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Sound masking: controlling the impact of unwanted noise?

Noise pollution is one of the most common challenges facing developers and one of the biggest potential barriers to planning permission. The increased need for inner-urban developments has heightened the significance of noise pollution impacts in residential areas.

The most common source of noise pollution is from road transport, however other sources can include music venues, construction activities and electricity generators. High noise levels which occur from such sources can affect human health and need to be considered when undertaking a new project – especially if this is planned in an already urbanised setting.

Sound masking is a technique that the acoustics team at Ensafe believe could become a popular feature in planning applications in the future. Sound masking is the addition of natural or artificial sound - commonly known as “white noise” - into the environment to mask unwanted sound. Sound masking works on the principle that when background noise is added to an environment, it minimises the impact of pre-exiting sounds creating a more natural ambient environment. Adding sound to a space can make the space seem quieter.

One of the more notable examples of sound masking was the installation of a large artificial waterfall constructed as part of the exterior garden of an urban hotel in California. Road noise was a concern for the developers who decided to construct a 4-meter high waterfall for both sound masking and to act as a physical barrier to transport noise outside the hotel grounds. The use of sound masking techniques is relatively well-established for building interiors but is expected to become more commonplace in exterior areas, including the integration with green landscaping solutions which have other potential environmental benefits.

Sound masking has the potential to become an influential mitigation measure for projects challenged by noise pollution – you heard it here first!

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