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I Can’t Hear You! Buying a Home in an Area with Noise Pollution

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It’s a beautiful spring day, and you are sitting on the front porch of your new home, sipping lemonade. You are enjoying the stillness and listening to the delicate sounds of songbirds…until suddenly, you can’t hear them anymore because the sound of jackhammers has completely drowned them out!

This is what we call noise pollution.

The dictionary defines noise pollution as “unwanted or harmful noise.” Sound becomes unwanted when it either interferes with normal activities such as sleeping or conversation, or when it disrupts or diminishes your quality of daily life.

Historically, there hasn’t been a lot of information about noise pollution, but during the 20th century our understanding of what it is and its long-term effects on health has expanded.

If you are sensitive to noise and are concerned about noise pollution, you aren’t alone. According to top Naples, Florida, real estate agent Joe Epifanio, who has sold more than 86% more properties in Naples than the average agent, many buyers have problems with homes in noisy areas, and people will pass on these homes simply due to noise issues.

We’ve whipped together this guide to help you understand what noise pollution is, how you can minimize the chances of buying a house in an area with excess noise pollution, and the steps you can take to mitigate the issue if you find yourself in a home with noise pollution.

A train causing noise pollution.
Source: (Ankush Minda / Unsplash)

What is noise pollution?

Noise pollution is unwanted or harmful noise that has a negative impact on human or environmental health. Noise is measured in decibels (dB), and according to the Environmental Pollution Centers, “exposure for more than 8 hours to constant noise beyond 85 dB may be hazardous,” and if you “work for 8 hours daily in close proximity to a busy road or highway, you are very likely exposed to traffic noise pollution around 85dB.”

What causes noise pollution?

Anything that makes noise can cause noise pollution. Construction, transportation, and daily human activities all play a part in creating the noises that we encounter all day long. Here are some common sources of noise pollution that you may find in residential neighborhoods:

  • Traffic sounds from a major highway
  • Vehicles that are not properly maintained; honking horns
  • Airport traffic in an area where planes are frequently taking off and landing
  • Construction sites that involve heavy machinery
  • Industrial sites, such as factories
  • Venues where concerts and events are held
  • Garden tools, such as leaf blowers, lawnmowers, and power tools
  • Commuter and freight train lines
  • Fire and police stations

Below are the approximate sound levels in decibels of a few sources of noise pollution to give you a sense of their health risks:

  • Police sirens: 118 dB
  • Car without a muffler: 115 dB
  • Car with a hole in its muffler: 111 dB
  • Leaf blower: 110 dB
  • Circular saw: 107 dB
  • Power mower: 92 dB
  • Train, 50 feet away: 88 dB
  • Heavy traffic: 85 dB
  • Freeway traffic: 70 dB

Why is noise pollution a problem?

When you’re exposed to noise pollution repeatedly and over long periods of time, you could experience hearing loss, stress-related illnesses, high blood pressure, speech interference, sleep disruption, and lost productivity. Noise-induced hearing loss can also occur when one is exposed to noise above 85 decibels for a prolonged period of time.

A 2014 report published by the National Institutes of Health revealed that tens of millions of Americans suffer from these health issues because of noise exposure. “Noise is an invisible pollutant that affects our breathing, brain waves and well-being, while silence replenishes and calms,” says Poppy Szkiler, founder and managing director of Quiet Mark, a UK-based global noise-reduction product testing and awards program.

A map used to find noise pollution.
Source: (oxana v / Unsplash)

Yikes! How do I know if a house I want to buy might have a noise pollution problem?

If you are in the market for a new home and feel that noise pollution might be an issue, you can start by checking the Department of National Transportation’s noise map. This handy tool shows you the road and aviation noise levels all over the United States.

You can also search the address of the properties you are considering on Google Maps to discern how far the home is from potential noise pollution creators, such as :

  • Nearby highways and thoroughfares
  • Train tracks
  • Airports
  • Military bases

When you head out to look at the houses on your list, consider timing; a street might be quiet five nights of the week then turn into a block party for two nights. Look at nearby businesses and amenities or facilities, such as schools, factories, and music venues, to try to figure out when peak “noisy” times may be and how loud it might get. Make sure to visit the house again during those hours.

Another great option is to ask neighbors if they ever experience any noise issues, and if so, what those issues are and at what time of day they typically happen. The best way to learn about the neighborhood and its pros and cons is by asking those who currently live there.

A river near noise pollution.
Source: (Ryan Gerrard / Unsplash)

I’m pretty sure this is noise pollution. What can I do?

If you believe your dream home is in an area affected by noise pollution, there are a few things you can do.

First, measure the decibel levels at the residence. There are a plethora of decibel meters that you can purchase to get the job done, that start at a price point of around $15. Another option is to track sound with an app. Download a smartphone app to read the decibel levels of sounds so you’ll have an idea of what you’re being exposed to.

Make sure to take measurements several times during the day to figure out when the noise is loudest, so you have a starting point. Attempt to take the average of the day and nighttime noise, then plug those numbers into this Noise Calculator to get an accurate picture of the problem.

Next, try to discover where the sound is coming from so that you can begin to take steps to insulate yourself from it. Is the issue temporary, such as the construction of a new home, or permanent, such as proximity to an industrial complex?

Once you have figured out where the issue is coming from, if you think it’ll be helpful, attempt to talk with those causing the disturbance. Find out if the neighborhood has a neighborhood association, as that will be your next line of defense.

If you feel that the noise issues are not temporary issues but the permanent state of the environment, it’s time to try to mitigate the situation.

Epifanio says that buying a home is all about “location, condition and price. In the case of noise pollution, the location is adverse, so the price may need to be adjusted.”

With the help of a skilled and experienced buyer’s agent you can attempt to negotiate with the home’s seller to make certain improvements to the property prior to purchase or explore the idea of monetary compensation for you to make those improvements after purchase. You have a few options here:

Secure the outside of your home 

Secure the inside of the home

  • Install carpet or use area rugs; this will help a great deal with dampening unwanted noise.
  • Install drapes on the windows to dampen exterior sounds. Quiet Home Lab has assembled a list of the best noise-reducing curtains out there.
  • Seal cracks and holes in your doors with foam sealant or caulk.
  • Install triple-pane windows, which seal two layers of gas within a frame. They provide good sound reduction as well as insulation in colder climates.
  • Replace hollow doors with solid core doors to dampen sound.
  • Purchase a white noise machine for the interior of your home. These start as low as $20 and go up in price depending on the bells and whistles included in the unit.

Report the noise

If you have tried all of these options and are still experiencing a problem, the next step is to reach out to those agencies that are responsible for monitoring and controlling associated noise.

  • Local and state governments generally have jurisdiction over construction and industrial noise issues. Simply type your ZIP code and the words “help with noise pollution” into Google to find the site where you can report a problem.
  • Visit the FAA website for aircraft noise complaints
  • Visit the FHWA for highway noise complaints

Now that you know what noise pollution is, the effect it can have on your quality of life, and some options to mitigate it, you are well on your way to making your new dream home even more dreamy.

Header Image Source: (Brandon DesJarlais / Unsplash)