General Question

JLeslie's avatar

If your backyard is noisy because of a busy road a quarter mile away is there anything one can do to quiet the noise?

Asked by JLeslie (59834points) October 30th, 2014 from iPhone

I know sound walls can do a lot if you live right up against the road. Also, having lived in the woods I know the dense trees during the summer helped shield noise.

This situation there are very few trees and no sound wall next to the road. If I put trees around my backyard will it do anything? Or, is the origin of the noise so far away it won’t matter? I can’t turn it into a forest, it would just be a line of trees.

I’m getting more and more obsessed with needing quiet.

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44 Answers

jerv's avatar

Egg crate foam. It’s good enough for soundproof rooms, so why not?

Hell, I know someone who, on a tight budget yet in need of a way to muffle their music space, just put up a whole bunch of empty egg cartons. While not as good as the foam, the shape of the stuff broke up the sound and served to muffle it a little bit.

Regular foam won’t “soak up” the sound well though. You need something to scatter/diffuse it, and that irregular “egg crate” shape is great for that.

JLeslie's avatar

I don’t need it for the interior of my house, I need it outside.

elbanditoroso's avatar

The bottom line is “no”. I live about ⅓ mile from I-85 (major interstate highway, full of trucks) north of Atlanta.

Most of the time, I don’t hear freeway noise. But from time to time, the winds will blow just right (or just wrong) and I will get the sound of truck engines, truck brakes, truck airhorns, as clear as day. (and the occasional Miami-to-New York drug mule trying to evade the cops and go north with merchandise in a fast car).

When the winds are blowing wrong, it’s difficult to hear another person talk – we end up going to the back yard so the house blocks the wind more effectively.

But there’s not much that can be done. There actually are trees right on the side of the highway, and the highway is sunken about 30’ below ground level, but the noise still persists. Not much to do.

[Side note: a couple of years ago a truck carrying cattle jackknifed and tipped just at the exit right near my house, A couple of the cattle died in the crash (gross!) but many of them got out of the back of the truck and were ambling along the northbound lanes. It took the highway patrol most of the morning to round them up.]

LuckyGuy's avatar

This is an interesting question. You can use my place as an extreme example. There is a highway about ¾ of a mile from my house. I have trees that are easily 30–40 ft tall all around me ( a mix of pine and hardwood) and yet I can still hear motorcycles without mufflers, (Harley short dicks pipes) go by.
Certainly a conifer tree line will help but you will still hear the noise. Nothing will make it perfectly quiet. Why?
The threshold of what noise is obnoxious moves with the listener and the ambient noise. As people live in quieter and quieter neighborhoods their threshold is reduced. I once asked a question here about kids screaming while playing. And why did I ask the question? Because over ¼ mile away I could hear the neighbor kids screaming as they ran around. This place is that quiet and yet I was annoyed. (I am ashamed to say it.)

Of course, we have lots of gunshots from hunters so there’s that.

canidmajor's avatar

Do you live in a climate that will support rhododendrons? Their thick foliage is year round, and the bonus of flowers from time to time is nice.
I lived in a place where they were a good noise barrier from a 4 lane surface highway a block away.

zenvelo's avatar

Dense trees will work, and also cool your house bit in the summer. For year round effectiveness, get some evergreens, what ever works in your part of the country.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I thought of another example. There is an airport about 25 miles away. Occasionaly planes will fly over at about 10000 ft and a few miles away and we hear that noise. In fact since the ambient os so low you can almost pinpoint in the sky where the sound is originating always trailing the plane. I used that as a lesson for my kids to estimate how far away the plane is. Look at the distance the sound is trailing and put it in front of the plane then count the number of seconds it takes for the plane to reach that spot: 3 seconds per km or 5 seconds per mile.
My point is, you will always notice something.
I’d still go with the conifers. They grow fast and are dense all year. But, don’t expect miracles.

canidmajor's avatar

Just FYI if I remember correctly that you live in the southern US.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

If I lived in your area I’d go nuts with the Magnolias. I love the way they smell. Conifers aren’t going to be too happy in your area.

jca's avatar

Is it just cars going like on a rural road (which is what I live near), or is it with traffic lights, cars and trucks starting from a stop, brakes squealing, horns honking?

