Scoping out soundproofing

Scoping out soundproofing

CODE: Building may not have any special treatment

Dianne Rinehart

For CanWest News Service

June 5, 2005

TORONTO -- New-home advertisements that promise granite kitchen counters, hardwood floors, and step-up Jacuzzi bathtubs may be enticing, but asking questions about the soundproofing materials and construction techniques used in your potential new home may be a better investment in happiness.

"You walk into a place, it's three bedrooms and it's near a good school," says Toronto architect Paul Raff of Paul Raff Studio, "and you think: 'This is it!'"

And you don't ask questions about soundproofing -- out of sight, out of mind, Raff says.

"It's invisible. But it has a huge impact on quality of life."

Consumers may also feel they are protected -- in new buildings at least -- by the building code. But, experts agree, that is not the case.

Building to the code is "the worst building you can legally build," says Rob Stevens, a partner with HGC Engineering, which consults on sound transmission for builders and condominium corporations.

"It's not a blueprint for an excellent building. It's the minimum requirement."

Or, as John Straube, a professor in the civil engineering department at the University of Waterloo, puts it: "Codes are the worst building you can make without going to jail."

Canada's building code addresses soundproofing by requiring the construction components deliver a 50 Sound Transmission Class (STC) in lab tests, while most European codes, where people have lived closely together for centuries, are set higher.

With an STC of 50, you will still hear loud speech, TVs and stereos, says John Humphries, the technical advisor to Toronto's Chief Building Official.

And even a few points can make a huge difference in what you can or cannot hear. For example, an STC of 60 would halve the amount of sound you perceive hearing from a 50 STC, virtually the same effect as reducing emissions from a noise source by 10 decibels, Stevens says.

As well, the building code addresses the sound frequencies of voices, not the bass sounds emitted by stereo and TV sound systems -- low-frequency sounds that require much more soundproofing than a higher frequency voice.

© The Vancouver Province 2005