The Home Guru: Is Noise Driving You Nuts In Your Own Castle?

We all like peace and quiet in our own homes, but sometimes we have to be creative in achieving it. Here's how to deal with noisy neighbors, dogs, cars and leaf blowers.

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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

L. Potier March 03, 2012 at 01:32 PM
I am surprised that you have not mentioned whining and screaming children. The parents of those screaming children seem to find this out of control behavior to be perfectly acceptable! There is very little peace and quiet in the suburbs now!
William Primavera March 03, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Children tend to get a pass from me concerning the noise they make. And I would think that the noise of whining is a little more contained from property to property than is screaming. When I moved into my first home it was a block away from an elementary school, and the yelling during recess was at first annoying to me. But then I met another neighbor, considerably older than I, who told me how lovely it was to hear the sound of children playing nearby, enjoying themselves. That changed my attitude. But misbehaved children can be another matter. And that falls squarely on the shoulders of the parents.
Heron March 03, 2012 at 01:45 PM
I agree. I don't mind the sound of children. I once lived next door to a school, and the sound of the children at recess wasn't annoying, but a teacher stood on the playground yelling into a megaphone at the kids. That was irritating.
Catherine W March 03, 2012 at 02:19 PM
I built a waterfall outside my bedroom window, and now I hear splashing water instead of I95!
wanda March 03, 2012 at 04:24 PM
You think kids make alot of noise? Just wait till the 20 ton jack hammer and the New Tappan Zee Bridge get's going and last for 10 years !!!!!!!!!!
C. Price March 03, 2012 at 08:23 PM
When I first moved to New Castle forty years ago, I and all my neighbors mowed and cleaned up our properties without using those noisy and polluting blowers. Now, starting in the spring at 8 am to 6 pm the lawn lawn services mow and attack all the properties with as much as 4 blowers at a time. This happens 6 out of seven days, all day long. We can no longer enjoy our quiet times on our deck or property. Also these lawn services take over the entire road we live on with their trucks and workers who act as though it is their property and camp out while eating lunch and using our woods as toilets. We have lost our privacy, quite days outside, and breathable air.
MVF March 04, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Thanks for the noise blocking tips! I'll have to try some. The main perpetrators in my in-town neighborhood are the lawn maintenance crews that work for hours on end. Even with the windows closed and Saint Saens cranking (my choice of classic escape) it's hard to block it out. Then, on the glorious weekend, they start up illegally before 8:00. The law in New Castle is not before 10:00 on weekends correct me if I'm wrong. Our kids work so hard all week and have a lot of school pressures-they deserve to sleep in! Going out and asking the lawn crews to stop until the legal time does work temporarily, because of the vision of lunatic me in my pajamas and bed head-no one wants to see that again I'm sure! But they start up the next weekend early, without fail. Maybe they draw straws to see who will have to deal with Medusa that weekend ;-) Does anyone know of any organizations that deal with breaking the noise laws, other than the police? I hate to call them they have more important things to do.
William Primavera March 04, 2012 at 06:00 PM
Yes, the best bet is to call your local town hall and ask for code enforcement. That office should be able to help you.
William Primavera March 04, 2012 at 06:06 PM
And by the say, thanks for reminding me that Saint Saens can do the trick! :)
John Q. Public March 04, 2012 at 11:39 PM
You are a bit unrealistic about code enforcement, at least as how it's practiced in Peekskill. Even when parents have the ability to morally suade their children into silence, nothing can get the Peekskill Police to enforce noise requirements late at night. Policy is set by the Mayor, and since she lives in a secluded area she has ignored repeated requests from people on the West Side and Nelson Avenue that the law should be respected. Only reasonable inference is she's trying to run middle class residents out of the City..
Lynn DeGeorge Savage March 05, 2012 at 04:15 PM
sorry but noise enforcement is set and mailed to the homeowners in a book from the town yearly and not enforced by any mayor, it's the code enforcement department! we live next to stop and shop and the parking lot cleaners with a street sweeper and 2 leaf blowers showed up regularly at 1:30 AM and stayed until 2:30 and this is UNNECESSARY NOISE according to the code enforcement, any machine above 45 decibals and leaf blowers may only be operated 7 am to 8 pm, MON - FRI and 8 am to 6 pm Sat 11 am to 5 pm sundays so I called the store spoke to store manager offered to drop off the book with the law listed and we went back and forth for 2 years involving corporate office when needed and finally now they show up at 8:45 pm and stay until 9:30 pm which is liveable!
Pia Weissefluh March 05, 2012 at 06:51 PM
The town of Bedford NY is an undesirable garbage town in which to live because leaf blower gangs have invaded the town and there is constant leaf blower noise all day long every day of the week. The corrupt govt is in bed with the landscaper leaf blower lobby and they refuse to ban leaf blowers. They avoid banning this noise harassment by creating Leave Leaves Alone-a voluntary begging of leaf blower operators to please use lawn mowers to mulch leaves. Thats insane. Switching from leaf blower noise to lawn mower noise doesn't solve the problem . It replaces one form of air and noise pollution with another-and there's still no Law preventing landscaper jerks from also using leaf blowers. Leave Leaves alone is useless-theyre using blowers TODAY! Bedford really needs to restrict lawns because they are a major source of pollution with mowers, blowers, and pesticides that cause deadly cancer! Call Bedford 914-666-6530 every time leaf blowers drive you insane! There are quiet landscapes:fruit trees, blueberries, ground covers etc. Check out the Bedford leaf blower petition on the petition site. You can also report illegals using blowers. Bedfords estates have 30 acres of lawns and they blow even today in feb and march when there are no leaves-all this noise is an invention to pad the bill. We can not allow billionaire land owners next to cross river lake to drive everyone insane with their leaf blower noise! Legistlation is needed!
Yorktown Tattler March 06, 2012 at 04:08 AM
When I lived in an apartment with people above me, I always went mad listening to them scurry around, mostly on bare floors. But when I found that I was living on top of someone else at the same time, I tiptoed in my socks to make things more comfortable for them. Why couldn't my upstairs neighbor have been as considerate. But then, why should we have to tip toe? Why can't rental buildings have codes that make them more soundproof?
Susan R March 18, 2012 at 02:26 PM
I live in Los Angeles, Cypress Park. Divine Saviour Catholic Church put up an amplified sound system that blast a tape recording of their bells and music. It blasts out of 4 loud speakers on top of the church 6 times a day everyday. It is too loud and annoying. http://highlandpark-ca.patch.com/blog_posts/patch-blog-i-am-a-noise-victim No one or organization should be above the law. For help with noise: http://www.noisefree.org
Rick Holtsclaw March 20, 2012 at 01:58 AM
How pleasing it would be if we could eliminate the thug loud bikers that pollute our roadways and neighborhoods on a daily basis with their illegally loud motorcycles. Yes, how sweet it would be.


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