What price would you pay for a good night's sleep? Noise pollution is undoubtedly London's biggest single problem and one I was faced with for the first time in my Shepherd's Bush home after new neighbours moved in with a toddler in tow and a baby on the way.
As my usual sleeping pattern of seven solid hours a night was abruptly disrupted by the toddler's nocturnal cries, I quickly realised that the dividing wall between our 1912 terrace houses must be pitifully flimsy — and in spite of everyone's best efforts to improve things, when the noise continued I decided to seek professional help.
"It's an extremely common complaint in London because most of the buildings from Victorian times onwards have such poorly built party walls," said Gawaine Lewis, founder of acoustic insulation company Soundstop.
"Typical Victorian terraces are terrible because the property developers would have employed their best stonemasons to make the front of the houses look impressive, and then employed navvies to do the side walls."
People living in tower blocks, or renting flats from buy-to-let landlords can often suffer the worst because they have no redress, and after one complaint too many, theirs might become a short-term rental.
How to deal with noise
It's not just crying babies. Once you factor in sounds from nearby TVs, radios, music, barking dogs, rowdy teenagers, overhead aeroplanes, traffic, police sirens, circling helicopters, domestic squabbles and even the insidious low hum of domestic gadgets — the average home contains at least 14 electrical appliances — it's clear that most of us suffer from dangerous levels of aural pollution.
Poppy Elliot, Managing Director of Quiet Mark, said manufacturers are finally responding to consumer demand by designing quieter products. "At last builders and architects are taking sound seriously," she added. "It is becoming as important as other elements of design in the home. We are inundated by consumers wanting peace and quiet."
The charity has an online shop that recommends and sells electrical goods, from alarm clocks and hairdryers to lawn mowers and food processors, all of which have been awarded its Quiet Mark. The site also offers advice on acoustic insulation.
Soundproofing a home
Gawaine Lewis advised me to choose the thinnest insulation possible because my bedroom door opens directly against the shared wall and I didn't want to have to move the door. But I also wanted foolproof results so I opted for the most expensive.
The SS20 System consists of dense rubber panels stuck to the wall, followed by two further layers of acoustic panelling. It adds only 4.5cms thickness to your wall.
There are cheaper options but they are either thicker, more labour intensive or less effective. The builder put the insulation up in a single day and returned just to fix the electrics, wainscot and repaint the new wall — so the result was instantaneous and well worth it.
He spent a further three days taking up the floorboards, laying slabs of Rockwool between the rafters and putting an acoustic rubber membrane on top, to soundproof me against noisy teenagers who occasionally congregate in the kitchen below my bedroom at all hours. This had the added advantage of blotting out the light from below which used to come up between the cracks.
Finally he removed the old thin, warped door and put up a thick new one with no gap at the bottom.
The result of the exercise? I feel as if I'm in a luxurious padded cell and, crucially, I am back to my old sleep patterns. And that I realise, is priceless.
The cost of Katie's conversion to quietness
* Wall materials at £62 a square metre: £820
* Labour for wall: £500
* Rockwool floor insulation slabs and Tec-Proof membrane: £314
* Wickes fireproof door: £100
* Labour for floor: £600
Poppy Elliott's top five nice-and-quiet products
* Philips sun simulation Wake-Up Light alarm clock: from £90
* Sennheiser noise-cancelling headphones: from £199.99
* Magimix Cuisine Systeme food blender: £239.99
* Bio-ionic Pro hairdryer "Whisper Light": £125
* AEG F88072W0P dishwasher: £649
For more information and a full list of recommended products, visit www.QuietMark.com.