JLeslie's avatar

@jca Luckily, it is not cars stopping and starting. It is a 4 lane major thoroughfare, but not an interstate. The worst times are during rush hour.

@LuckyGuy I think you are describing interuptions in the peace and quiet. I am worried about constant noise. I’m becoming more and more worried and sensitive to noise. I plan on putting a pool in my backyard and a waterfall of any type will likely cancel the road noise. Ten years ago I would have been happy with the white noise produced by the water, but now I don’t even want that.

JLeslie's avatar

We planted cedars and magnolias on the road side of the property, but they are young and don’t make a solid wall yet. I’m not happy about planting trees. We were really happy to find a lot with almost no trees, but the county is requiring we plant some (not disclosed by the builder) so I lined them up on the road side. I am not happy that it blocks the view.

jerv's avatar

Ah, I misunderstood. Well, as someone who (like @LuckyGuy) lived in a heavily wooded area a little over a mile from a 2-lane state highway, I can say that at least some of the sound will find a way to you.

Trust me though, once the road noise is mitigated, you’ll find something else. I am at the point where the refrigerator keeps me up despite two walls and a fair bit of distance.

stanleybmanly's avatar

It would seem to me impractical as well as unreliable to erect a wall of trees. I can mention one remedy to external noise that we chanced upon at our house. We replaced our old windows with new double paned glass, simply because the house was built in the 20s and the old wood frames were giving out. The results were astonishing and downright spooky. Before the upgrade, I was completely unaware of just how noisy our neighborhood is. In fact, I came home the next day when all of the windows were closed, and was freaked out. There was something wrong with the house, and I hadn’t a clue as to what it was. It was very disquieting (no pun intended), and I was so uneasy that I actually telephoned the wife at her job. The wife simply said “open a window”. The difference was something you have to experience to believe, and for months I would give demonstrations to unlucky visitors. Of course, you lose all aspects of ventilation, but the silencing will be spectacular.

JLeslie's avatar

@stanleybmanly LOL. Many of our buildings here have hurricane windows and the soundproofing is extraordinary. I owned a condo in a downtown area and the difference between the window being closed (total silence most of the time except when a train went by, just about 500 feet from my window, it caused a wee bit of noise) to window open you heard tons of traffic and street noise.

My dilemma is while I am outside. I want to quiet my back patio area.

CWOTUS's avatar

Obviously you can’t “quiet the noise” unless you do something to stop its production (block or re-route traffic, for example, or muffle each noise producer, or slow the traffic so that the reduced power levels don’t produce noise in the first place, etc.) or block it at the source. Those ideas would work, but they’re obviously impractical for one homeowner to accomplish.

A lot depends on the geography that you have to work with. Without knowing anything about your topography, whether you’re above or below the source of the sound, whether it surrounds you, comes from a single point, etc. you can still build a berm. (Haven’t we had this discussion before?)

Building a berm at the edge of your property would be the single most effective (legal) thing that you could do. (I also like the idea of felling trees across the road, but you’d probably run out of trees before long, even if you weren’t caught and jailed.) Sound levels of the kind produced by traffic simply will not penetrate through several feet of packed earth. The sound waves will hit that barrier, and most of them will be deflected upward. If you’re not in the path of a sound wave, then you won’t hear it. (Air and atmospheric conditions can re-deflect some of the sound back down again, past the berm, so it’s not like you can create an area that is proofed from the traffic noise, but it will be decreased by several orders of magnitude.)

Berms are expensive – relative to the cost of planting common trees – but they are pretty quick to build and they are permanent if designed well and then planted over to retain the soil in place.

There are other conditions, of course, relating to permitting, drainage issues (you don’t want to turn your yard into a pond whenever it rains, for example) and lines of sight / privacy (you may not want as much privacy as it affords), but they are very effective.

You can also consider creating local sounds that are more pleasing to you, which could drown out the traffic sounds: wind chimes, music, songbirds and television can do that.

