The Sound of Silence: How to Reduce Home Noise

Loud neighbors, lumbering trucks, barking dogs, construction crews—the world’s a noisy place. But with a few simple fixes, you can turn your loud home into a quiet, serene haven.

| May/June 2011

We live fast, noisy lives facilitated by loud machines. High-speed expressways roar through towns. Cell phone conversations are everywhere. Our homes are a symphony of digital beeps, from the computer to the dishwasher. We barely notice lawn mowers and chain saws—noises that would have made our ancestors jump and run.

Thunder was the loudest noise that rocked pre-industrial humans. Before internal combustion, roars and booms signaled danger, and our bodies still react to loud noises with a prehist- oric adrenaline surge: Our hearts pump harder, our blood pressure rises, our blood vessels constrict. Living in a din of ringtones, mechanical humming, and loud and unrelenting advertising, it’s no wonder we get a little stressed. Chronic noise can stress the endocrine, cardiovascular and immune systems, and children from highly noisy households have been found to experience delayed language skills and increased anxiety. Noise disturbs sleep, affects emotional well-being, and may contribute to heart disease and mental illness. Fortunately, there are ways to keep noise at bay in your home.

Disturbing the Peace 

Civilizations have been trying to control urban noise since cities began. In 6000 B.C., the Sybarites banned blacksmiths and cabinetmakers from working in residential areas (the first zoning). Julius Caesar reportedly tried to outlaw chariots speeding over cobblestones because of the clamor they created. In medieval Europe, horse carriages and horseback riding were not allowed at night in some cities; straw was strewn on the streets to muffle the sound of hooves and wheels by day. Inside well-to-do homes, thick tapestries and straw on the floors protected bluebloods from hawkers’ and street musicians’ perpetual noise.

Modern living has made urban noise a bigger problem than the Romans could have imagined. Over the past 15 years, the noise level in major metropolitan areas has increased sixfold; urban noise doubles every eight to 10 years. Noise complaints are the most prevalent to the New York Police Department’s Quality of Life hotline.

Our homes should be a refuge from all that, but too often they’re filled with constant bumps and grinds: refrigerators’ and air conditioners’ incessant humming, the heater’s low roar, the startling thunk of the washing machine’s automatic water shutoff, the coffee grinder’s high-pitched whirr, the neighbor kid practicing his bass guitar or violin.

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