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Noise pollution and wellbeing: a guide to noise-proofing for a healthy home environment

Your home should be your haven – which is why it can be unsettling when loud noises shatter your quiet place. While it’s impossible to control the world around you, that doesn’t mean there aren’t practical steps you can take to reduce the impact noise pollution has on your living environment.  
In this guide, we’ll assess some of the most prevalent types of noise pollutants which can cause problems at home, as well as what you can do to tackle the issue. We’ll also take a wider look at what’s being done to make sure homes are being built with noise pollution reduction in mind and explore the impact which overexposure to loud sounds has on a person.

A statistical look at noise pollution in the home

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health spoke to 144 local authorities as part of their most recent noise survey. They found the total number of noise complaints had drastically risen by 54% between 2019-20 and 2020-21 in 89 local authorities, which participated in both years.  

As many as 356,367 complaints were recorded by 144 local authorities across the year, which averaged out at roughly 149 complaints for every 10,000 people questioned. As a result of that:  

  • 11,211 formal actions were taken by responding local authorities  
  • 88 of those led to noise-related prosecutions  

Source: CIEH 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that a person should not be exposed to more than 53 decibels (dB) across a 24-hour period. Despite that, in a recent study of 123 million adults aged 20 or older in Europe, it was found that 48% of people were exceeding those limits.  

The rates ranged from 30% in Berlin to 86% in Vienna, with 44% of those people in Madrid and 60% of those in Rome being affected.  

The study also found that more than 11 million adults were highly annoyed by road traffic noise.  

Meanwhile, another study conducted in the UK discovered that Greater London was where citizens were most exposed to noise from traffic. They found that as many as 1,144,3000 people were subject to sounds in excess of 65dB.  

Other chief offenders across the UK included: 

  • Greater Manchester – 218,500 (people exposed to 65dB or more across a 24 hour period) 
  • West Midlands – 175,800 
  • West Yorkshire – 110,900 
  • Liverpool – 60,800 
  • Tyneside – 49,000  

Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale, the same report showed the following cities to be those least affected by noise from vehicles on the road:  

  • Milton Keynes, Telford – 2,200 (people exposed to 65dB or more across a 24 hour period) 
  • Nuneaton – 2,300 
  • Basildon – 3,000 
  • Exeter – 3,800 
  • Chesterfield – 4,200 
  • Lincoln – 4,600 

Common types of domestic noise pollution

Noise pollution can be triggered by a variety of sources. While everyone’s circumstances are different, the types of noise which cause a disturbance in the home tend to revolve around the same kinds of themes. Here are some of the most common causes of disturbance for the average household:  

  • Noise from neighbours. While some of us are lucky enough to barely notice the presence of neighbours, others aren’t so fortunate. Ambient noise from loud music, barking dogs, loud banging, raised voices, DIY, and any kind of alarm can all cause issues for anyone looking for peace and quiet.
  • Road traffic. Loud noises from the roads outside people’s homes are one of the most commonly reported noise complaints. The chief offenders come in the form of engine noise, as well as the reverberation caused when tyres (usually of larger vehicles) move down the street.  
  • Nearby construction work. Many of us  have experienced how frustrating the sound of a noisy construction site can be. Even when just walking down the road, a loud pneumatic drill can be ear-piercing. When that sound is permeating through your home, without the ability to walk away, it can cause severe distress.  
  • Night-time noises. The noises which occur at night usually revolve around either parties, people on the street, wild animals or loud music. Any consistent bumps or bangs from nearby houses can also cause disturbances. Noise at this time is particularly annoying, as it can result in someone being unable to get the right amount of sleep.  
  • Alarm systems. Whilst they serve a useful purpose, alarm systems can sometimes be sensitive – getting triggered by foxes foraging near someone’s home, or even a sudden vibration from a large vehicle moving down the road. These have the potential to cause disruption at any point in the day.  

While numbers will vary on a case-by-case basis, the following are average decibel levels produced by some of the most common types of noise pollution:  

  • Car horns – 90dB 
  • Bus horns – 100dB 
  • Aircraft flying overhead – 130dB 
  • Pneumatic drill at a construction site ​​– 110dB 
  • Spill over from bars and restaurants – 100dB 
  • A barking dog – 60-80dB 

How to noise-proof your home 

While in an ideal world a complaint to the local council will be enough to prevent noise pollution from disturbing you for an extended period of time, it might not always be enough. Fortunately, there are some cost-effective and relatively simple ways of noise-proofing your home yourself. Some of the best steps to take include:  

  • Seal cracks in walls. A close inspection of your walls might reveal small cracks or holes which you weren’t aware of. These will most commonly be found near window frames, electrical sockets, and any kind of ventilation. If the hole is small enough, you may be able to fill it with caulk. In more extreme cases, you might want to reach out to a professional.  
  • Insulate your walls and ceiling. The more insulation there is in a building, the less sound is able to get in (or escape). This is usually easiest to achieve with windows, but doors, walls and even your ceiling can all benefit from an extra layer of protection. Keep in mind that this will also trap more heat in your home.  
  • Fix or replace windows. Converting windows so that they’re double or triple-glazed is another step you can take to reduce the amount of noise which enters the home. Adding PVC frames will also have a big impact, although this can be expensive if you’re on a tight budget. That said, the additional level of security provided by thicker glazed windows should also help reduce your premiums when you take out home contents insurance.  
  • Add caps to a chimney. These devices can be placed on the mouth of your chimney, serving as a deterrent for any sound which might otherwise travel down the chute and into your home. It’s a good idea to get in touch with a professional to install these.  

