Soften the sound in the modern home

The sounds of a house can be such a wonderful part of the human experience. The jovial chatter at a holiday party, the laughter of running children, the music playing while preparing dinner – they make the soundtrack of a lifetime.

But nowadays, in the more spacious style of modern homes, it’s harder to hear what a fellow conversationalist is saying over the endless din. We move closer to the person speaking to us, having lost their words in the background noise, and say, “I’m so sorry, repeat? “

The problem is not our ears, it is the space.

The materials used to build houses tend, by necessity, to be hard surfaces. The floors are poured concrete, often covered with hardwood, tile, or, as is popular in Santa Fe, brick. Countertops should be hard, smooth and flat. The windows are bigger than ever and all that glass creates another hard, flat surface.

All of these materials are beautiful and practical, but with the growing popularity of high ceilings and open floor plans, and the disappearance of wall-to-wall sound-absorbing carpeting, modern homes have become echo rooms. Sounds bounce between walls, ceiling, and other hard surfaces, with nothing soft to absorb them. And that makes it so hard to hear a sound clearly.

In the houses of yesteryear, rooms were more compartmentalized with lower ceilings and often carpeted floors, all of which served to break down and absorb sound waves. The rooms were literally quieter. Santa Fe certainly has a population of adobe houses with smaller rooms and, most importantly, more rounded walls, which interrupt the noise.

But in newer homes, even those with a nod to traditional Santa Fe style, spaces still tend to be more spacious, taller, have more windows, more hard surfaces, and as a result , to echo more.

Brad Cole, who has worked in audiovisual design and acoustics for 25 years, has some thoughts on this. His Albuquerque company, Integrated Entertainment Solutions, specializes in commercial entertainment consulting and systems design. He has installed sound systems and associated acoustic treatments on cruise ships, in schools and office buildings, and has worked at the Santa Fe Opera House. His company’s services include consulting in residential acoustic treatment, and he does not hesitate to point out how much people need to soundproof their homes.

“It just doesn’t seem like acoustics are built into the home design process,” says Cole. He notes that many homeowners are building a new home, only to experience the chaos of noise when it’s finished.

But he says that with a little thought, the remedies can be diverse and simple.

“Totally smooth walls make the sound bounce,” Cole explains. “Plaster is almost as ‘reflective’ as glass.”

He suggests choosing surfaces that are deliberately designed to dampen noise.

“Break large areas. Do it with art. Or rugs. It can even be metal art, as long as its shape breaks the surface well. What you are trying to do is decrease the reflection of sound. Vigas and a tongue-and-groove wood ceiling help break up sound waves, ”says Cole.

But he wants to disillusion people with the concept of hanging things flat against the wall. He says that when it comes to noise reduction, how you hang something is as important as what you hang.

“The larger the air gap behind the tapestry, the more it attenuates the echo,” he says. “But if you hang a curtain or a piece of fabric directly against the wall, it doesn’t make much difference. Hang a heavy rug, but space it two inches from the wall. Put felt or fiberglass behind to increase the density behind, so you get better NRC (noise reduction coefficient).

“It is easier to absorb high frequency sounds with soft products like cloth, foam, etc. He adds. “Low frequencies, like bass, go through walls. “

He suggests that it helps insulate interior walls well to help reduce sound transmission between rooms, something that’s especially useful to consider early in the design of a new home, not after it’s built.

“The better the sound system is, or the louder you plan to use it, the more you have to deal with the sound absorption,” says Cole.

There are attractive products that attenuate the sound. The one that perfectly matches any interior design is a photo-printed acoustic panel that doubles as art.

Companies like Acoustimac (acoustimac.com) and Audimute (audimute.com) will print your photo, or a photo they have, on a large acoustic panel that can be hung like a work of art. Using your own photo not only avoids copyright issues, but makes the art personal.

Another option particularly well suited to classic Santa Fe style homes is a micro-perforated pewter ceiling tile for sound absorption. American Tin Ceilings (americantinceilings.com) offers a variety of designs. When installed with an acoustic pad, the company claims an 85% reduction in echo and noise in the room. Their products can also be used as backsplashes or on other vertical surfaces. They offer sample packs on their website for those who want to explore this avenue.

Closer to home, an Albuquerque company produces handmade felt wall panels that dampen sound and dress up a room. Founder and Creative Director David Hamlin started his business, Submaterial, in his garage in 2006. Since then, it has twice grown too big for its space and now has 25 employees and an impressive client list – Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Netflix, Apple and Microsoft, to name a few. a few.

Although her company creates custom installations for commercial enterprises, such as hotels and offices in the technology sector, she also offers a range of residential products.

“We created a new focus for the company, focused on residential interiors. We have a program of beautiful wall panels, mirrors and accessories, ”says Hamlin. “We currently have a range of products available in our online store. We also produce many custom panels. Most people prefer to work with us in this personalized way.

Hamlin echoes Cole’s lament about noisy houses. “I visit the homes of people who have all these sound problems. Hardwood, glass, concrete and drywall floors. The sound just echoes in there, ”he says. “There is a lot that you can do in a residence acoustically, with rugs and upholstery. Especially in those modern interiors where there are only hard surfaces. The science of acoustics is generally very broad. Someone might be able to tell you how many square feet of absorbent blanket you need, but it also has to look good.

The decorative panels of Submaterial, painstakingly assembled by hand by his artistic team, feature a variety of patterns and colors. Panels like the Myth and Diade designs not only bring a splash of color to a room, but also visual texture and noise reduction.

“We work from an aesthetic point of view. Wool felt is a great material to work with. Over the years, the technology to make them has evolved, so they are no longer just decorative. They also soften the soundscape in a home, serving two different functions, ”says Hamlin.

Those planning to build a new home should take the opportunity to incorporate acoustic solutions into the design of the home, from insulation to the corners of the walls to the type and location of the speakers. But the inhabitants of existing houses do not have to reinvent the wheel; they have plenty of options to deaden those annoying echoes, from ready-to-install products to more creative solutions of their own making.

After all, being able to clearly hear a conversation and still enjoy the background music makes a huge difference in the enjoyment of a home.


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