Building a Better Acoustic Screen

After I resolved the issue of not having a monitor stand wide enough for my new laptop computer, I had to address the next item on my to-do list: building a proper acoustic screen to reduce extraneous noise when recording audio.  A major responsibility in my work is creating online training materials.  One part of this is recording the narration that accompanies the training.

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The condo unit I use as an office has concrete walls and ceilings and a tile floor.  From an acoustic perspective, the room is very “live”.  My previous arrangement was to use a stack of throw pillows, carefully balanced, to try and reduce the noise.  Not only was this prone to collapsing in the middle of a recording session, but it also didn’t do a very good job reducing the noise.

Over the past few months I had tried to source acoustic foam panels here in Bangkok, an elusive product that exists but nobody actually seems to sell.  Finally, after going to a high-end audio shop that I had been told would have the foam, an employee there told me to go to the Ban Mor district near Chinatown.  “That’s where everyone gets everything,” he explained.

Ban Mor is about two blocks of a small soi, or alley, located across from the Old Siam shopping center.  I go there all the time with Tawn but never realized we were literally across the street from the electronics district.  Going from shop to shop on the crowded street, I finally located a speaker store that sold sheets of acoustic foam.

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Truth be told, this foam isn’t the same high-density acoustic foam that I originally had in mind.  But it is dense enough to do the job and was not too expensive.  I brought the sheets home along with some plastic fiberboard then started constructing the acoustic screen.  The idea was to measure carefully so the the two panels would hinge closed with the foam fitting together like crocodile’s teeth.  This way, it folds up flat, allowing for compact storage when not in use.

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After about an hour’s work, I had everything fitting together neatly.  The noise reduction is much better than the pillows I was using before and I don’t have any problems with them collapsing mid-recording.  One more thing I did to improve the quality of the recordings was to purchase a better quality microphone. 

Previously, I was using basically any random microphone you could plug into your computer, just like the ones you might use to talk on Skype.  After some research, I settled on a Snowball USB microphone from Blue Microphones.  This condenser mic has both omnidirectional and cardioid modes and produces professional quality sound.  Pairing that with a pop screen and the acoustic screen and my recordings have improved many times over.

Another project checked off the list!

 

Shower Retiling Project

This past Monday we started a long overdue tiling project.  For the past three years, ever since our remodel was complete and we moved into our condo, the lowest point in our shower has not been the drain.  For a variety of reasons, the original contractor seemed unable to construct a well thought-out shower and his workers were unable to install marble tiles on the proper angles to ensure drainage.

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In the old arrangement, there was a gap between the glass and the raised portion of tile outside the shower.  The rationale behind this is that a 1/2-inch diameter pipe connects the lower tiled area in the shower with the tiled area beneath the stacked washer and dryer, about five feet to the lower right of the picture.  The connection was designed so if the drain for the washer backed up, the overflowing water could flow to the shower.  Good concept, but the contractor didn’t make sure the shower was lower than the area where the washer is.

For three years, we’ve had to use a squeegee and a spare towel after every shower to clean up the water that accumulates in the corner of the shower and at the end of the gap, close to the door sill.  Not only was this annoying, but despite our best efforts there was seepage of the water into the concrete.  The brown stains in the marble tile come from seepage, where the moisture pulled the stain from the wood floor in the hallway.

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Not only was the damage cosmetic, but the exterior wall of the unit, which backs up to the shower, started to show signs of moisture and the paint began to blister.  Finally, we were able to coordinate with Chang Dii (nickname meaning “Good Handyman”), the handyman who often works for Tawn’s father.  His reputation is very good and after being burned by our contractor three years ago, we wanted to work with someone reputable.

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Monday seemed to be an auspicious day to begin our project, as it was the day the condo’s pool was reopened after a two-month re-tiling project.  I guess it was auspicious because the pool project finished on time, not because it took two months!

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Precautions to keep the dust from the project safely confined to one area of the house were extensive.  All the cabinets in the bathroom were emptied.  Padded floor cover was laid on the wood.  Sheets of plastic tablecloth (bought off a roll at Carrefour) lined the doorway into the bedroom and covered the main cabinets and washer and dryer.  Additionally, towels stuffed the crack under the door.

