There are all kinds of noises that can disturb tenants in multi-unit buildings such as office buildings, high-rises, condos and duplexes. Passing cars, ambulances, trains and other tenants can all cause unwanted noise. But another source of noise that you might not think of right away is the noise associated with the building’s pipe systems. Mechanical noises associated with the building’s pipe systems can also create unwanted noise that disturbs tenants. This is why engineers need to keep acoustics in mind when they’re specifying pipe systems for multi-tenant buildings.
A proactive approach to acoustics is essential
When designing a multi-unit residential building, engineers need to take a proactive approach to the acoustics issues relating to the piping systems. As more people shift to remote or hybrid work environments, residents are spending more time at home, and a separate work environment may be needed. Failing to properly design for acoustical control of the piping systems can result in frustrated residents in the short term. And in the long term, bad building acoustics can result in a lack of interest in multi-family residential buildings, less vibrant downtowns, and lower economic benefits to builders, commercial tenants and communities through lower economic activity. No one wants to live in a noisy building, but this is especially true of residents in higher-end buildings. Those tenants expect an even greater degree of privacy and noise control.
Here are some considerations when designing the piping systems for multi-unit office and residential buildings:
Isolate plumbing pipes. It’s important to mechanically isolate the plumbing system pipes and drains from your walls or ceiling assemblies. If the pipes are not properly isolated from these components, you risk turning the entire wall into a speaker that transmits noises from unit to unit. Ideally, where plumbing is installed in double-stud assemblies, it should be installed only on the stud row of the unit that it serves.
Specify the right products. Using a heavy pipe for wastewater, such as cast iron, will help minimize noise. Ideally, the pipe would be enclosed in the wall assembly, located in a space where this noise would be more acceptable, such as a hallway. Situating it next to a bedroom would not be ideal. For rain draining off a roof, using bends in the pipeline will help slow down the flow of the water and minimize noise. When you have a pipe in a wall assembly, specify gypsum panels around the pipe. Gypsum board panels can help reduce background noise. Where PVC is used, fibrous pipe lagging with a jacket can reduce breakout flow noise. The heavier the jacket, the greater the performance will generally be. Using mass-loaded vinyl would be best, and a PVC jacket would provide better performance than just an all-service jacket.
Ensure that insulation is correctly installed. Design teams must work together with installers to make sure that insulation around the piping systems is installed correctly. When insulation is not installed properly, acoustic performance can be much lower than what was expected.
Insulate walls properly. Insulation isn’t just about thermal performance, it’s also about acoustical control. As more designs incorporate single-stud assembles, walls are becoming thinner, which results in more noise traveling among units. So it’s a good idea to fill the cavity in a wall assembly with a fibrous insulation product. An empty wall cavity can turn into a drum chamber, transmitting and amplifying noise. Plus, most wall assemblies without fibrous insulation will not meet International Building Code minimum performance requirements and may result in noise complaints.
Do it right the first time. The cost of retrofitting an existing piping system to reduce unwanted noise would be extremely high and involve either replacing existing pipes with cast iron or installing mass-loaded vinyl jacketing over the existing pipes. Installing jacketing will be less invasive than a complete pipe replacement. However, both of these approaches would involve opening walls and having to redo finishes. Further, it is extremely unlikely that any retrofit would be able to incorporate all of the elements that can be included in the original construction when taking a proactive approach to the project.
Acoustic solutions on the market
Fiberglass insulation such as Micro-Lok® HP Ultra Pipe Insulation is highly effective in mitigating higher frequency noise. The addition of PVC jacketing like Zeston® PVC further improves performance. When considering the performance of fiberglass and system with PVC jacket, tests have shown that 1 inch of fiberglass insulation with PVC jacketing will perform better than 2 inches of unjacketed fiberglass insulation, and a practical advantage will be a thinner profile. If the space is limited, adding PVC jacketing can provide an effective solution to noise control. The disadvantage is the additional labor cost of installation; however, PVC jacketing installation is relatively fast, especially for straight runs of pipe.
To achieve top performance, a combination of a heavy jacket and fiberglass will be required. Typically mass-loaded vinyl is the choice product for heavy jacketing, given its ease of cutting and installing. Mass-loaded vinyl, including JM Mass-Loaded Vinyl, can be found as a system with quilted fiberglass blankets or as rolls of mass-loaded vinyl only. It can come in 1 pound per square foot (psf) or different weights. Mass-loaded vinyl at 1 psf is most common and is generally easier to work with than the heavier options. Despite the weight, the material is pliable and is installed on top of the fiberglass insulation, if it is purchased as rolls. As a side note, while mass-loaded vinyl may not be commonly used for residential applications, acoustic systems with mass-loaded vinyl are used extensively in the industrial insulation sector for liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other facilities to mitigate noise from compressors and other equipment.
There are multiple options for pipe insulation solutions with varying degrees of complexity and performance. Depending on the situation, budget, space constraints, it’s possible to design a system to help mitigate noise and keep residents happy (and quiet).
When designing piping and utility systems for multi-unit buildings, it’s essential that engineers take acoustics into consideration. Proper acoustic design can help with sound control and increase the comfort of residents, which improves their ability to enjoy the space.
To learn more about JM solutions that can help you address acoustics issues, visit here.