HOW TO SOUNDPROOF WINDOWS IN YOUR HOME

Living in the inner city, noise pollution is almost impossible to avoid. But by learning how to soundproof windows, and by installing soundproof products, you can return peace and quiet to your home.

Our ultimate guide to soundproofing windows is designed to give you everything you need to know about how to reduce noise pollution in your home. From how we understand what noise pollution is, to how acoustic windows work, and house soundproof windows are installed, we hope to cover all the questions you may have. To navigate our guide, simply use the links below.

WHAT IS NOISE POLLUTION?

Noise is simply sound that is loud or unpleasant or causes disturbances. Living in an urban environment noise levels can become extremely annoying or even harmful, and affect both your life and your health. It is at this point that noise becomes noise pollution.

TYPES OF NOISE POLLUTION

Although noise pollution can take practically any form, for the purposes of soundproof window design (and because these are the sources that most people encounter), we find it helpful to split noise pollution into the following sub-categories. It is worth noting that most properties will experience noise pollution from a variety of sources, but by focusing on dealing with the main culprit, we can find a solution that will best serve you.

AIRCRAFT

Depending upon how far you are located from the flightpath, noise pollution from planes can range from a minor to severe disturbance. For those 1 mile below the flightpath noise can reach up to 97dB. Prolonged exposure to noise of this level (more than 1 hour per day) poses serious risks to your health.

In a 2013 study carried out by the British Medical Journal, those who lived in the vicinity of Heathrow airport were 10-20% more likely to be admitted to hospital for a stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. A separate study, printed in German magazine ‘Spiegel’, revealed that being exposed to an average noise level of 60dB increased coronary heart disease by 61% in men and 80% in women.

DO YOU SUFFER FROM PLANES LANDING NEAR YOUR HOME? WE CAN HELP…

ROAD TRAFFIC

Affecting practically everyone in the city, noise pollution from road traffic can be a real pain. With motorbikes, buses, cars and mopeds all taking to the streets it can be a real cacophony of sounds with levels that can vary any time of day or night. In most cases noise pollution from the road will be between 45-75dB.

On the lower end of the spectrum, the sound of road traffic will be a casual annoyance, though prolonged exposure can cause a dramatic increase in cardiovascular diseases. In particular, noise traffic exposure can be particularly problematic at night, where the desirable noise level is 30dB.

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ANTI-SOCIAL NOISE

Anti-social noise pollution is a term that encompasses many sources. Whether it’s a local nightclub, noisy neighbours or the sounds of a busy high street. In many cases this doesn’t even need to meet a high decibel level, but can simply be a consistent nuisance. In fact, most councils do not agree on what an acceptable noise level is.

In the UK there it what is known as ‘statutory nuisance’. This is the point the noise has become “prejudicial to health or a nuisance”. However, even if it a case were to be taken to court, there is no guarantee that anything can be done to prevent recurrence. It’s at this stage that many clients approach us to discuss their options.

NOISY NEIGHBOURS AND CROWDED NIGHT CLUBS KEEPING YOU AWAKE? WE CAN HELP…

RAIL OR TUBE NOISE

Living near a train station is extremely desirable. Though the distinct rumble of tubes or the chug of freight trains can quickly become a physical pain. At 100 feet away a diesel train will max out at around 80dB, the same as a freight train from 15’ away. With prolonged exposure, this is level of noise pollution can cause permanent hearing damage.

TIRED OF LISTENING TO THE TUBE? OR THE SIRENS OF SPEEDING CROSSCOUNTRY TRAINS? WE CAN HELP…

HOW DO SOUNDPROOF WINDOWS WORK?

Soundproof windows reduce noise pollution by simply causing the sound wave to lose power. This is achieved by using materials that will absorb and reflect sound. In particular, soundproof windows employ acoustic glass as well as sealants and other acoustic elements in order to combat noise. 

MATERIALS

TIMBER

Wood is naturally a fairly good conductor of sound due to the fact that it is not particularly elastic or dense. This means that untreated timber will not do much to soundproof your property. However, the designs of soundproof windows work to combat this natural deficiency.