You might also consider installing better windows. I was amazed at the reduction of exterior sound when I put in new windows on my house several years ago. EDIT: Never mind that last. That won’t help the back yard much, will it?

dappled_leaves's avatar

Putting in trees is not a bad idea; it will help a little, and so will the waterfall. But what you are describing in your own behaviour is approaching unreasonable. If you are growing more and more sensitive to ordinary ambient noise, and it is making you increasingly anxious – this is not a problem that soundproofing is going to solve. You need to solve it within yourself.

Coloma's avatar

I love Bamboos and you could plant a major privacy/sound row of Bamboo.
They are fast growing, pretty, ( the black bamboo is very striking ) and bonus, you get fresh bamboo shoots for cooking. haha If you don;t want them in the ground plant them in wine barrels.
@elbanditoroso That is horrible, poor cattle. :-(

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Good idea, but bamboo can be invasive. And yes, that’s not nice to the cows.

gailcalled's avatar

My neighborhood is usually as quiet as “an undiscovered tomb,” but this summer my closest neighbors did a huge and lengthy drainage and landscaping project. There was heavy machinery there daily making a lot of noise. We have a very large, forested no-man’s-land between us consisting of enormous mature 60–80’) white pines and hemlocks and the hardwoods, packed very densely.

The houses are about ⅓ mile apart, as the crow flies, and the noise was muffled, but very

I can also hear the highway department when they repair the road, about ½ mile away.

The only permanent solution is to move to a quieter area or wear earplugs when you are outside.

One view

Spicy's avatar

Weeping privet hedge. Grows fast and is over 6 ft.

JLeslie's avatar

@dappled_leaves Huh? Not anxious really. I am concerned about my comfort and hearing. I already have lost some hearing. Too many night clubs when I was young, and now I am at race tracks with my husband. I have constant noise in my ears and I would like to not make the damage worse. I can send you my hearing results and recommendations from the doctor if it will help you take it seriously. I hope you take your hearing more seriously than I did the first 30 years of my life. Now, I actually am uncomfortable with too much constant noise, it osnt that uncommon. I think human beings have unfortunately fought our natural instincts and have learned to tolerate noise to our own detriment. Some people actually experience pain they are so sensitive to noise and I really hope to never have that happen to me in the future.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@JLeslie The noise is coming from a road a quarter mile away from your house. There is no way this is causing you any hearing damage. If it is bothering you this much, the solution is to move, or work on having it bother you less. But this is not a health issue. Please don’t make me out to be a villain for stating the obvious.

trailsillustrated's avatar

Wear ear plugs. By the time you grow anything enough to help you’ll be crazy. And wear ear protection to races. I live on a really noisy street, with buses and trucks often taking out the roundabout right by my bedroom window, people walking by blabbing, hoons in noisy cars and motorbikes.

JLeslie's avatar

I always have ear plugs in my purse. I wear them at zumba, movie theatre, etc.

@dappled_leaves Maybe don’t make me out to be crazy. It’s not uncommon to enjoy and want peace and quiet.there are even laws for it. I think you are interpreting my words more extremely than I intend them.

gailcalled's avatar

^^ Why did you decde to buy a home so close to a noisy road? Wasn’t then the moment to address this issue?

canidmajor's avatar

The problem with trees is that they require space between, which lets the noise through. A thick hedge, or flowering brush will create a more effective ground level sound barrier.

@JLeslie: “I am worried about constant noise. I’m becoming more and more worried and sensitive to noise. I plan on putting a pool in my backyard and a waterfall of any type will likely cancel the road noise. Ten years ago I would have been happy with the white noise produced by the water, but now I don’t even want that.”
To me, that indicates a pretty extreme aversion to any noise. You’d have to live waaaay far out to avoid the kind of noise that bothers you.

flutherother's avatar

Shrubbery won’t keep out the noise you need a solid barrier either on your property or better still close to the road itself. A water fountain is a good idea it will help mask the sound to the point where you will soon not be aware of it.

chyna's avatar

Thick, heavy, tall hedges is the only thing I can think of, but it would take years to grow.
I am about ½ a mile from the interstate and I don’t even notice it anymore. The noise is worse in the winter when the trees have shed their leaves, but I’m not outside much in winter.
Maybe you should stop going to the racetrack if that is adding to the damage to your ears.