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From the main hallway (which is the location of the bathroom’s main entrance), we put up more plastic tablecloths as a dust curtain, and laid down heavy towels to clean our feet as we passed through the portal.  It made the space feel very compartmentalized.

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The first morning, Chang Dii showed up with four young men to help him do the demolition work.  They completed it in less than three hours.  A complaint about the Thai education system is that creative thinking and problem solving is not encouraged.  After watching them swing the door around, trying to chip away tile underneath the door, I finally suggested they remove it from its hinges.  The look I received from the young men seemed like, “Oh… yeah, I guess we could do that, huh?”

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Three hours later, the tile and previous cement was removed and neatly cleaned.  The pipe that connected to the washer area had been removed and the remaining bit to the left plugged.  We’ll take our chances that a washer drain overflow is relatively unlikely.  Another problem we had dealt with from the earlier contractor is that the edge between the tile and the raised wood area had never been finished.  The underside of the wood flooring was exposed.  Thankfully, Chang Dii fixed this in the end.

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Late Tuesday morning, Chang Dii and part of his team returned to begin cutting and installing the marble tiles.  To save money (and get the best of both worlds) we bought ceramic tiles that have a thin layer of marble on top.  The beauty of marble but the structure of ceramic.  Chang Dii explained that the problem we were having with the water wasn’t just that the slope of the shower was wrong, but that the contractor had installed the tile in a “dry manner” – adhering the tiles on top of already dry cement, leaving gaps for the water.  He chose to instead use a “wet manner” – placing the tiles directly on the wet cement and carefully leveling them, to minimize the risk of any gaps under the tiles.

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At the end of the first day, they had completed the wet area outside the shower.  The area is now slightly higher than it originally was.  Since the tiles were floating on wet cement, it was important not to step on them for several hours, so Chang Dii wrote a sign for us.

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Now, I’ll let you know that his Thai spelling is as bad as mine.  But just in case I couldn’t understand Thai, he included the international graphic for “No Stepping”.

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Which, upon closer inspection, I thought showed his attention to detail and clear understanding of the potential for mis-communication.  The original foot is floating above the floor, suggesting perhaps that no levitation is allowed.  So he amended the drawing to bring the (now huge) toe into contact with the floor. 

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Halfway through Wednesday, the third day of Tawn and me having to take our showers and use the toilet next door in the second unit, which we call The Annex, careful progress was being made on the shower tiles.  His guarantee: every drop of water would go down the drain.

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The workers actually did a very good job of keeping their workspace neat and swept the entry hallway thoroughly each evening before heading home.  By the time the project was finished, there was no noticeable dust in the living room or bedroom area.

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By the end of Wednesday, all the tile was laid, except for the door sill.  We originally weren’t going to change this but it was stained brown from the nearby wood.  We called a local stone company and ordered a piece and one of the workers went out to fetch it.  At the end of the evening I noticed the marble, which Chang Dii had trimmed to fit better, appeared to be nearly a centimeter (about 3/4 of an inch) too short.  Tawn and I discussed this and decided it was worth spending $20 on another piece of marble to make sure the work was done correctly.

Thursday morning I shared my concerns with Chang Dii and he admitted, sheepishly, that his men had cut too much from the piece.  Mai pben rai, I said – no worries.  By lunchtime the replacement piece was on site and being carefully cut.

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By Thursday evening we were able to use the shower and toilet again, enjoying a nicely finished tile job.  The gap along the glass is gone, the water drains wonderfully in the shower, and even the connection between the wood and the tile area has been neatly caulked.  All in all, an excellent job.  Hopefully, the moisture that has previously seeped into the walls and floor will quickly dissipate and cause no lasting damage.

As for the question that comes up often – “When are you going to connect the two units?” – the hassle involved with just changing the tile in a single bathroom serves to remind me how not eager I am to undertake a larger remodel and joining of the two units!