How Timber is Cut

Wood is what is known as an anisotropic material (it is stronger when cut perpendicular to the grain than when cut longitudinally). So when it comes to soundproof windows, the timber is cut against the grain to provide greater resistance to noise.

How the Frame is Made

Soundproof windows tend to be made from two or more bits of wood that have been glued together.  This provides greater noise reduction values by compensating for coincidence frequencies (the frequency at which a material will naturally amplify a sound). It also prevents the frame from swelling.

The Type of Wood

Although more expensive hardwoods tend to be denser and provide a greater finish, the additional noise reduction is negligible.

How the Timber is Treated

A timber treatment is applied in the factory. This ensures that the timber is protected against issues from swelling, and hardens the wood to lessen its elasticity.

TYPES OF SOUNDPROOF GLAZING

Compared to wood, glass is an inelastic material which should mean it’s a poor conductor of sound. However, the glass used in windows is relatively thin, meaning that it will not do much to soundproof your home. This is why soundproof windows will use acoustic glass.

Let’s take a closer look at how soundproof glass works.

POLYVINYL BUTYRAL (PVB)

In noise reduction glazing, the panes of glass are separated by a layer of PVB. This is designed to prevent sounds in the 1000 – 3000 Hz range (the most sensitive range for humans) getting through the glazing by both absorbing and reflecting the noise. PVB typically offers a reduction of around 10 decibels, which is considered to be a 50% reduction in perceived loudness.

MICRO RUBBER SPACERS

Fitted around the windows are micro-rubber spacers. These spacers create a barrier between the window frame and the sill, preventing noise from flanking around the timber.

VACUUM SPACING

As sound cannot travel in a vacuum, some highly advanced glazing units create a vacuum between the glazing to stop sound dead. Unfortunately, this isn’t very practical in most applications.

How Acoustic Glazing Works

Soundproof windows will use acoustic glazing of different thicknesses depending on the extent of the noise reduction required and the origin of the sound. In all cases, two different thicknesses of glass will be used to combat the coincidence frequency.

Coincidence Frequency in Glass:

Any sheet of glass will have what we call a ‘coincidence frequency’. This is the frequency at which, due to the shape and the size of the glazing, sound will be transferred or amplified rather than dampened. The coincidence frequency is compensated for by using thicknesses of glass with a differential of 30%.

Use the following coincidence calculator to learn more.

TIMBER VS UPVC WINDOWS

When it comes to soundproofing your property, the difference between uPVC and timber is negligible. Companies that provide uPVC and timber soundproof windows will offer similar, if not the same levels of noise reduction products. Rather, the choice will come down to other factors such as cost, the area in which you live and personal preference.

The following table is a comparison between timber and uPVC windows, which may help you decide what’s best for your home.

TIMBER

Advantages Disadvantages
Bespoke timber frames can be installed in buildings and properties in conservation areas. Timber windows, especially bespoke designs, can be expensive.
Timber windows offer a greater variety in design. Though timber windows will last an extremely long time, they will require regular maintenance in order to perform optimally.
They will add value to your property. Due to the fact that the windows will often be made to order, wait time for installation can be long.
They will add value to your property.

uPVC

Advantages Disadvantages
uPVC windows are cheaper than timber. Replacing timber windows with uPVC will remove value from your property.
Can be manufactured rapidly. They cannot be installed in listed buildings or most conservation areas.
uPVC windows are made from unsustainable materials and will not biodegrade.
Plastic windows do not offer good noise reduction values due to hollow frames.
uPVC soundproof windows tend to have a lifespan of around 20 years.

SOUNDPROOF WINDOWS COSTS

When it comes to the costs of soundproof windows, you can expect that they will cost considerably more than standard windows. Each project will be quoted for individually, however, a rough estimation of the starting costs for soundproof windows is outlined below:

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INSTALLING SOUNDPROOF WINDOWS

PLANNING PERMISSION

When it comes to planning permission for soundproof windows, properties in most residential areas will have nothing to worry about. However, there are a few restrictions that you should be aware of before you begin any renovation project.

You will not need to apply for planning permission for the following work:

  • The repair, or minor improvement of your existing windows (such as repainting, re-fixing).
  • The insertion of new windows that are similar in appearance to those you already have in your property.

