Have you ever wondered why eating in modern restaurants is like having your dinner in a nightclub? Sometimes it’s so hard to conduct a conversation you might as well be on a platform at Town Hall Station. The reason that modern restaurants and caf?are so noisy is largely due to modern interior design. The recent trends towards minimalism, clean surfaces and industrial chic have led to loud reverberant spaces. Eating out has gone from being a relaxed quiet experience to being an extension of the party scene.

Excessive noise in restaurants is due to one major factor, and this is reverberation. Commonly known as echo, reverberation describes the ability of sound to be reflected within a space. As a general rule the larger the space and the harder the materials used the greater the reverberation, and therefore the noisier the space will be.

The easiest way to reduce reverberation is to add soft materials to a space. Traditional restaurants with their tablecloths, curtains, carpet and paintings are quiet spaces because the soft furnishings absorb sound. Modern restaurants have concrete or timber floors, no curtains or tablecloths, and decoration is kept to a minimum, thus creating perfect conditions for the reflection of noise. Nice soft people are also good sound absorbers, but they also tend to generate noise, so the more people in a restaurant the louder it tends to be. Unfortunately for our ears, soft furnishings have been rather out of fashion for some time, but there has been some stunning use of curtains recently which may signal that curtains are set to return. Certainly, tasteful upholstery of bench seats has been a feature of cool bars and restaurants for a while, and these go some way towards tempering the effects of reverberation.

Reverberation is less commonly a problem in domestic situations because rooms are generally too small to be very reverberant. More often it is the problem of noise transmission between rooms or between apartments that needs to be dealt with in the home.

Hard materials cause sound waves to bounce off rather than transmit through, so this is the key to reducing sound transmission between spaces. A solid wall made of brick or stone will perform better than a plasterboard or timber wall. It’s certainly possible to improve the performance of lightweight walls by installing sound insulation, but nothing beats solid masonry or concrete.

The worst conditions of all for sound transmission are open windows or open plan apartments. That’s why loft apartments are always best for single people. Glass performs quite poorly in terms of sound transmission, which is why double glazing is a must on really busy streets. Unfortunately this is useless as soon as you open a window. A common problem for inner-city residents is the dilemma of whether to open windows for ventilation in summer and be subjected to your neighbour’s raucous all-night parties, or leave them closed and suffer from heat exhaustion. Many new apartment blocks, especially those on busy streets, include air-conditioning for this exact reason.

Long-term sleep deprivation can seriously affect your health, so finding a way to make your home acoustically comfortable is essential. If all else fails, an acoustic engineer can make recommendations for improving conditions -“ or you could move house.

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