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Week of Sound 2024: Interview with Michael Vanstraelen

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From January 22nd to February 4th, Belgium proudly marks its XIVth edition of the "UNESCO Week of Sound," centering this year's discussions around the theme "In Case of Emergency."

This initiative serves as a unique opportunity to elevate awareness about the acoustic landscape of a planet grappling with the impacts of climate change.

Delving into various facets of auditory health and sound levels, the discussions will particularly spotlight concerns within the capital region of BXL. As a company deeply committed to environmental causes, we are delighted to share perspectives from our Belux Country Manager, Michael Vanstraelen, who articulated his views in an interview.


Belgium is a country where the construction sector values the auditory health of its residents, mindful of various standards and Royal Decrees in this regard. What is your opinion on this?

Efforts are certainly being made in our country, particularly in the construction sector, to establish and/or update certain acoustic standards and reduce the number of complaints related to noise pollution. For instance, the new acoustic residential standard came into effect at the beginning of 2023, tightening the regulations compared to the previous version from 2008. There's a recognition that the introduction of new construction methods, especially the current trend towards more wooden structures for ecological reasons, can pose greater acoustic challenges since lighter constructions provide less sound insulation. This necessitates creative solutions, and that's something Belgians excel at.

Do you believe that the noise pollution limits and recommendations should be further tightened and, if possible, harmonized across the entire country?

The updated residential standard from 2023 is quite stringent, applying nationwide, which is beneficial for consistency. The same applies to the acoustic school standard implemented about a decade ago. However, there are also regional laws, guidelines, and recommendations, such as Vlarem in Flanders, regulating environmental permits and the environment in and around industrial facilities on Flemish territory. Environmental matters are indeed a regional competence. Brussels often has different rules, and the Walloon Region has its own regulations. This sometimes leads to ambiguous situations, especially in border areas. It would have been simpler for everyone to have national standards and guidelines governing noise pollution and vibration nuisance uniformly, but our complex political situation unfortunately does not allow for this.

What are the specific solutions to consider for noise pollution? And are there actions to contemplate in order to further improve the auditory living environment in Belgium?

Noise pollution and vibration nuisance can be found everywhere but are particularly prevalent in larger cities. More people are drawn to urban life, leading to the need to develop even less attractive urban areas with residences and offices. These areas often lie directly above or next to trains, trams, metro tracks or busy traffic routes. It is crucial, especially for those living or working there, to establish a national standard that reduces vibrations, primarily generated by (rail) traffic, to an acceptable level through the introduction of elastic decouplings in the foundations of new buildings. It's challenging to intervene later when the building is already standing, and noise pollution from rail traffic has become a reality. This requires a proactive, conscious approach from both designers and investing developers.