Underfloor sound insulation between apartments could be the first step towards reducing high noise pollution levels in the country, according to a leading academic in the field.

“We are sandwiched by neighbours, above and below,” said Vincent Buhagiar, head of the Faculty for the Built Environment at the University of Malta.

However, many developers and contractors, reluctant to give up a few centimetres of the internal floor height, have “blatantly ignored” the suggestion to install under-tile insulation, he said.

More than one in every four Maltese households have problems with noise, according to an EU-wide survey published earlier this year.

Read: Where can you go for a bit of peace and quiet?

The country also topped the list of a Eurostat survey on the level of noise coming from neighbours or the street – more than a quarter of respondents said they experience problems with noise from neighbours.

According to psychologist Gottfried Catania, noise pollution could lead to wider health problems. It could deprive people of sleep, leading to a higher risk of mental health problems such as anxiety. Higher noise levels also put people on edge and stresses them out.

While rampant construction is partly to blame for noise levels, housing trends have also played a role, as people made the move from terraced houses to apartment blocks, Prof. Buhagiar said.

“Before, we lived in houses, where family members could easily tell each other to lower the volume. Nowadays, individuals and families are no longer isolated from their neighbours by party walls alone,” he said.

Architects have been trying to introduce the idea of under-tile insulation between floors, to minimise the noise that comes from both underlying and overlying apartments, he explained.

The trend may be relatively new for Malta but it is already well established in several European countries.

While people had come to accept thermal insulation, it was high time they were equally sensitive to noise levels between apartments, especially in view of today’s surround sound systems, he added.

However, many developers and contractors are “reluctant to give some centimetres up for underfloor insulation”, he said.

“Because it is not cosmetic, it makes it harder to justify the cost.If you invest in insulation under the floor tiles, some contractors literally see it as burying money beneath your feet.”  Another suggestion was to install insulation inside a false ceiling. “This could be added later by the new flat owners, at their discretion, without reducing the internal floor height of the apartment,” he noted.

Legislation could play a key role in reducing noise levels. Neighbourhood noise abatement guidelines were currently being drafted through the University’s Department of Environmental Design, Prof. Buhagiar said.

The Times of Malta had reported that a new noise pollution law was in the pipeline earlier this year, with a spokesman saying that the Commission for Noise Pollution, set up in 2016, would be presenting “a comprehensive Bill” that would include proposals submitted by various entities.

The new Bill would ultimately see the setting up of a “regulatory framework aimed at minimising noise inconvenience”.

Prof. Buhagiar hoped this legislation, combined with other proposals, would lead to a ‘silent leap’ in the quality of life.