Window Solution Diminishes Train Noise

Installing inner windows in the historic Waterfront Hotel in Oakland, CA, greatly reduced noise that was driving customers away.

Noise from trains that passed by the Waterfront Hotel at Jack London Square in Oakland, CA, was causing considerable guest dissatisfaction.

Online trip advisory reviews have ushered in a harsh new business environment for hotels, motels, and inns that live or die by referrals. If a guest had a lousy night’s sleep due to exterior noise from traffic, railroads, or activity at the swimming pool, it’s likely the manager will be the last to know. The absence of a posted review does not necessarily indicate satisfaction either. A guest who is unhappy with a room due to excessive exterior noise may say nothing to management, but likely will not return.

Well-managed hotels acknowledge that they are prisoners of a paradox: They must build near major thoroughfares, highways, and rail services so that they are accessible and convenient, knowing that those locations are often the source of the noise problem.

Since old windows are generally the acoustic weak link in exterior walls, most believe that the only solution is to replace every window—an expensive upgrade with no guarantee of success.

Installing a 5/8-in.-thick inner-window system in hotel guest rooms resulted in a 75% reduction of train noise.

Historic remedy

Historic districts also present a challenge. Since the exterior design cannot be tampered with, swapping out old windows for new is rarely approved. By installing an inner window, it’s possible to improve occupant experience, respect architectural history, and satisfy customers.

Commune Hotels and Resorts was faced with just such a noise challenge. The Waterfront Hotel at Jack London Square in Oakland, CA, is not a designated historic site, but it was built in the 1960s next to a railroad crossing. Passenger and freight trains regularly pass through with horns blaring and safety guardrails ringing their alarms.

The majority of the hotel’s online reviews indicated that the noise was having a negative impact on guests. The hotel’s internal guest-satisfaction survey results agreed.

Another problem arose when a new ownership group decided the site needed noise remediation. However, replacing windows would do considerable damage to the stucco façade.

Soundproof Windows Inc., Reno, NV, offered a solution. Three guest rooms in the front of the hotel were selected for a test. One window was not altered, serving as the experimental control. A 5/8-in.-thick inner window was installed in one of the rooms and a 1.4-in.-thick version in the other. Then an independent acoustic firm was hired to analyze the test results. When compared with the control room, the room with the 5/8-in. glass inner window eliminated 75% of the noise, exceeding the other test product.

Once it was decided to install the Soundproof product in all 75 of the hotel windows on the front of the building, the specifiers faced a second challenge. The face of the building has a variety of window sizes and shapes, including operable rectangular windows and portholes. Sliding doors opening into patios are also used in some rooms. Fortunately, the Soundproof windows could be configured to match any existing style of window, as well as sliding doors.

The hotel’s online scores and ranking have gone up since the inner windows were installed. In an internal survey, before the change, noise was the number one complaint. Now it has receded to an occasional mention. TripAdvisor now ranks the Waterfront at No. 2 out of 48 Oakland hotels, up from No. 9. As a result, Soundproof windows were installed in the rest of the hotel.


— View an informational video from Soundproof Windows.

— Download a Soundproof Windows product brochure.

— Download product-testing results.

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