Sound transmission paths can be interrupted by sound insulation and by blocking air paths. The sound insulation of a single leaf of a material is governed by its mass, stiffening and damping.
The sound insulation across a good conventional, lightweight, office to office construction is typically in the order of 45 dB Dw. This means that if the sound level in the source room is around 65 dB, (a typical level for speech) the sound level in the adjacent room, the receiver room, will be approximately 20 dB (barely audible). If sound levels are increased in the source room however, to 75 dB (raised voice), sound levels within the adjacent room will also increase to around 30 dB (audible). Sound insulation therefore describes the level of sound lost across a partition and not the level of sound within an adjacent room.
Dw represents the sound insulation between rooms on-site. Rw represents the lab tested sound insulation of an element making up a partition wall/floor type. Standards achieved in labs may not be possible on site because of the quality of workmanship and due to sound ‘flanking’ acoustic elements, that is, travelling around them through an easier path, rather than only directly through them as under lab conditions.
The building regulations part E sets minimum standards for design and construction in relation to the resistance to the passage of sound.
Privacy describes the perceived sound reduction across a wall. Privacy is a function of both sound insulation and background noise. Background noise is made up of services noise and environmental noise sources breaking in through the facade or open windows, vents etc.
If the background noise within a room is increased by 5 to 10 dB, the perceived level of privacy across a partition is also increased by 5 to 10 dB. Therefore, when looking at required sound insulation levels on-site, it is important to consider both the background noise in the receiver room and the sound insulation across the partition.
Decibels (dB) are most commonly used as a measure of sound level, but they are also used in electronics, signals and communications.
Sound is a variation in pressure detectable by the ear, whereas noise is undesired sound, or any sound which causes disturbance or annoyance to the recipient. The unit used to describe sound wave intensity is the bel, named after the inventor Alexander Graham Bell. The human ear is sensitive enough to detect changes of as little as 1/10 of a bel, and so sound intensity levels are described in decibels.
A sound wave’s intensity is the average amount of energy transmitted per unit time through a unit area in a specified direction. The sound intensity level, I, in decibels is 10 times the logarithm of the ratio of the intensity of a sound wave to a reference intensity.
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