People often say that the most important thing they seek in their home life is peace and quiet. And while some people can live happily with the most extraordinary noise surrounding them, such as those living near an airport, others seem to be more sensitive to lesser extraneous sounds, such as passing cars.
And if you live in an apartment or condo, there are the sounds that come through ceilings and walls that can be an issue to the more sensitive ear. Some noise you can do something about, some you may feel that you have to grin and bear it, and some you just get used to.
When I lived in the city in apartments, I could go nuts about a noisy neighbor above me or to either side of me. And, when I fell in love with and bought my first home, I found that it sat directly over a subway line. Visiting dinner guests would sometimes have a look of mild panic when the rumbling train barreled through below us. “What is that,” they would ask as though they might be experiencing the city’s first earthquake. We loved the house and learned to accept the noise. In fact, when the transit workers went on strike for a week, we missed the sound that lulled and vibrated us to sleep at night.
When I moved to the country years ago, it was in late summer, and I couldn’t fall asleep the first night because of noise that one would never find in the city: the drone of all the katydids. By my second season here, I was welcoming the sound like a lullaby.
Those of us who live in a single family home expect to be spared the kind of noise pollution that one might face in an apartment, co-op or condo with common walls. But we have all of the outdoors to carry annoying sound waves: lawn mowers, leaf blowers, cars and trucks.
If the whoosh of cars annoys you, it can be abated by installing a solid fence along the street, either of the wooden or plastic variety. The regular four-foot fence will do a good job of deflecting a percentage of the sound. Also, thick evergreen bushes help. Another device is outdoor water, either in a fountain or a waterfall incorporated into a swimming pool, which was one of my solutions.
Another effective technique to lessen noise from a busy road, often used in apartment and condo developments, is the creation of a high dirt berm with plantings.
In many regions, the Department of Transportation helps those residents who live close to major highways with the employment of tall sound barrier walls. But, when installed on both sides of a highway, drivers may find that it can be much like passing through a tunnel without a ceiling. I really hate the fact that some of these noise barrier walls are now appearing on secondary roads, such as on Route 6 which traverses upper Westchester.
It is estimated that as much as 90 percent of outdoor noise comes inside via windows and doors. Good insulated windows are the best defense to prevent outdoor noise from becoming indoor noise. As much as 75 to 95 percent of extreme outdoor noise, such as living next to a major traffic artery, can be eliminated through the use of soundproof windows that are added as an extra layer inside of a regular window. The best sound proofer is the dead air between two sets of windows.
The noise outside that annoys me most is the barking of dogs that goes on and on. I always wonder whether the owners of those dogs just don’t care that something seems amiss with their pets, or is it that something is amiss with their level of courtesy to their neighbors? If you live in a neighborhood long enough, as I have, this annoyance comes in waves, depending on the dogs that come into and out of the lives of nearby neighbors. On occasion I have visited a neighbor with a dog that barks continuously and asked if they could do something about it. Such visits have never been met with a particularly courteous response. One dog owner said, “What do you want me to do, kill my dog? The other said, “You’re just a dog hater, that’s all!”
My town has a code that invites us to complain to the code enforcement officer if barking lasts more than 15 minutes. I have taken advantage of that code, rather than having a face to face confrontation. But lately, I notice that my neighborhood has been very, very quiet. Maybe every dog in my area today has been trained by Bark Busters?
Then there are occasional outdoor parties during the summer where there’s a boom box or an even louder sound system that the hosts share with their neighbors for some distance. Rather than calling the police, which I would have done in my younger, more petulant years, lately, as I’ve mellowed, I just shut all my doors and windows and play Bach or Mozart very loudly.
If you happen to live in an apartment, co-op or condo, the concern is more about how protective the ceiling and floor insulation is. There is a reason why many units for sale are promoted with such phrases as “no one above or below” or “end unit with only one shared wall.” But if you find that you’re sharing too much of your neighbors’ personal lives, there are companies that sell soundproofing wallboard to add as a second skin for more privacy.
Another option for quieting your space and mind is to create white noise or more pleasant distracting noise to take the edge off the irritating noise. I have a sound effects device that I take with me on road trips when I had to stay in hotels or motels on busy highways. It creates the sound of ocean waves, waterfalls, rain and a variety of other sounds that soothe my environment.
Instead of covering your ears and living other people’s lives, you can make your own privacy by addressing sound pollution creatively. Of course, the most direct protection to unwanted noise are earphones from an iPod or, simpler yet, old-fashioned ear plugs.
Bill Primavera is a Realtor® affiliated with Coldwell Banker (www.PrimaveraHomes.com), as well as a journalist who writes about all aspects of home ownership. To discuss the current housing market or to seek information about buying or selling a home, he can be emailed at bill@PrimaveraHomes.com or reached directly at 914-522-2076.