Mandatory Soundproofing in Rented Accommodation in the UK
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Lack of soundproofing and noise intrusion is a common cause of insomnia, depression, anxiety, CPTSD and the deterioration of mental health for millions of private tenants. With disrupted sleep, tenants are unable to build neither their lives nor careers, nor concentrate at school, if continually battling with noise disruption and existing in a constant state of anxiety. This has a knock on affect on hidden homelessness, since tenants have no choice but to move and can then be left with nowhere to live.
Life, and people, have become louder, largely due to advancement of technology (eg larger, louder tv sets), and homes need to be equipped accordingly with proper soundproofing.
Research published in the Noise and Health journal (please see full article below) confirms a link between environmental noise disturbance during sleep, and cardiovascular disease - low level noises at 30 decibels also impacting health through sleep disturbance (potential for awakening, body movements, arousals and sleep disturbance).
Tenants having to deal with noise intrusion such as their neighbours' tv, music, conversations as well as toilets flushing, appliance noises including showers and washing machines through thin walls, musical instruments, coughing and snoring INSIDE, means they are unable to peacefully enjoy their homes. (This does not factor in additional external noise such as building works, road drilling and church bells which tenants frequently have to deal with). The majority of these internal noises are approximated at over 55db which are considered a dangerous level for public health, increasing sleep disturbances with evidence of increased cardiovascular disease risk.
With our homes the foundation of our lives, it is all the more important for tenants to be able to experience their place of living as a sanctuary. Vulnerable tenants include older people, those suffering from illness and children needing a good night's rest to grow and develop. Moreover a lack of quality sleep, and disrupted sleep affect both physical and mental health.
It is unreasonable to expect those who rent their homes to live in substandard accommodation, simply because they do not have a mortgage. Factors such as divorce, separation and financial hardship can result in individuals needing to rent in their 30s, 40s and into their 70s.
1) 'Wear earplugs'
A common misconception with noise intrusion for those who have not endured it, is that simply wearing earplugs is the remedy. For one, ear plugs fall out if worn during sleep, but more importantly if they are jammed into the ear canal in order to block out noise, this causes hearing damage . Noise protection equipment used on building sites is another option, however it is unreasonable to expect paying tenants to wear this in their home, which is also tight and uncomfortable and can cause inflammation within the ears. Children and older people are not able to wear earplugs so a better solution is needed.
2) 'Contact environmental health'
Unless noise is recorded above a certain number of decibels, environmental health are unable to act. This does not factor in noise at a lower number of decibels which is damaging to health, nor the noise which goes on outside of their visiting hours. It is unreasonable to expect the affected tenant to keep a 'noise log' (the usual environmental health request) at the expense of their own daily duties when they are not the source of the noise
3) Enforced noise kerfews in communal blocks
With both tenants and property owners often living under the same roof, this is not an effective solution. Even with tvs and music kept at a low volume after a certain time, in communal blocks noise carries and can still cause sleep disturbance. With professionals working both from home and in office jobs, conflicting sleep schedules can cause additional disturbance without proper soundproofing. With the right to the 'quiet enjoyment' of their home, tenants cannot be expected to fit in with noise kerfews when it is a structural issue within the building that needs to be addressed.
4) 'Move out'
The cost of moving house for a private tenant is substantial, which includes agency fees, removal costs and profrssional cleaning. To simply move out is not an option for many tenants.
5) 'Report the noise to the property manager or Ombudsman'
There is little to no back up for tenants, even through the Ombudsman process, which typically favours letting agents under its umbrella over tenants. This leaves tenants between a rock and a hard place and in need of stricter building and soundproofing regulations to ensure peace and quiet in their homes.
An increased level of soundproofing in both existing and new-build accommodation needs to be mandatory, so that tenants paying for a self contained property do not have to endure continual noise disturbance as if they are sharing. Particularly if a property has been converted, soundproofing needs to be installed to give each tenant a proper quality of life. Even those private renting need to be able to call their accommodation home, and this is an issue of human rights.
The Effects of Sound During Sleep
Sounds that are trivial during the day can become bothersome at night, especially when they are abrupt. Even if you don’t fully wake up, noises can arouse you slightly and affect sleep cycles. There are many potential sources of sleep stealing sounds, ranging from things in the home like appliances, televisions, pets and other people, as well as outside sounds like storms, traffic and urban city noise.
One research review published in the Noise & Health journal suggest studies show a link between nighttime environmental noise exposure and cardiovascular disease, and that even low-level noises may impact health due to sleep disturbance.
Environmental noise, from things like road traffic, trains, planes and wind turbines, is a significant policy issue for the World Health Organization. Research in Europe suggests that noise disturbance can cause real health side effects, and the WHO estimates Western Europeans lose 1 million years of healthy life due to traffic-related noise. Sounds as low as 30 decibels can affect rest, and by comparison, busy traffic comes it at 70 dB while a subway registers 90 dB and an airplane taking off comes in at 100 dB.
According to the WHO’s Night Noise Guidelines, here’s how noise levels affect sleep:
Decibel Level and impact on Sleep
Under 30 db:
Normal breathing to a soft whisper, watch ticking, or a quiet library. A quiet rural area.
Little to no effect on sleep for most people.
30 to 40 db:Whispers to a quiet room or office or bird calls. A quiet residential area.
Potential for awakening, body movements, arousals and sleep disturbance. Children, elderly and ill most vulnerable to side effects.
40 to 55 db:A quiet room to moderate rainfall, a refrigerator or an air conditioner at 100 feet. A quiet suburb.
Health effects have been observed and noise at this level may affect most people.
Over 55 db:
Normal conversations, background music, washing machine and louder.
Considered a dangerous level for public health, increasing annoyance levels and sleep disturbances. Some evidence of increased cardiovascular disease risk.
Sources: WHO’s Night Noise Guidelines, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
The intensity and severity at which noise impacts sleep is somewhat individual though, and some people are more sensitive than others. One study found that brain rhythms play a role in people’s ability to tolerate noise. Generally, noises are most likely to wake people during stage 2 sleep, the light, non-REM cycle we spend about half the night in. Age also factors in, with studies showing children and elderly people to be most vulnerable to sound disruptions.
Emotional noises may perhaps be even more influential, with research showing evidence that mothers are easily woken up by their infants’ movements and that a person’s brain shows more activity to hearing their name than to beeps during sleep.
Over time, people can also become used to, or “habituated to,” noises in their environments, resulting in reduced effect. One study found that people experienced fewer cortical arousals (changes in brain waves) on subsequent days when exposed to traffic sounds at night, however, cardiac arousals (heart rate) did not habituate during the study.
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