Everyday fixes to reduce the impact of noise pollution from outside 

We’ve already looked at larger changes you can make to keep sound out – but what about the simpler steps you can take to reduce how much of an impact noise pollution has on a day-to-day basis?  

  • Move furniture around. If you’ve noticed that noise seems to be coming from a specific location, try moving a bulky piece of furniture (such as a bookshelf or cabinet) in front of the sound to absorb it. You can even pre-empt potential noisy neighbours by making sure all your larger items are placed against any shared walls.  
  • Use heavy curtains and thick rugs. Hardwood is attractive, but it’s also one of the least effective flooring types for preventing noise pollution. If you don’t want to cover yours, think about using thick, shaggy rugs to absorb some of the sound. Similarly, heavy curtains do a good job at mitigating road traffic from outside.  
  • Shut all doors. Perhaps the easiest action someone can take is to make sure they’ve shut all the doors in their home. This is especially important at night, when a closed door can block out external sound. Even the most basic door can block as much as 20dB of sound.
  • Use noise absorbing plants. Did you know that plants can absorb sound? Adding some larger touches of greenery to your home will not only look nice, but can also reduce the amount of noise which finds its way to your ears. Planting trees outside your home is also a good idea, as these can block around 5-10 dB of sound for every 30m width of woodland. Homeowners and renters might not be aware that their home contents insurance could cover their garden too, and should check their policy to ensure they have the right level of cover in case an issue arises.  
  • Wear earbuds in extreme cases. While you probably won’t want to resort to compromising on your own levels of comfort, earbuds become an option when all other avenues have been explored. They’ll slip into your ear canal and should drastically reduce the amount of sound you can hear.  
  • Notify the authorities. If you’ve exhausted your options and are still being disturbed by external sounds, you may need to turn to your local council. They’ll be able to serve notice on the offender and make active steps towards reducing its impact (other than in the case of road traffic). We’ll look at noise pollution and its relationship with the law further along in this guide.  

Researching noise pollution before moving home  

In some cases, preventative measures can be more effective than taking action after the event. While it might not be something you first consider, researching what noise levels and complaints are like in an area where you’re thinking about moving to could save a massive headache in the future.  

  • Location. Before you buy or move to any rental home, make sure to do a ground inspection of the local area first. That means walking or driving around to spot anything which might prove to be noisy further down the line. Good examples include being near a commercial building, construction site, or railway. Also be sure to check if the property is on any kind of flight path.  
  • Neighbours. While you can’t scope out the neighbours in quite the same way you would the road you’re moving to, do what you can to find out more about them. Ask the letting or estate agent, landlord, and even the previous homeowners or tenants what sound levels are like from nearby buildings.  
  • Nearby footfall. Is it likely that a lot of people will hang out near the property? Check for things like chain restaurants, playgrounds, a school or any kind of community centre. If you’re moving to an urban area it’s also worth finding out if your road gets busy during peak hours.  
  • Research noise complaints. Get in touch with the local council for the area you’re planning to move to and ask for records of any noise complaints. While the specific details may be private, you should be able to find out how many complaints have been registered for your postcode.

How to manage a noisy neighbour

If you’ve already tried reducing the amount of noise coming into your home from a connecting or nearby building, you may need to take further action. While uncomfortable, this step could prevent you from having to turn to your local council for more authoritative action.  

It can be awkward to approach a neighbour about the noise in their home, but there are tips you can use to make the process as painless as possible.  

  • Stay calm  
  • Avoid accusatory statements 
  • Be understanding of their needs 
  • Make it clear that it’s nothing personal against them 
  • Try to come to a compromise or resolution  

If after approaching them politely you’re still unable to notice a change in their decibel output, there are more extreme measures you can take.  

  • Speak to their landlord or letting agent.  Most people who rent sign an agreement which forces them to take “inconsiderate behaviour” in their home into account. Loud and excessive noise often falls under this umbrella. 
  • Go to the council. Taking this step can be challenging, as the authoritative action which follows could cause larger friction between your neighbours and you. At this stage you may want to seek legal advice or representation – which can be expensive if you haven’t got a product like family legal protection with your home contents insurance.

    Make sure to keep a noise log, as well as any other forms of evidence (such as videos and sound recordings) of noise pollution. Jump to the section on noise pollution and the law for further information on what is or isn’t considered a statutory nuisance.
  • Use a mediation service. If the council does step in and get involved, they may point you in the direction of a mediation service. This is a neutral party whose job it is to sit down with you and your neighbour in order to come to a resolution. Attending meetings is optional, but either party failing to turn up will be taken into consideration when a council makes their decision.  

