Commercial and multi-family residential construction represents a growth area for the Canadian wood products industry. To capitalize on this opportunity, a thorough understanding of the necessary products and system attributes will be essential. Adequate levels of noise/sound control in multi-family buildings are mandatory requirements of building codes in Canada, the United States, Europe, and most developed Asian countries. In many jurisdictions, these requirements are as strictly enforced as those for structural sufficiency and fire safety. Much effort has been spent on evaluation of sound transmission class (STC) and impact sound insulation class (IIC) of floor and wall assemblies and on studies of flanking transmission in multi-family dwellings in Canada. However, continuing occupant complaints of poor acoustic performance in wood-frame buildings that appear to have been built according to wall and floor construction practices recommended in building codes suggest the existence of gaps in current noise control techniques.
Forintek initiated this project to investigate the relative importance of noise transmission in wood-frame residential buildings in comparison with other building serviceability issues, and to conduct a pilot study to examine construction designs of wood-frame buildings that exhibit unsatisfactory and satisfactory noise control and to identify existing gaps in current noise control techniques.
A literature review and survey of 123 occupants of wood-framed multi- and single-family residential buildings was conducted to determine the relative importance of noise transmission in comparison with other building serviceability attributes. Case studies were conducted on construction details and designs of six new wood-frame condominiums and one single family-house that were built according to code requirements and recommendations for controlling noise transmission.
We found that the general public had high expectations regarding adequate acoustic privacy. Even single- family house builders considered low sound transmission important. The multi-family building occupants ranked “sound insulation” the most “important” serviceability attribute, while single-family occupants were most concerned with “water penetration and condensation”. The lowest level of “satisfaction” was given by all respondents to “noise transmission” for their current residences, including single-family occupants, who had ranked it as not being so “important”. The case studies revealed that, current construction practices were much more effective in controlling airborne sound transmission than impact noise. The footfall noise transmission from stairs through the walls is still an unresolved issue that is not considered in the current Canadian Building Code. The low frequency footfall noise transmission between vertically-stacked units was the common complaint in some of these buildings. With no requirement for impact sound insulation in the current National Building Code of Canada, and with our existing knowledge gap concerning low frequency footfall noise transmission problems and solutions to control them, builders, acoustics consultants and design engineers have simply tended to blame wood building materials for noise-related complaints.
We concluded that if we are to satisfy the occupants of both single-and multi-family wood-frame buildings and to provide confidence for builders and design engineers in wood-frame construction with satisfactory acoustic performance, a much greater effort is needed to improve sound insulation including development of better sound insulated wood-frame systems and building materials as well as retrofitting techniques. Acoustic performance will be a critical factor for the wood products industry in gaining a greater share of the multi-family construction market and in competing with other building materials.