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Acoustic properties of timber: pros and cons

Timber is an excellent conductor of sound, and its acoustic properties are the reason why it is used in the construction of many musical instruments.

Its behaviour is perfect for concert performance, more questionable in the construction of timber buildings. Timber is known for its natural ability to transmit vibrations: when used as the construction element of a building, the addition of other variables such as discontinuities between walls and floors greatly increases the likelihood that external sound will reach the interior or easily propagate from one room to another. 

The pros of building in timber, however, are unquestionable, and there are solutions for reducing noise pollution inside a building.

So what is noise pollution when we speak of timber houses?

The set of audible noises within a timber building cannot be called true "noise pollution," but they are one of the issues considered most annoying by tenants and on the other hand most neglected by designers, builders and architects.

"Impact sounds," such as footsteps or falling objects, are not well tolerated: a study published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America* confirmed that these are the "most annoying" of all noises and could impact health, causing insomnia and stress.

Often, those commissioning a timber building neglect sound insulation because they consider it unnecessary and expensive. However, awareness towards the issue of soundproofing always comes too late: when the occupants notice noise from the street or the footsteps of upstairs neighbours or the elevator in the stairwell.

However, for the people who live in them, they are a nuisance, and for those who build them, they can be a risk of dispute.

*The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America > Volume 152, Issue 4 > 10.1121/10.0015563

Sound insulation: design it before it's too late

Only a small percentage of timber houses have enough sound insulation to prevent the perception of external and internal noise.

In fact, for living in acoustic comfort, it is necessary to design anti-noise solutions in advance, on paper.

After the acoustic design is completed, it is essential to ensure that the insulation products are installed properly. By leaving exposed even a very small discontinuity between the walls, the loudspeaker effect is assured and acoustic discomfort occurs.

Whenever we talk about acoustic performance, we always refer to the limits to be met during installation and to verification of the requirements by testing on completion of the work.

Types of noise and timber characteristics

The "noises" perceived inside a timber building are of various types:

  • Tenants' footsteps, neighbours moving furniture, or the upstairs child playing ball in the living room are impact noise;
  • Chatter, music or TV volume are examples of airborne noise;
  • Vibrations from washing machines, background of equipment, footsteps, voices, and noises also heard in adjacent rooms are typical structural noises;
  • External noises produced by passing vehicles or heavy rain are acoustic and sealing problems.
To ensure the privacy of people residing or working within the rooms of a timber building, it is essential to prevent these situations: 

1. sound propagation from one room to another through vertical walls;
2. sound/vibration propagation from the attic to the rooms below;
3. sound propagation by structural means even between non-adjacent rooms;
4. entry of external noise.

Timber is a lightweight building material, and sound insulation is one of the main challenges to successful construction.

With its many years of experience in the field of timber construction, Rothoblaas has developed expertise and products that guarantee living comfort in all its aspects, including sound insulation.