Urban condo dwellers are accustomed to the exterior cacophony of street and air traffic, construction, emergency sirens, and inside, by loud neighbours, the buzzing rumble of the washer-dryer, or a booming voice from a television. But while it may simply become the familiar, irritating soundtrack of city life, it’s worth recognizing that research suggests that noise can contribute to anxiety, depression, and heart problems.
It can also lead to legal headaches, having become second most common cause — right behind moisture problems — for litigation in new buildings.
Effective, sustainable new building products and technologies are part of the solution, according to Ben Flanagan, vice-president of the Quebec-based SONOpan www.sonopan.com , which makes eco-friendly sound-proofing panels.
It’s the newest product made by the company, which has been around since 1947. Having been through several owners, the focus has been consistently on fibre-board; today, the Louisville, Quebec-based facility produces some 130 million square feet of soundproofing, thermal insulation, and commercial roofing product each year.
While the latter accounts for about 75 per cent of product the 100 or so employees churn out, the company sees enormous potential in soundproofing.
“It’s a category we are really focusing on,” says Flanagan, “because we really see a future for it.” Interest is being driven, he adds, by homeowners — especially in multi-unit residential buildings.
“People are paying a million dollars for a very small unit. They get the luxury finishes, floors, counters, lighting — but there is no quality of life because they hear everything that is going on next door. I think builders are getting pressure to build better,” he says.
Installation of SONOpan can be done by pros or by a handy DIYer, in which case it would come in at about $1 a square foot. It’s widely available at building supply stores.
The best time to install the lightweight four- by eight- foot panels is before drywall goes up, but it can also be sandwiched between layers of drywall: an idea that’s do-able, but possibly not ideal in a condo application where every inch is precious.
The product, made in Quebec, is composed of recycled material; 60 per cent from post-consumer material and 40 per cent from such post-industrial sources as the manufacture of wood furniture, flooring, and other products. There’s no formaldehyde or VOC (volatile organic compounds), says Flanagan, adding that the company also monitors its environmental impact on forest resources.
The eco-friendly nature of the product is increasingly a draw for consumers, says Flanagan. “What has changed is that now a lot of homeowners will ask what’s in the paint, what exactly is going in the walls, whether it’s safe to breathe it in.”
Flanagan says SONOpan is “the healthiest product out there” in part because it’s made through a wet process that binds fibres with wax and starch, as opposed to the glue and chemical used in a “dry” process. All water used in the recipe gets recycled through a closed loop system, and any product that’s not up to scratch is recycled into a subsequent batch.
While there’s still lots of education needed about the effect of sound on health, and about ways to reduce noise in multi-level residential buildings, Flanagan says the idea of designing with soundproofing in mind is gaining traction.
“The big thing for us right now,” says Flanagan, “is to show that we can help people get the quality of life that lets them enjoy their home more, and do it in a way that doesn’t harm the environment. “