5 Ways to Squelch Noise Levels Inside and Outside Your Home
Road traffic, construction, aircraft, and leaf blowers can not only impact your health, they may also lower the value of your home. Here are some strategies to mitigate noise.
It may surprise you to learn that more than 50 years ago, the EPA established parameters for safe levels of noise, under a Noise Control Act. In most cases, restrictions on noise levels occur on the state and level, but as development and traffic become more intense, these rules often fall short.
For homeowners who buy a house in a noisy neighborhood, or find themselves on the edge of a new highway extension, the long-term, grinding impacts of high noise levels can raise stress levels, disrupt their use of outdoor spaces and even damage their hearing over the long term.
The Resale Conundrum
One natural impulse may be to move out, when outdoor noise is intense. But this has negative implications too. Long-term friends and neighbors may live nearby. Kids may be enrolled in local schools. And to top it off, a house in a noisy area takes a serious hit in terms of resale value.
According to Upnest.com, “A noisy atmosphere is a sure way to drive down the value of a home. A home valued at 500K can drop nearly $40,000 in value when affected by road noise pollution. A recent study showed 50% of buyers won’t consider a home with road noise. “
While fences, berms, and trees can knock down certain noise in the backyard, the only way to dampen aircraft and other noise sources in the home is to insulate with high-performance products like Greenfiber cellulose.
Some sources are tougher than others, of course. Getting the local airport to change its flight approaches may be a tough political fight. Even convincing neighbors to give up their regular leaf blowing activities on weekends can require long meetings and meet emotional resistance. Many communities do not have a local noise ordinance at all, so you might start with lobbying to adopt one. Before you can get a business to baffle its industrial motors, you may need some regulatory benchmarks for acceptable noise levels.
If you’re not feeling up to the bigger fight, but feeling stressed by noise levels, you can instead attempt to soften, disrupt or deaden the offending noise. Here are five strategies known to work with various degrees of mitigation.
- Fountains and Music
Water has a way of camouflaging urban noise and creating a white noise that many people find less stressful than traffic and ambulance sounds. But to be clear, you’re not really reducing decibel levels overall—simply tricking the mind to interpret the sounds in a more positive light.
Our recommendation would be to use fountains and music as a final mitigation strategy, once you’ve exhausted the other, more aggressive ideas below. By adding flowing water and your favorite performers to your now quieter backyard, you can complete a noisy location makeover.
- Noise-Abating Fences
Sometimes, a fence can significantly knock down sound levels on your property. Before you invest, however, consider the terrain and the type of fence.
Sound moves in a straight line, so know your enemy. If your home is lower than the noise source (such as airplanes), a fence probably won’t help much in reducing decibels or intensity. If you read what the fence people say, they’ll tell you to go with a dense, solid fence with few gaps and maximum height allowed by your local zoning.
There’s some truth to this, but don’t expect any fence to suddenly silence the highway noise from next door. A solid 8-ft. wood or vinyl fence will knock sound levels down by about 6 decibels. One built out of concrete, brick or manufactured stone might knock it down 10 decibels. That will definitely take the edge off of the 70 decibel highway behind your house, but it won’t make your backyard “quiet.”
- Shrubs and Trees
Think like a floral designer. If you want to use plantings to soften noise waves, don’t just put in a line of fir trees. Put in several layers of plantings, each filling in where the previous line left gaps. You want sound waves to become tangled in the greenery as they travel from source to back yard.
The reason experts suggest evergreen plants is because their needles or foliage remain even through winter, unlike deciduous plants. You don’t want a “fair weather” sound barrier, although you’re likely to spend more time outdoors in warmer months.
Key things to consider is that the vegetation for sound mitigation needs to go all the way to the ground, with as few gaps as possible. This is why using several layers tends to work best for plugging up holes in your natural sound screen.
To achieve the same 10 decibel reduction in sound with plants that you might from a fence or wall, you’ll need a significant amount of space—a small forest on the edge of your property, if you will. With 25 ft of trees and shrubs you can get to those kinds of sound mitigation goals.
- Radical Earth Moving
One of the best ways to knock down outdoor noise in your backyard is to block it with soil. Research shows that a properly placed berm (essentially a small hill) of soil can cut sound down by up to 80 percent.
Given that denser materials stop more sound, this makes sense. Earth is naturally dense. Add a fence on top of that berm and you can reduce noise transmission even more.
Of course, depending on your local conditions, berming options may be limited. Your HOA may put a hard “no” on a request to pile up dirt between you and your neighbor, or you may not like the aesthetics of turning your property into a Celtic hillfort.
If you do have the ability to try berming, be sure to factor in the impact on drainage. If you can engineer the berm wisely, you might gain a lot of other perks from it, including a perfect planting area for certain microclimates, play areas for kids and so on. And you’ve created a natural perimeter that will essentially last forever.
- Sound Deadening Insulation
Another important aspect of noise pollution is keeping it outdoors, not disrupting the calm of your home. The easiest way to do this is to focus on tightening up and optimizing your outer walls.
One of the things insulation in your walls does, particularly blown-in products such as cellulose, is reduce the “power” of the noise outdoors.
For example, a product called Sanctuary, from Greenfiber, can be used to fill wall cavities in new or existing homes, and cuts noise power by up to 60 percent. The big advantage to addressing sound inside homes is that the location of the offending noise outside is not important. It can stop noise that fences and trees can’t.
For example, Beazer homes was putting in a new housing development in North Las Vegas near a busy airport. They needed to drop noise levels indoors by 25 decibels to get approval, but simply by installing Sanctuary cellulose, were able to bring sound levels down 39 decibels in side walls, 46 decibels in the roofs of their homes.