In most Kenyan homes, you can easily hear the toilet upstairs flushing when you are downstairs, a child crying in a distant bedroom or laughter filtering through from the noisy neighbour's living room.
While most people spend more time choosing the type of furniture, interior décor, lighting that they should buy for their houses, there is one thing they easily overlook — soundproofing.
Few developers have built soundproofed rooms to give buyers or renters a little extra peace and quiet. This leaves city dwellers with the burden of hearing cars driving by at night or hooting if one's house is located near a road.
Yet there are many ways to insulate the rooms using materials that control or isolate sound.
Noise from the children, loud televisions and radios also cause distraction and irritants especially when one wants to have a quiet moment or sleep.
Ephantus King’ori, the director of Abib Jaus Construction Company, a firm based in Nairobi, says sound passes through windows, ceilings, floors and doors. He says there are construction materials that help cut out or absorb the noise.
He explains that sound travelling around a room will bounce off on hard surfaces and be absorbed by soft ones, so adding soft materials like cotton or foam directly to walls, ceilings, furniture, room dividers, and doors helps absorb sound.
In addition, one can use insulating materials and absorbent materials such as sound-absorbing wood, specially designed plasterboard and soundproofing glues. Most of these materials range from Sh2,500 per square metre.
“One of the first tips to soundproofing a room is to make sure that doors are properly sealed. Sound slips through crevices beneath doorways. Installing a door sweep will stop sound from escaping or intruding from underneath the door,” he says.
For windows, Mr King’ori, says one can do double glazing especially if the windows are vacuum sealed, or use a special laminated glass (of between 10 and 12mm gauge) designed to reduce the transmission of sound. For homeowners who have double glazed the windows, there is the challenge of poor air circulation which leaves the room stuffy.
One can also use acoustic sealant or heavy soundproof curtains or roller blinds that trap sound from escaping or getting into the house through crevices around windows.
Weatherstripping each window by filling in any cracks or gaps with an acoustical plug sealant or using triple pane glass will also help in blocking out sounds.
“Noise is easily amplified through a single pane of glass so one should upgrade to triple-pane windows with PVC frames or hang heavy or very thick drapes with many layers of fabric while also sealing any gaps that can be around each window,” he says.
He states that having a hardwood or concrete floor will induce sound travel and echo which can be further minimised by having a carpeted floor which reduces the volume of sound that bounces around in a room.
Paul Sadat, director of Bricks and Blocks Company, a firm dealing in construction, interior design and landscaping, says that the much one can do in a house will depend on to what extent one is allowed to modify a house, especially for the rented ones.
He says that one can opt for the old fashion ways where one plugs or clads the walls or uses gypsum ceiling to absorb or block out noise as well as applying the use of heavy drapes.
“One can use styrofoam which can be attached on the wall using glue or opt to carpet the floor with heavier gauge materials,” explains Mr Sadat.
He adds that having tapestries (wall-hangings) along the walls or having a specially formulated wall coating dampens sound in a room. Heavy curtains can also absorb a noise from the street.
“For more effect, one can make sure that the curtains also cover the wall below and above the windows,” he says.
Installing insulating products like acoustic ceiling panels made with sound-absorbing wood, mass-loaded-vinyl, neoprene rubber, viscoelastic foam, and fibreglass behind walls will go a long way in reducing the amount of noise coming in, or out, of your home.
“Adding more pieces of upholstered furniture or rearranging your furniture so that larger pieces are placed against the shared wall can help block some of the noise from the next door neighbours,” he says.