In South London, on an exclusive street for housing, there is an apartment in which dozens of electrical appliances work. The purpose of the site is to measure the noise from the instruments.
Actually, this place is officially a laboratory. There is no soundproofing on the walls, but rather many hard surfaces that sound can reflect off, as in most modern homes.
A device in the shape of a human head connected to a monitor that displays color graphics records all sounds emanating from household appliances.
For the past 10 years, environmental consultancy Quiet Mark has awarded the Q logo to the quietest tool in each product category. These include hair dryers, air cleaners, water heaters, and washing machines.
This project is the work of Poppy Szkiler, granddaughter of John Connell, who founded the Noise Reduction Society in 1959.
Szkiler says that with the coronavirus pandemic, people are becoming more aware of noise in their homes:
“This has become a megatrend.
“As people are starting to spend a lot of time under one roof, they want to create quieter homes.”
Quiet Mark’s new goal is to change the way we measure noise.
Current measurements measure the amount of noise produced by a decibel device.
Szkiler says that 40 decibels is ideal for appliances.
But what these 40 decibels sounds like is also important: a constant hum is perceived differently than a 40 decibel noise that suddenly rises and falls or clicks.
Today, unless you’re an acoustic scientist, there is no way to measure the noises that disturb your consumers the least.
The goal of Quiet Mark is to change this to score both noise quality and decibels.
“We examined the quality, note and timbre of the sound, for example by measuring the type of noise that occurs when measuring clothes dryers, how iron buttons on jeans hit the drum,” says Szkiler.
“So our goal is to achieve the least noise in our home.”
There is still no term to evaluate this noise quality.
But there is demand. Quiet Mark branded products are now available at UK chain stores such as Argos, John Lewis and Littlewoods.
John Lewis CTO Laurence Mitchell says the site receives more than 10,000 searches for “silent” each month.
In the home appliances section of the site, there is a tab called “silent revolution.” In that section, users can see the quietest appliances.
Mitchell notes that silent products are more expensive:
“Some of the quieter products, like washing machines, need advanced motors with fewer moving parts or better sound insulation, which increases the cost.”
One challenge of classifying noise in this way is that such an individual experience is unmatched. A sound that one cannot even notice can leave another person sleepless at night.
On the other hand, we know that constant exposure to loud noise increases the likelihood of some health problems, such as heart problems.
Those who experience neurodiversity may also find some of their voices disturbing.
For example, Tom Purser of the National Autism Society says that when you grow up with autism, children process signals from their senses differently, including voice:
“So for some autistic people, certain tones or frequencies are almost painful. Others really like certain sounds and look for that sound in their lives.”
“It can be a very difficult experience, as you are exposed to so many different sounds and noises every day.”
Poppy Szkiler says she’s one of those who understands the value of silence. The quieter his home, the better for him.
He hopes manufacturers will one day hear the demand for quieter devices:
“Engineering has improved a lot. Acoustic engineering is just as important as energy efficiency, appearance or performance.”
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