“I immediately knew there was something massively wrong with the building as soon as I moved in.
I can hear any movement upstairs amplified as a drum; the frame creaks as well.” So says a resident of Kilby Court, a block of 16 flats in the Greenwich Millennium Village, of the impact noise that is making his life miserable (see pages 26-29).
According to a study by DEFRA and Napier University, there are more than 40,000 complaints a year about the kind of the impact noise that these Greenwich residents are experiencing. This one is particularly significant, however, because it raises doubts about Part E of the Building Regulations, which has been freshly updated to allow for high-density living. And of course it couldn’t have happened in a worse place: the Millennium Village was supposed to show how the latest housing technology could create the ideal homes of the future. Instead, it has demonstrated the risk that goes with modern methods of construction.
The initial reaction of the consortium that developed the village was hardly out of the manual for good customer relations, but one has a certain degree of sympathy for the firm. Yes, there seem to be issues with the quality of design and construction – although nobody has yet dug to the root of the problem – but at least the housebuilders have been trying to respond to the government’s call to exploit off-site manufacturing. The point is, as consortium chairman Alan Cherry remarks, innovative forms of construction are, by definition, not tried or trusted. Built systems don’t always perform the way they did in the lab. The question for housebuilders is: do they accept the risks? If they do, they must be managed. Should we, for example, be considering a supplementary warranty specifically for homes built using modern methods of construction?
As for the Building Regulations, that’s another matter. Worryingly, these flats – which narrowly failed the 1992 regulations to which they were built – would have passed the 2003 update. Although the regulations were toughened to combat noise transmission between adjacent dwellings, they do not take into account impact noise from those above or below – or people’s decreasing tolerance thresholds. Our society is made up of ever more stressed individuals who demand a haven of peace and quiet when they return home. At the same time, we are choosing to lay laminated floors rather than carpets – which increases transmission. All this when the regulations on impact noise have become laxer, and thousands of houses such as those in Greenwich have been built to just pass them. The good news for housebuilders is that robust standard details – the off-the-shelf detailing kits developed to eliminate the need for post-occupancy testing – have a much better performance on impact noise. The bad news for the government is that robust details only cover traditional construction.
Although few would relish yet more changes to the Building Regulations, the fact is that high-density living is set to increase. For the sake of good neighbourliness, there seems little choice but to look at this aspect of Part E again. Either that or require that everyone who lives in a flat carpet it in the deepest shag pile.
Denise Chevin, editor