SurroundSound in vertical villages

Sleep is not a trivial issue – though the design and diversity within our vertical villages can make it scarce. 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), poor sleep is associated with a doubling of heart attack risk and a possible four-fold increase in the risk of stroke. Along with smoking, lack of exercise and poor diet, the WHO believes poor sleep should be considered a modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

And the Supreme Court in India appears to have taken this to “heart”. In a nation known for hubbub, citizens there now have a right to sound sleep. In deeming this fundamental to life, the Supreme Court has broadened the ambit of “right of life” to include a citizen’s right to sleep peacefully.

In terms of impediments to sleep, noise remains a key culprit and grievances about noise are the fastest growing area of complaint and disputes in urban Australia.

This is true for vertical living where the sources of noise are manifold and their impact acute.  This is because we are literally surrounded by neighbours ­– upstairs, downstairs, on the left and on the right. And let’s also include across the hallway!

And it is here that poor construction couples with residential diversity to make a potentially round-the-clock cacophony as differences in culture, age and ways of living mean that neighbours literally live in/at different times. This means that what is “late night” to some is “I’m just getting started” to others.

So, while next door’s war game session might be OK during working hours, when they battle from 11pm till 3am (maybe because of shift work), there is a problem. Added to this, changing work patterns have many more people working from home. So, what used to be unheard day-time noise, now impedes productivity.

In the experience of Australia’s Owners Corporation Network (OCN), the most problematic sources of apartment noise are:

Neighbourly noise emanating from living activities such as TV, music, children, pets or late night parties – and (in my experience) “war gaming”;

Flooring and increasingly, new hard flooring installed with poor insulation, means that downstairs neighbours can hear your every footstep, the scrape of your chairs, your children running and playing – and they aren’t happy; and

Building noises such as chugging water pipes, slamming doors due to worn out door closers, rubbish disposal, after-hours cleaning, lift operation, central air conditioning and, the always funny, late night intercom buzzing.

Advice for dealing with these internal noise issues is to start by investigating your OC by-laws to know where you stand. Then “talk” – ideally nicely - with your neighbours and progressing to your building manager, owners’ corporation committee and then others who might be similarly impacted.

The Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria (DSCV) is handy resource. As part of the Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation, it provides free dispute resolution services to all Victorians and can help resolve disputes without having to resort to legal action.

There is, however, a fourth source of noise referred to as “external disturbances” which includes sounds generated from outside the strata complex such as noise from local celebrations, licensed premises, traffic and outside machinery.

This category differs to the previous ones as it typically is not under the control of the owners’ corporation. In fact, external noise is a vexed issue for many new high-density precincts as they may be subject to specific regulations (such as Docklands ZONE 2) which permit activities “as of right” within the zone, leaving residents exposed.

And it is here where Prof Gan Woon Seng from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) offers some hope. Researchers from NTU have developed a device that can reduce noise pollution entering buildings – even when windows are open.

It is designed to be mounted onto window grilles and uses “active noise control” technology – found in many high-end headphones  – to cancel external noise. The device uses eight watts of power and several units are placed together to form a grid – an “anti-noise array”.

According to Prof Gan Woon Seng, director of NTU’s Centre for Infocomm Technology (INFINITUS), “Compared to noise cancellation headphones, what we have achieved is far more technically challenging as we needed to control the noise in a large open area, instead of just around the ear.”

While still at the prototype stage, it is believed that the device could reduce up to 50 per cent of noise coming from nearby environments (e.g. roads, rail or construction activities). In addition to this, as windows can be left opened, there is the benefit of a reduced need for air-conditioning.  Along with the possibility of sleep.

For links to the research or organisations mentioned, please visit and like SkyPad Living on Facebook.

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