The addition of a bay window to your home will likely require planning permission as it is deemed an extension of your property. Additionally, upper-floor side windows will need to contain obscured glass and not open, or be 1.7 metres above the level of the floor.

When it comes to roof or skylights, planning permission won’t be necessary as long as the project is kept within the following bounds:

  • The new window can’t protrude more than 150mm from the plane of the roof.
  • The final installation is no higher than the existent highest point of the roof.
  • Windows added to the side-slope are fitted with obscured glass.

CONSERVATION AREAS & LISTED BUILDINGS

When it comes to installing soundproof windows in conservation areas, things become a little trickier. These areas are protected by the ‘article 4 direction’, which prevents you from making serious alterations to your property that might affect its historical value.

In most conservation areas you will be allowed to upgrade to soundproof windows as long as the new frames are the same style, design and material as the old windows.

Unfortunately there are no standard rules for houses in conservation areas. Each local authority will determine their own set of standards. As such, you should speak to your Local Planning Authority before you place any orders for soundproof windows.

HOW TO PREPARE FOR INSTALLATION

In order to minimise installation time and prevent any accidents happening to your property, the following are a list of things you can do before you installing soundproof windows in your property.

  • Secure all valuable items such as jewellery, laptops, cameras, phones, etc.
  • Hide all removables (i.e. moveable furniture, removable decorations etc.) from the direct vicinity of the replacement area.
  • Remove picture frames, paintings and any other wall decorations.
  • Remove all blinds and curtains, tracks, shutters etc.
  • Temporarily disconnect all alarm systems connected to your windows.

In most cases, the installation company will also remove and dispense with your old windows, however it is best to verify this before the installation begins.

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AFTERCARE

With timber soundproof windows, simple, regular maintenance is all you will need to do to keep your windows beautiful for many years to come.

GENERAL CLEANING

Abrasive chemicals might damage the frame, so we suggest that you use a very mild soap and water, and a light rinse aid on the glass. Be sure to soak up any liquid from the timber to prevent any potential rot.

CRACKS

Any cracks that appear need to be covered with paint or stain as soon as possible. Any application of treatments to the wood needs to be carried out when the timber is dry in order to avoid trapping water in.

LUBRICATION

To keep ironmongery from sticking we suggest lubrication twice a year. This includes locks, which can be done by applying lubricant to the key and using it in the lock a couple of times.

CONDENSATION

Whilst condensation on the inside of your windows can be resolved by leaving the window open temporarily, condensation inside of the glazing is a sign that the glass has been compromised. This means that the seals will need to be replaced around the glazing and we advise you speak to your installation company.

HOW SOUND WORKS

Formed of compressions and rarefactions, sound moves at different speeds through different materials. Counterintuitively, sound actually travels rather poorly through air as it not very dense or elastic. On the other hand steel, which is much more elastic, allows sound to travel rapidly and with ease.

On the other, other hand, sound won’t travel anywhere at all in a vacuum. You see, sound requires matter to transmit its energy, and denser, more elastic materials work best as the molecules within the material make it easier for the wave to move.

Soundproof windows are designed on these principles. They use materials that will absorb sound or cause it to be reflected.

This graph describes a steady sound wave travelling through air, keeping the same tone throughout the duration. On the y-axis we have the amplitude of the wave, this describes how loud the sound is and is measured in decibels (dB).

The peak of the wave represents the point at which the molecules in the air are packed closest together, and the corresponding trough, when they are most spread apart. A sound with a steady pitch will always have the same differential in amplitude, though in reality, sound behaves far more erratically.

The frequency of the wavelengths determines the pitch of the sound. Those that are closer together produce a higher pitch sound, and those further apart a lower pitch.

Sound is perhaps best visualised in the 3rd dimension by the graphics below:

WHAT IS A DECIBEL

Throughout this website, we talk about decibel reductions, but what is a decibel?

A decibel is a measure of the intensity of a sound against a set logarithmic scale. As opposed to a linear scale (which increases by a set number with each unit), a logarithmic scale (which increases by a multiplication) is used in order to deal with the fact that sound has a massive range of quantities. Whilst this may sound complicated, we use a logarithmic scale to make it easier for us to understand sounds, as the numbers would be too large for us to grasp otherwise.

