go up.'


People rarely consider the soundscape of a home and only discover they have a problem when reverberation or noise makes it difficult to have a conversation, says Ros Bandt, a sound designer and founder of Melbourne University's Australian Sound Design Project.


'Many architects don't think about it,' Bandt says. 'People only discover it's a problem when they live with it and the noise is bouncing off their stainless steel bench.'


When Laura Ashley was the height of style, and carpets, curtains and comfortably stuffed arm- chairs were found in every home, acoustics were rarely a problem. The reverberation of soundwaves was absorbed by soft furnishings.


Because of modern minimalist decorating tastes, installing sound-absorbing products is now a growing industry.


Doneux's Acoustica offers sound-absorbing panels, ceiling and wall materials and engineering advice to help home owners living in ear-rattling spaces.


A product called Quiet Wave is an acoustically treated plasterboard that's 1.2mm thick. It's about the same price as 13mm plasterboard, but is quicker to install and takes up less space, offering potential cost savings.


Another solution is fabric-covered sound-absorbing panels.


Acoustic Answers, run by Mark Skeldon, offers simple grey or white sound-absorbing panels. 'They're very plain - which doesn't suit everyone - and the rule of thumb is that you need to install the panels on between 30 and 50 per cent of the total ceiling area of the room,' Skeldon says.


'Carpets and curtains make the biggest difference,' says Brunton. 'But no-one seems to like them any more.'


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