Coloma's avatar

I like @flutherother ‘s fountain idea, excellent idea!

chyna's avatar

Ten years ago I would have been happy with the white noise produced by the water, but now I don’t even want that.
@Coloma It doesn’t sound like that will work for her either.

Coloma's avatar

^^^ Oops, missed that.

jca's avatar

@JLeslie: If you don’t want to hear water from a trickling waterfall, it sounds like what you really need is total silence.

JLeslie's avatar

@jca Now you’re talking. :). I want the option of total silence. I will have a waterfall feature on my pool, but I want to be able to be outside with the quiet if I want quiet. In the evening I might barely hear the road since there is not a lot of traffic. My house will be very quiet inside I am sure. Even the air conditioner compressor is in the garage, but we have the windows open half the year and are outside all year long.

@canidmajor @chyna @flutherother Actually, ficus bushes grow extremely fast here and make a dense barrier that works quite well for traffic noise when the shrubs are up by the road and the house right next to it. My fear is I am so far from the road the noise is not just close to the ground. I don’t know if that makes sense or not.

Someone asked about the topography and I am about the same elevation as the road give or take ten feet. The land there is pretty flat.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

@JLeslie Try these Jet engine ear muffs. The quiet will be heaven.

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Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

We have a freeway about a km away (I think, I’m not good with distances) and I rarely hear road noise. However, as I’ve mentioned here before, I hear the trains on the train line which is much, much further away at night if the wind is carrying sound this way. I also hear artillery fire from the military base that is also miles away.

I don’t think you’ll ever get total silence. The trees will help once they grow. They won’t eradicate the road noise completely, but they’ll dampen it down a bit. I said to my husband the other day our house is the noisiest place in the morning. We’ve got many, many birds around and it sounds like a bird riot in the morning. Squawking and tweeting and calling. Nice sometimes but on occasions I do feel like yelling at them all to shut their little beaks until a reasonable hour.

JLeslie's avatar

Bird riot! I have to use that with my husband. He actually has been the one who really appreciates total silence more than I have in years past. He was fascinated by it when we lived in a colder climate. In the winter when everything was dead or had flown south he used to basque in the silence. In TN we had a bird called a whipporwill during the summer that was loud and liked to do its call at 3 in the morning. It drove my husband crazy. LOL. He is a very light sleeper. My mom used to complain about the birds tweeting in the early morning when the sun would come up. It never bothered me. I liked the songs of the birds in the morning if it happened to wake me. I sleep rather soundly, so birds tweeting aren’t likely to wake me.

ibstubro's avatar

First, I like @CWOTUS’ suggestion of adding a berm. Then landscape it with one/some of the suggestion[s] above. You could add an all-seasons glass room, but if you’re wanting silence poolside, I’m afraid you’re simply out of luck.

A decorative brick/concrete/stone wall would help, as well.

ibstubro's avatar

Read this, @JLeslie, and report back tomorrow with a 3 paragraph synopsis and a valid game plan.


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JLeslie's avatar

@ibstubro Great article! Interesting niche that consulting company fills.

JLeslie's avatar

@Tropical_Willie I meant to respond to you. Just this past weekend I was at the track and a friend brought her puppy (3 months old) with her. The dog had her ears down to dampen the noise, but I worried out loud about her hearing and discomfort to another friend of mine as we watched the dog rest. He mentioned he has ear sound muffs for his dog; he buys them through some sort of aviation store.

snowberry's avatar

Larger Broad flat leaves diffuse sound better than small ones. Whatever you can plant that is evergreen and fits this description would help with the sound. If it grows densely, it’s even better.

I’m reminded of the cement or stone walls that cities construct on the sides of major roads with lots of traffic. The solid wall does a very good job at blocking sound. I’m not sure how well it would work at a distance.

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