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Improving Home Acoustics

Why Home Acoustics is an Issue for People with Hearing Impairments

One of the most common complaints among people who wear a hearing aid is that everything is amplified. A hearing aid makes no distinction between voices and noise. Someone wearing a hearing aid often has difficulty focusing on a conversation because the words are in competition, so to speak, with all the other background noise in the room. In audiology, this is referred to as the “Signal to Noise Ratio” where the “signal” is the speech and the noise is all non-speech sounds. If you or someone you live with wears a hearing aid there are some things to do to make your living environment quieter so that the important sounds, like voices, can be heard more clearly.

If you would like to get an idea what a hearing aid can sound like, simply leave a tape recorder running for an hour or so. The tape recorder microphone is picking up all sounds, and when you play the tape back, your house, that you thought was so quiet and peaceful, is revealed to be a reverberant mess of sound. If there were any voices recorded during this experiment, they will be hard to understand because of the background noise.

 

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Create an Acoustic Inventory

So how can you make your environment quieter? For starters, you need to make an “Acoustic Inventory”. First, go through the house with a critical ear and make an inventory of all the things that generate sound. This could be any kind of machine with a motor that is constantly running such as refrigerators, air conditioners, furnaces, fans and clocks. You may need to do this multiple times to pick up motors which are only occasionally run like dishwashers and microwave ovens. Write everything down so that you can review the list later and figure out ways to quiet these everyday appliances.

Next, look for (or listen for) surfaces which cause noise through contact. These could be hardwood or tile floors, chairs scraping when moving, doors that make noise when opened or closed, countertop surfaces, cutlery, glasses – anything you can think of that makes a noise.

Finally you want to listen to your house to see if there are some rooms which promote the echoing of sounds. Step into the middle of the room and clap your hands. Do you hear something immediately afterwards? Try making a short loud sound with your voice. You will be able to tell if the room has acoustics which are too “lively”.

This approach does not only apply to homes, it can be done in classrooms as well to create an environment more conducive to learning.

Appliances

Now you have your “Acoustic Inventory”. For each of the items that you’ve listed, try to think of ways to make them quieter. Major appliances like refrigerators can sometimes be made quieter through the use of a soft rubber pad underneath. This absorbs the vibrations that would otherwise be transmitted to the floor and heard as noise. Try these rubber pads under the fridge, washing machine and dryer.

If you have a separate laundry room, closing the door when the washing machine and dryer are running will keep the sound from spreading through the rest of the apartment or house. If there is no separate laundry room, the machines could be place in a cupboard or cabinet with closing doors to contain the sound.

Many electrical devices are causing unnecessary sound because they are not secured properly and therefore vibrate against something. Ceiling fans are a good example of this. If the fan is a little bit loose, it can make an irritating sound at certain speeds. Make sure all devices like this are securely attached.

Proper installation can also cut down on noise from window air conditioners. Test all the screws that hold the air conditioner in place and tighten them if necessary. Running the air conditioner on the lowest setting will make it less noisy. This also applies to fans.

Surfaces

For floors, the obvious thing is to use carpet or rugs. This really helps cutting down on general ambient noise as well. Carpets are not convenient in the kitchen or bathroom , but linoleum flooring is quieter than tile. Of course, you probably don’t want to rip up all your beautiful tiles. In this case, a few small area rugs will help cut down on the noise level.

In rooms with hardwood or tile floors, chairs and tables can generate a lot of noise when they are moved. An easy way to eliminate this is to attach tennis balls to the legs. Cut a hole in a tennis ball with a utility knife large enough for the leg to fit through but small enough so that it will stay on when the table or chair is lifted. Pads that are nailed to the bottom of the leg serve a similar purpose and can be bought in hardware stores. For classrooms that have large quantities of chairs, check with your local sports club and ask them to collect and donate “dead” tennis balls – they may have lost their bounce for playing good tennis, but they will still eliminate noise from chairs.

For counter tops and table tops, place-mats will absorb the sound of plates and cutlery on a hard surface. For the dining room or kitchen table, a combination of table cloth and place-mats, along with some sound deadening material on the bottom of chair feet will make a big difference in cutting down on background noise.

Door frames can be padded so that the door doesn't slam when it is closed. Weatherstripping material, which can be acquired at almost any hardware store, is perfect for this. Small rubber stoppers mounted on the door combined with a small wall-mounted pad can substantially reduce the sound of the door hitting the wall when it is opened.

Ambient Room Noise

For lively-sounding rooms, carpeting on the floor can help absorb noise and reduce echoing. Full-length curtains or wall-hangings will make it even quieter. Any hard surface is going to reflect sound, but when covered with cloth, the sound will be absorbed. Table cloths or mats can be used on coffee and side tables. Plate glass windows can be covered with sheer curtains.

Of course, good acoustics are only part of the solution. However, these practical and easy to follow tips will help make your home quieter and more pleasant for everyone. Click here to make an appointment to improve your hearing today!

For more information, see this web site:

Acoustic Insulation

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1900 University Avenue Suite 101
E. Palo Alto, CA 94303
Phone: (650) 462-3139
Fax: (650) 322-8228
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