Putting up with noise pollution

One in ten Europeans says that noisy domestic appliances are a problem. Only one in four seriously considered the noise factor when purchasing an appliance. A new AEG-Electrolux report is one of the most comprehensive surveys about noise ever undertaken in Europe.
The AEG-Electrolux Noise Report 2007 is based on interviews with 2,000 people of all ages and social groups in 10 European countries: Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, France, Spain, Germany, Russia, Italy and the UK.

A loud and clear problem
“The message which comes across is loud and clear – that noise is a major problem for millions of people across Europe,” says John Stewart, Chairman of the UK Noise Association.

“This report should be required reading for both politicians and manufacturers. It highlights the impact that noise, which has long been neglected by most politicians, can have on the daily lives of people. It shows manufacturers that there is a real market for quieter products.”

Most of the attention given to the environment focuses on air pollution and global warming but noise is also a big issue. Half of us live in noisy surroundings and a third of us have disturbed sleep patterns because of noise, according to the World Health Organization.

The most invasive and disturbing noise pollution experienced in the home is that generated by neighbors. But one in ten of the Europeans surveyed says that noisy domestic appliances have been a problem in their home. This view varied significantly around Europe, with over a quarter of Italians and nearly one in four French saying it is a problem to some degree, whereas less than one in 20 people in Austria, Netherlands and Norway say it is an issue.

People find the noise of vacuum cleaners and washing machines the most irritating, but noisy cooker hoods and tumble dryers are also irritants for those who own them. People find the noise generated by domestic appliances more of a problem at certain times of day, and on certain occasions, for example early in the morning, when people are working at home, or when entertaining.

Wishing for a quieter kitchen
With respect to ‘machine made’ noise, the kitchen is the noisiest room in the house for over half of those surveyed. This noise changes the way people use their kitchen. A third of those with cooker hoods and washing machines choose not to use them when their noise interferes with other activities and a fifth of those with dishwashers do not use it some or all of the time for the same reason.

Four in ten respondents agreed that they would like a quieter kitchen, although this varied widely from 18% in the Netherlands to 64% in Spain.

Pay more, hear less
Only around one in four of those buying a domestic appliance had taken serious account of the noise it made at the time of purchase. In retrospect many see this as a mistake; 29% of those buying washing machines, 28% of those buying dishwashers, 33% of those buying cooker hoods, 27% of those buying tumble dryers and 18% of those buying refrigerators wished they had taken noise into account to a greater degree when they bought it.

This retrospective heightening of the importance of noise in the purchase decision led many to believe they would choose quieter appliances in the future, even if they cost more.

If given the choice of a standard appliance or one that made half the noise at a 10% price premium, around half would go for the quieter more expensive option, whether it was for washing machines, dishwashers or vacuum cleaners. This also reflects the higher quality and reliability people associate with quieter domestic appliances.

All respondents were asked what they would do in the hypothetical situation that they had a noisy piece of equipment in the kitchen, such as a dishwasher. The most common responses were to put off the day when it would have to be replaced, or just grinning and bearing it.

Only one in five said they would replace it immediately, highlighting the financial barrier to replacing domestic appliances. A few stated they would take a more emotional response, from screaming to hitting the offending appliance.

Some interesting findings in the survey:

Noise in general:
-Neighborhood harmony varies greatly across Europe; nearly 6 in 10 Russians were bothered by neighbors arguing, compared to less than 2 in 10 in Norway.
-Nearly 10 million people in the countries surveyed have to move home each year due to noisy neighbors.
Noise in the home:
-Nearly 1 in 10 people say noisy domestic appliances are a real problem.
-4 in 10 people believe that noisy domestic appliances are a curse of modern life.
Washing machines and vacuum cleaners cause most in-home noise, followed closely by cooker hoods and tumble dryers.
-On hindsight, over 50% of respondents would choose the quieter dishwasher, refrigerator or washing machine. More than 4 in 10 would choose the quieter tumble dryer or cooker hood.
-4 in 10 respondents agreed, or strongly agreed, that they would like a quieter kitchen.
-16% say they have moved a domestic appliance because it was too noisy; 14% have thrown it away.

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