Love The House, Hate The Traffic Noise! There is Hope!

Depending on the location, whether you're shopping for a new home, or trying to sell your current residence, one of the biggest challenges is trying to reduce street noise.

I caution homeowners and buyers about too high expectations when it comes to reducing traffic noise. Too many times I have seen homeowners trying to do something bout the noise by adding another layer of drywall or something to the wall itself. It's not minimal return, it's ZERO return. Unless you control the weak point, that does nothing. There are some cases where the wall might be the weak point, but usually that's just 1% of the time. Generally, the windows are the weakest noise link.

So, if you've fallen in love with a home that's perfect for you, but butting up a little close to a busy road, there are options to help make the traffic less noticeable. Starting with the interior of the house, the first area to listen closely to are the windows. They can tend to let in a significant amount of noise. The sound almost always goes through the window and doing anything at all to the walls would be pointless until you have fixed the noise that comes through the window.

Windows have a Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating. The higher the rating, the less outside noise you will hear inside the home. A typical single pane window only has a 22-25 STC rating whereas a dual pane window might have an STC rating of 27-32. There are also specialty windows with even higher STC ratings available.

Choosing the right STC rating depends on what you're planning to do. If you're looking at an STC 30 window versus an STC 33 window, you're not going to notice a huge difference. But, it might be worth it if they're about the same price. But, if you're looking at replacing windows and you're planning to go from an STC 30 to an STC 33 window, that's a lot of work to get virtually little improvement. If you can get a 5 or 6 decibel difference, then that could start to make a noticeable change.

Keeping sound from coming into your home is usually only part of the solution. Many people want to enjoy a traffic-noise-free backyard. This can be a little more complicated, but not impossible.

One of the first things you would look at is the barrier. If you've got a view wall or wrought iron fence that's not going to block anything, or if you have a large oleander bush, these may block the view, but doesn't block the sound. Instead, a solid wall that doesn't have gaps in it would be of some help. Auto noise comes from the tires.

To control auto noise, the wall would work well because the source is really low. It's at ground level, but truck noise comes from about 8 feet off the ground. Even if you built a 6', 7' or 8' fence, it wouldn't help. However, if you couple a barrier wall with a noise-masking system, such as a water feature, then you could virtually wash away the traffic noise. A water feature, if done right, could work very well.

You wouldn't want a water feature that's just trickling water, but rather something more substantial that has a noise level to it and more of a broad band noise.

The problem with water features, however, is that they tend to be very localized. I've been to some homes where the homeowner laced one water feature in the backyard, and it drowned out the traffic noise only in that one area, but the street noise could be heard from other parts of the backyard. That's when a couple of fountains might need to be used.

Getting creative is the key. Working with a sound acoustic expert and a landscaper can result in a beautifully designed outdoor area that doesn't reveal any sign of the chaotic hustle and bustle of the nearby road.