How to reduce noise pollution in your own home

Noise pollution isn’t exclusive to the outside world. Sometimes sounds from within your own home can be loud enough to cause you, other family members, or even your neighbours distress. Here are some simple steps to lower the decibel levels during both the day and night.  

  • Turn off all media devices. If you’ve finished watching television or have left a computer game on a screen which plays music, you’ll be pumping sound throughout your home for no good reason. Make sure once you’re done with any form of media device to switch them off – or at least into standby mode.  
  • Look at your floors. In older properties floorboards will begin to degrade and loosen over time. This can result in loud, creaky footsteps any time your family or a pet walks over them. If you own your home, and have the budget for it, you could replace or refurbish them.  
  • Set curfews for loud music at night. If you or anyone else in your household likes to play music over a loudspeaker system, make sure there are ground rules in place for when it needs to be turned off. A general rule of thumb is to turn music down around 8-9pm, when people begin to wind down for bed.  
  • Soundproof larger appliances. While it might not be something you’ve considered a source of noise pollution, things like washers and dryers can be very disruptive – sending vibrations through your entire home. One easy way to reduce the impact they’re having is by placing shock-absorbing padding behind and under the appliances.  

Appliances are usually included as part of home contents insurance, so if they’re damaged by no fault of your own you could even be able to afford new ones which are smoother and quieter. 

How noise pollution is taken into account in modern construction

The construction industry has evolved and adapted due to a better understanding of the dangers of noise pollution. Noise reduction is now at the forefront of a lot of new build projects, with most companies taking active steps to ensure houses are built to keep out unwanted sound.  

Most house builders will follow a three-step plan in order to guarantee exterior noise is as small a factor as possible:

1. An acoustic noise report. This report tests the acoustic requirements of the site, giving valuable information about expected decibel levels.

2. Equivalent area calculations. Next, a constructor will need to work out the total floor area of a property. This can be coupled with the noise report to work out what specifications will be needed. 

3. Product selection. Once the area and acoustic requirements have been finalised, constructors can reach out to specific manufacturers for materials which provide a good balance of acoustic protection to air flow. 

Arguably the most important factor is the sound testing, which is used to guarantee insulation is effective. These will assess noise from both airborne and impact sources. 

  • Airborne tests. These take into account any sounds which travel through the air. Common examples include speech, sounds from television or other media units, music, pets, appliances, and alarms. These levels are measured by how much sound is blocked off between rooms as a result of insulation.

    For example, if an originating noise of 100dB is played in one room, and a neighbouring flat picks up 55dB of the original source, the sound performance is measured at 45dB (the difference between the two). 
  • Impact tests. Any sound which is caused by two objects making direct contact with each other is classified in this bracket. Footsteps, furniture being moved, items being dropped, and DIY all fall into this category.

    In contrast to airborne tests, impact assessments take into account how much sound can be heard in a neighbouring area. No calculations are used, but rather just a reading of the levels of noise that can be heard.  

In order for the tests to be a success, insulation performance targets need to be met for the walls, floors and stairs. These will be assessed with both airborne and impact sound in mind.  

Separating Element

Airborne sound insulation

D nT,w + Ctr dB

(minimum values)

Impact sound insulation

L ’nT,w dB

(maximum values)

Purpose built dwelling-houses and flats (new build)



Floors and Stairs



Dwelling-houses and flats formed by material change of use (refurbishment)



Floors and Stairs



Purpose built rooms for residential purposes (new build)



Floors and Stairs



Rooms for residential purposes formed by material change of use (refurbishment)



Floors and Stairs



Approved Document E classes ‘rooms for residential purposes’ means a room, or a suite of rooms, which is not a dwelling-house or a flat and which is used by one or more persons to live and sleep and includes a room in a hostel, a hotel, a boarding house, a hall of residence or a residential home, but does not include a room in a hospital or other similar establishment used for patient accommodation.

Source: Parker Jones Acoustics

Noise pollution and the law

If noise pollution has left you feeling unable to relax in your own home, there are steps you can take to tackle the problem. Your local council are the ones responsible for supporting you here. They’ll have a variety of methods for dealing with complaints made by residents for many different factors.  

In order for a noise complaint to be classified as a “statutory nuisance”, one of the following has to apply:  

  • It substantially interferes with the enjoyment of a home or premises  
  • It injures health or has the potential to injure health  

If they decide the issue is worth pursuing, they’ll serve an abatement notice to the offending party. This enforces them to stop what’s causing the noise with immediate effect.  

Councils have the power to serve this kind of notice on anything which happens on a private premises, as well as for noises which occur in the street (such as loud machinery or music). However, they are restricted from serving notice on the following:  

  • Road traffic or planes (except model aircraft) 
  • Any form of political demonstration  
  • A premises occupied by the armed forces or visiting forces  

Each complaint will be dealt with individually, but GOV.UK has a detailed breakdown of when a statutory noise complaint will be issued by a council, as well as what levels of noise are permitted in different circumstances.