Housing Specification Blog

Guest Blog: Improve the acoustic performance of your buildings

June 11, 2013 Alexandra Blakeman Housing Issues

HS spoke to Tom Foster, Senior product manager at Isover about how to improve  acoustic performance in new builds. His primary advice? Stick to specification.

The specification process forms the backbone of the construction industry. For developers, housebuilders and architects, it offers a way to control building performance and regulate the built environment for end users, as well as providing an accurate brief to installers. Tom Foster, senior product manager at Saint-Gobain Isover, looks at potential issues around sticking to specification, the process itself and the role all parties have in ensuring acoustic performance in buildings.

For contractors and subcontractors, specifications provide a safety net. If specification is followed, a building will meet the acoustic performance requirements it was designed for, but problems can arise if substitute materials are used or a detail is constructed incorrectly.

An example where specification is key is in masonry separating walls, where acoustic performance 5db above building regulations requirements is often needed. In this area specifically, a performance compliance method known as Robust Details has become very popular because it provides pre-approved details and specifications.

Robust Details

The Robust Details (RD) Scheme is an alternative to pre-completion sound testing and offers a way for contractors to demonstrate the compliance of separating walls or floors with acoustic building regulation standards.  In order to be approved, each Robust Detail must be capable of consistently exceeding acoustic regulation standards, be practical to build, and be reasonably tolerant to workmanship. This ensures manufacturers develop systems that are consistently ‘achievable’ on-site.

RDs offer numerous constructions to demonstrate compliance, all of which have thorough design and installation details, as well as specific product requirements. In the case of separating masonry walls, products such as Type A wall ties, 10 kg/m3 plasterboard and insulation specific to party wall applications are all specified to ensure high levels of acoustics. Moving away from any of these high performing products will undoubtedly impact the acoustic performance of the structure.


Moving away from specification can put system performance levels at risk. Failing to follow spec can reduce the acoustic ‘efficiency’ of a building, meaning that it does not meet target performance levels. This can also impact on important goals under schemes such as Code for Sustainable Homes (CfSH), and most importantly does not provide the end user with a dwelling that performs to the level it should. This could mean, in the arena of acoustics, a noisy house that is uncomfortable for inhabitants.

Not sticking to specification can also cost housebuilders and developers large amounts of money.  Building control bodies will ask for installation errors to be corrected, so the initial savings made by compromising the specification during installation stage will be lost when having to rectify constructions.

Failure to use specified products can also result in long term issues. In the case of masonry separating walls, homeowners will not receive the standard of property that they are paying for, potentially damaging a housebuilder’s reputation.


Manufacturers, specifiers and contractors all have a role to play in improving specification compliance and the performance of buildings in situ. Manufacturers should ensure their newly-developed systems are practical and tolerant to workmanship. However, specifiers and contractors also play a pivotal role in ensuring specified products and systems are used and constructed correctly on site.

If all parties play their part, we can improve the in situ performance of our buildings – to the benefit of end users and the construction industry as a whole.

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