A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46



4. Summary and Conclusions

4.1 This section will give a brief account of the main results and say a little about their significance for the building scientist.

4.2 Sounds which h a ve thei r origin in the dwelling

Broadly speaking about four-fifths of the people in the middle and lower income groups living in small and medium size houses and flats heard sounds which have their origin in their own dwelling, about a quarter are troubled by such sounds and a little less than one-fifth complained that their sleep was disturbed.

The sounds which cause trouble and disturbance to the largest proportions of people are those which have their origin in the structure and equipment of the house, like that of ‘Doors banging’ or those produced by the hot and cold water system which are summarised under the heading of sounds from the ‘Cistern.

As might be expected in larger households, and where there are children, sounds are more troublesome.

It is clear that insulation should be provided particularly in houses for large families and that attention should be given to the design of doors and to the mechanical equipment of the house in order to reduce sounds from these sources.

When houses built before and after the last war were studied sounds from the ‘Cistern’ were heard by a greater proportion of dwellers in new houses. This appears to be due to the fact that in the older houses the W.C. was often outside the house and that the cistern which was satisfactory in such a position is not suitable for use inside the dwelling.

4.3 Sounds which have their origin in the home of a neighbour

These results are best treated separately for house dwellers and flat dwellers. In the case of house dwellers about four-fifths heard sounds from their neighbours, about a quarter were troubled by these sounds and about one-fifth complained that their sleep was disturbed. The proportions for flat dwellers were higher; they were 95%, 41% and 34%, compared with 83%, 30% and 24%.

The results suggest two possible approaches to the solution of the problem. The most important sounds were those of ‘plumbing’ and ‘Doors banging’ and the solution to these problems in the individual home would at one time solve them for the neighbours. On the other hand such sounds as ‘People walking upstairs to other flats’ may be in part obviated by structural improvements and in part by insulation.

In most cases persons interviewed considered that the sounds heard came from the party wall. This suggests that greater attention needs to be paid to the problem of insulation.

The relation of plumbing equipment to house design was again demonstrated in the higher proportion of people living in semi-detached houses who heard the sound of ‘Cisterns’ compared with those people who lived in terraced houses, these being in the main houses with outside W.C’s.

Flats present a number of special problems since sounds were heard which came from above, the side and below. At the same time our results show clearly that the steel frame flat was much noisier than that of brick or masonry construction.


4.4 Sounds which came from outside

It is fairly clear from our results that in designing houses in the past little attention has been paid to the problem of sound from outside and that the cases where the incidence of sound is little are fortuitous rather than the result of planning or designing. Such sounds as those of ‘Road traffic’, ‘Children playing’, ‘Rail traffic’ and ‘Domestic animals’ were important sources of trouble and the sounds of ‘Road traffic’ and ‘Domestic animals’ were the causes of disturbed sleep.

Where homes were situated within 100 yards of the railway the incidence of sound was much higher than in the cases of houses at a greater distance, and in the same way proximity to bus and tram routes caused trouble and disturbed sleep. Persons living on main roads or near factories and gas works also suffered much more from outside sounds than persons living away from these places.

It is clear from these results that in planning new housing these sources of sound must be considered and where it is not possible to avoid siting houses near the source of this nuisance attention should be given to additional insulation.

One aspect of design which emerged was that persons living in terraced houses - which so often front on to the road - have the highest proportion of persons who complained of road traffic sounds. The front garden in other cases has obviously value in reducing the incidence of nuisance.

4.5 The relative importance of the different sources of sound

Our analysis shows that sounds from outside the house are heard by, trouble and disturb more people than sounds from the other two sources investigated.

Sounds from the neighbour’s house and from the person’s own house were heard by about the same proportion, but sounds from the neighbour’s house were a greater source of trouble, and disturbance than sounds made within the person’s own house.

The position is summarised below:-


Proportions of people who heard sounds, which trouble and which disturb the sleep from different sources compared

Hear Trouble Disturb Sleep
% % %
Sounds from outside 93 47 33
Sounds from neighbour’s house 83 30 24
Sounds from own house 82 25 18

4.6 The present report and future inquiries

This study is a pioneer in its field and cannot be regarded as ideal. A future study should pay more attention to the problem of sampling so that the population represented is the whole adult population, not the unbalanced group upon which this study has been based.

It is clear from our results that a future study should pay much more attention to the detailed design and equipment of the homes studied.

The study of the sounds from outside suggests that much more attention must be paid in future studies to such factors as the. exact distance of the house from the sources of sound, widths of roads and gardens and other physical factors.

Attempts should also be made to assess the intensity and quality of sound by physical measurement wherever this is at all practicable.

Finally, it is clear that this problem is so complex that future studies should not attempt to cover so wide a field, but should concentrate on particular aspects of the problem and study them exhaustively - there is clearly a case for experimental field studies on this topic.

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