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Acoustical Rules of Thumb and Demystifying the Decibel

What are “sound frequencies” anyway?
Decibels can cause confusion. For example, if a bird is singing its song at a sound level of 60 dB(A) and another one joins in at the same volume, then the total sound level is not 120 dB(A), it is actually 63 dB(A). Also, there is a general lack of familiarity with how decibel sound levels are related to how loud a sound is perceived. Lastly, if you attempt to seek out a definition of a decibel, you will likely find one that is written for or by an engineer, which may or may not be helpful. In this post, I will start with real-world examples of decibels in action (see above), provide some context and rules of thumb, and work up to the formal definition, which is not really necessary in order to gain a working knowledge of decibel sound levels.
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What are “sound frequencies” anyway?

What are “sound frequencies” anyway?
If you have ever encountered a noise problem, you have probably heard your subject matter expert talk about "frequencies." This is a short-hand way of talking about the frequency content of the noise control problem at hand. It is a critically important consideration, because noise control treatments are generally most effective at a particular frequency, or range of frequencies. Some noise regulations even specify sound level limits on a per-frequency basis.
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The Fundamental Tenet of Noise Control - and Why It is Important to Understand It

The Fundamental Tenet of Noise Control
The fundamental tenet of noise control design is "Treat the loudest source(s) first." A simple illustration should quickly make the point. If your neighbor is blasting his high-powered stereo so loud that you can barely hear your reasonably-sized bluetooth speaker, it doesn't help the overall noise level if you turn your speaker down; it is still too loud! Your neighbor won't even notice whether your speaker is on or off. Industrial noise control must recognize this dynamic and as such, is very much a top-down process.
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Should I consider noise control on every project?

What is Noise Control?
Should I consider noise control on every project? The simple answer is yes. Every. Single. One. It could simply start by asking the question, "do we think noise might be an issue here?" and go from there. If the answer is a confident "no," then you are done and you move on. If the answer is "yes," or "I'm not sure," then more work is needed. I have three arguments for why to consider noise control on every project. I'll start with the simplest and usually the most convincing.
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What is Noise Control?

What is Noise Control?
A simple definition of "noise control" is the reduction or mitigation of unwanted sound. Sound is a physical phenomenon; more specifically, sound is pressure fluctuations in the atmosphere (or any fluid). Noise is unwanted sound, which relies on someone's perception of sound. A good way to remember the difference is to think of the age-old question, "if a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound?" The answer is yes, it does make a sound; however, it may not make noise, depending on whether someone is there to hear it and be bothered by it.
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