Logarithms are used when the numbers in question (in this case of the loudness of the sound) are far too large to be expressed simply. They are formed of three constituent parts, and are best explained by deconstructing the following equation:

1010 = 10x10x10x10x10x10x10x10x10x10 = 10000000000

Expressed as a logarithm this takes the form:

log10 (10000000000) = 10

Where the number ‘10’ is the base, 10000000000 is the power and 10 the answer.

When we are talking about sound we say that for every increase of ten decibels, the power or loudness of the sound increases by a multiple of 10. The following table outlines the decibel to power ratio increase.

So you can see that small increases in decibels are actually describing massive increases in the loudness of the sound.

DECIBEL LEVELS OF COMMON SOUNDS

In order to better understand what a decibel is, it’s perhaps easier to think about the decibel levels of common sounds.

SOUNDPROOF WINDOWS FAQS

HOW DOES SOUNDPROOF WINDOWS WORK?

Soundproof windows work by reflecting, absorbing and dissipating sound waves. A combination of specialised glazing, layered hardwoods, dampeners and finishings reduce the strength of the wave by increasing the density and lowering the elasticity of the materials used in the construction of the window.

HOW DOES A DOUBLE PANE WINDOW WORK?

A double pane window houses two sheets of glazing separated by a layer of air, or in some cases inert gases like argon and xenon. These gases are poor conductors of heat, and so reduce the amount lost from your property (or entering it). By making sure the gap between the glazing is kept to a minimum, convection currents are minimised, further reducing heat loss.

WHAT ARE ACOUSTIC GLASS WINDOWS?

Acoustic windows are simply another term for soundproof windows. They are windows that prevent noise from entering or exiting your property.

HOW DO YOU MAKE A ROOM SOUNDPROOF?

When it comes to soundproofing a room, there are a lot of options for you to choose from. What solution you choose will depend upon why you need to soundproof, and the current make-up of your property. However, regardless of your reasons, the following four things are key to soundproofing:

  1. Adding Mass
  2. Dampening
  3. Decoupling
  4. Plugging Gaps

Stop Sound Leaving Your Room

  • To stop noise escaping your room, you should mount all sound units on vibration insulation pads.
  • Acoustic wedge panels are the choice of musicians around the globe. Made out of polyurethane foam, they come with adhesive backs so you can install these on your walls yourself. If renting, you might want to check with your landlord before installation.
  • Sealing up vents will stop sound seeping out of those cracks, but can cause hazards like damp buildup if performed inappropriately.

The following are the most common techniques used to soundproof a room:

  • Soundproof windows will greatly reduce noise pollution.
  • Installing soundproof curtains or blankets on the walls and windows. These will shave off a few decibels, however, if you already have thick walls or insulated walls, this will have a negligible effect.
  • If possible you can construct independent soundproof stud walls using 75mm stud. These are optimally installed 25mm from your existing walls.
  • A suspended soundproof ceiling installed below your current ceiling can be mounted on hangers in order to absorb noise from above.
  • Acoustic mineral wool can be installed between the joists in the floor with a heavy acoustic membrane (soundproof mat) laid on top. A single layer of 2mm can provide up to a 24dB reduction, and you can use as many layers as you see fit.
  • Your room should be inspected for air gaps which need to be filled with materials such as acoustical caulk. Foam gaskets can be used to seal any space around windows.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SECONDARY GLAZING AND DOUBLE GLAZING?

Double glazing is a window unit constructed using 2 sheets of glass with a gap between them. This is an isolated unit that is installed on the outside of your property. On the other hand, secondary glazing is glazing unit (whether single or double glazed) that is installed within your existing window frame (usually on the internal side of the sill).

Given the large gap between the external window and the secondary glazing, you can expect dramatic noise reduction values. However, unless the noise pollution problem is unbearable, most clients will avoid installing secondary windows. This is because they will remove any sill space you have and are generally deemed to be unsightly.

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Installing soundproof windows in your property will not only improve your quality of life and improve your health, but add serious value to your home. So say no to sound now!

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