December 2, 2020


Building Industry Trends

The first part of an article series on the evolution of the American Residential Home, Authored by Eric Nilsson.

As we approach 2021 while hopefully leaving many of 2020’s challenges behind, the American residential home – whether it be single or multi-family – has taken on the appearance of a college campus. It is part dormitory, part dining hall, part library, part classroom, and part gymnasium. And let us not forget, it has to be tech-enabled to handle the multitude of gaming, work, phone, tv, and computer streaming needs. The requirements of today’s home are changing, are a bit overwhelming at times, and must meet the needs of today’s lifestyle.  

Seemingly gone are our traditions of leaving the house at 8 AM to commute to work or meet the bus for school. These century-old family behaviors are changing from merely sleeping, eating, and leisure activities in our homes to one where children and parents are co-mingling each day to receive the education they need and to earn the income they require to enjoy their quality of life. Plus, these are not individual, singular, static activities. They happen simultaneously.     

 In addition, more multi-family, apartment-style homes are being built, which leads to a higher density of people living together. Our world has become noisier with more trucks on the road supporting the new supply chains and construction of all types on buildings, roads, and bridges is booming. 

Recent home design and construction practices have emphasized the “open concept” home made popular by television shows. It features homes where separation walls are limited and spaces between kitchen, dining, and living areas are open to improve traffic flow and accommodate family and friends in social gatherings. Add in cathedral ceilings, hard surfaces such as flooring, cabinets and countertops, and privacy becomes somewhat of a challenge. 

 So, what can the industry do to satisfy these new indoor lifestyle requirements?  A total re-design and build? No. It’s a matter of making smart changes to products and building techniques to satisfy this “new normal.”      

The bottom line is this: It comes down to sound. Can we co-exist as families in this new world, living, working, and playing in our homes? The answer is yes as long as smart measures are taken to mitigate noise from room to room so that kids can focus and learn, parents can concentrate and earn, and the family can live harmoniously.

 Sound control in buildings is nothing new. It is very prevalent and designed into commercial buildings where a multitude of activities go on at the same time and hundreds if not thousands of people interact. Take school, hospital, office, hotel and retail spaces for example. The correlation is obvious. Today’s home is now taking on more of that same functionality and responsibility.  

 Let’s start with walls, floors, doors, and ceilings since they have the most direct impact on noise in a home. 

 Flooring certainly gets a lot of attention due to the choices, styles, colors, and different materials. There are a number of flooring types and underlayment that perform well in reducing impact noise. Let’s not forget though to look under the floor, at the trusses. They are not seen and are never really given a second thought.  However, ensuring well-built floor trusses can truly have an impact on noise and comfort.  If the trusses aren’t designed for the appropriate conditions, excessive deflections can occur, leading to sagging, creaking, and bouncing floors, and a whole bunch of noise. 

 Let’s take a deeper dive and look at walls for a minute to see what changes could be introduced to control sound from room to room.   

Typically, adding a sound control package when building a new home is an extra cost. Most homeowners would prefer to spend whatever discretionary money they have for upgrades on products like hardwood flooring, countertops, cabinets, and the like in their heavily-used and design-rich kitchen and bathroom spaces.   

The typical acoustic solution is to apply fiberglass insulation in the walls between the rooms you want controlled, such as bedrooms, laundry rooms, and bathrooms. This certainly helps reduce sound transmission. Fiberglass is one of several insulation options. Higher-density mineral wool products also help improve performance.      

 Insulation is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to walls and sound control and the newer requirements of our at-home living, working, and schooling arrangements. We need to also look at walls for their longevity and functionality.  The practice of double drywalling walls or using resilient channels in drywall applications is certainly not new yet can improve sound control in a particular space.   

There are also product solutions that can dramatically improve performance and provide additional benefits to the space. Today’s drywall offering is not for the faint of heart. Innovation and product development efforts by leading global manufacturers have led to products that offer improved sound control in a single board, provide abuse and impact resistance in heavy usage areas, and offer mold and moisture resistance, which is critical in homes that are more tightly built.  

Other sound control solutions include the use of solid core doors with door sweeps (with solid surface floors) to reduce unwanted sound between rooms. Of course, carpeting is great for noise reduction, but it is not always practical. 

Today, we need to think about homes differently. A lot of us and our families are using our homes to work, play, live, and learn, and we need to build smartly and creatively to make our spaces functional, comfortable, and most of all, productive. There are many great products and building choices available to accomplish this to help the next generation of homes perform at the level that will satisfy homeowner’s desires.

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