How to reduce the noise in your work from home environment

Updated: Apr 27

After changing my profile status to Stop sending me Coronavirus memes, a good friend from Brazil insisted that I listen to a WhatsApp audio. She said 'It is hilarious'. I wondered if she read my status or if I should remind her of it, but in praise of asking people to be more tolerant and humane in this unprecedented time of global crisis, I surrendered and clicked on PLAY. I couldn't stop laughing.


There was nothing unusual in the audio apart of the funny accent of a woman complaining about her working-from-home husband as now the kids cannot shout, kids cannot cry, and the television volume should be turned down.


For those who can only concentrate in a quiet environment, working with the entire family in the lockdown can be quite hard. Conversely, it can also be difficult for other members in the household. After all, not everyone is happy to constraint the freedom of making noise.


There are simple ways to minimise the acoustic problems you may experience by suddenly having to work from home. I will share some tips on how to tackle the issues, all of which are within reach of what you have at home.


First al all, understand that the sound is a wave.

When it hits on a hard and flat surface, it will bounce.

When it hits on a soft or porous material, it will dissipate.


Secondly, understand the difference between Acoustic Insulation and Acoustic Absorption. Both have different purposes.


To separate your room from the source of noise generation, you have to provide efficient Acoustic Insulation. The same way you protect yourself from the cold by insulating your room, you do for the noise, so the 'airborne sound' does not penetrate. If you have gaps or cracks around the window when it is closed, you will still hear the noise from outside. The sound wave will find its way in.


Acoustic Absorption is applied not to ensure the insulation or separation but to reduce the noise level, in a more simplistic way of describing.

If you have been in an indoor swimming pool, you usually find the space loud. You can hear the splash of each stroke (outside of water, of course) or loud and echoing cheers. This is because its walls, floor and ceiling are made of flat and hard surfaces, reflecting all the noises altogether. A sound recording studio, on the other hand, has the wall covered with foam panels so the sound waves, when hit the wall, can dissipate. The foam panels are used as acoustic absorbent.


What follows are some 'lockdown at home' scenarios.



SCENARIO 1


Working in the same room as several sources of noise generation, a technical term here for your kids, tv or someone in the open plan kitchen doing something.

Strategy: Acoustic Absorption


Room layout without strategy


Room layout with strategy

Cover the flat and hard surfaces of the room with absorbent materials:

  • Add carpets or throws in the room

  • Hang tapestry, rug or any artwork on the wall

  • Spread some cushions around

  • Draw up your fabric curtains

If you have timber, plastic or metal blinds, draw them to cover as much glazed surface of the window as possible though with the fins half-open, in angle, to allow the sound wave to bounce in.

If the window opens to a quiet garden, leave it open, then the noise can escape.

Consider these as a temporary measure and do not overlook the trip hazard and fire risk the objects you are adding can cause.



SCENARIO 2


Working next to the room where the source of noise generation is.

Strategy: Both Acoustic Insulation and Acoustic Absorption.


Make sure in the room where the source of noise is coming from has the Acoustic Absorption strategy in place (recommended in SCENARIO 1, so the sounds do not travel through the walls to your room.


Room layout with acoustic absorption and insulation

Second, improve your airborne sound insulation between rooms by sealing all the gaps. Use the same tricks as you would to keep cold air from coming through windows and door:


  • Use the draft stopper at door base.

  • Apply foam tape or weatherstrip around the door.


Acoustic tapes

These recommendations will certainly eliminate some annoyance, although far from providing the desired silence of a library. Still, small improvements do change the quality of the work environment, without having to do any building work. They are also the common sense tricks I concluded after years working on schools and hospital projects in the UK. Working alongside acousticians from Arup, Buro Happold, Cundall, plus several of the top engineering companies in the country, I could ponder the level of difficulties. The regulation for the construction of new schools, for example, is probably the most stringent when it is about acoustics, compared to other building types like hotels, offices and even housing. If you live in a new build, you might question why you are living in a paper-thin walls and having the displeasure of hearing your neighbours talking to each other or worse. Construction failures in housing development are extensively technical for this blog post. However, that can be a new topic for another day.



My friends around the world have shared their photos of their home office, homeschooling and home studio.


- The Hague, Netherlands. Profession: Entrepreneur & Travel Blogger. www.spendlifetraveling.com

- São Paulo, Brazil. Profession: Mom

- Valencia, Spain. Profession: Event Producer & Travel Blogger. www.marikotapelomundo.com

- São Paulo, Brazil. Profession: Business Manager

- São Paulo, Brazil. Profession: Editor & Director. www.tilab.com.br

- London, UK. Profession: Musician & Artist. www.guillermomonroy.co.uk

- Reading, UK. Profession: Joiner & Master of Capoeira

- Buffalo, USA. Profession: Architect

- San Diego, USA. Profession: Theatre costume seamstress & Tutor

- London, UK. Profession: Yoga & Mindfulness Teacher. www.lornamacyoga.com


Thank you for connecting and sharing.



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ALICE HSIEH STUDIO

+44 7519 645933

studio@ahsieh.com