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.
The Decibel Scale
The decibel scale gives an approximation of human perception of relative loudness. This is because the human ear has a logarithmic response to changes in sound level.
On the decibel scale, the smallest audible sound (near total silence) is 0 dB. A sound ten times more powerful is 10 dB. A sound 100 times more powerful than near silence is 20 dB.
The logarithmic nature of the dB scale means that each 10 dB increase represents a 10-fold increase in acoustic power. A 20 dB increase is therefore a 100-fold increase in power, and a 30 dB increase is a 1000-fold increase. However, an increase in acoustic power of ten times does not mean that the sound is perceived as being ten times louder. The ear perceives a 10 dB increase in sound level as only a doubling of sound loudness, and a 10 dB decrease in sound level as a halving of sound loudness.
The lower threshold of human hearing is around 5 dB. Normally speaking voices are around 65 dB. A rock concert can be around 120 dB.
Sounds that are 85 dB or above can cause hearing damage, and the higher the sound pressure, the less time it takes to cause damage. For example, a sound of 85 dB may take 8 hours to cause damage, whereas a sound of 100 dB may start to cause damage after only 30 minutes. A sound of around 150 dB can cause instantaneous hearing damage.
Sound intensity is measured in Decibels (dB). This is a logarithmic scale in which an increase of 10 dB gives an apparent doubling of loudness.
Sound pitch is measured in Hertz (Hz), the standard unit for the measurement for frequency. The audible range of sound for humans is typically from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz, although, through ageing and exposure to loud sounds the upper limit will generally decrease.
The ‘reverberation time’ of a space changes the way the space ‘sounds’ and can affect the intelligibility acoustic information. A high reverberation time can make a room sound muffled, loud and noisy. Rooms designed for speech typically have a low reverberation time, whereas a higher reverberation time can add depth, richness and warmth to music.
The reverberation time of a room is defined as the time it takes for sound to decay by 60 dB after an abrupt termination. It is linked to the total quantity of soft treatments and the volume of the room.
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