Today’s collegiate, high school, and recreational multi-sport complexes are getting larger, more complex and costly, and ultimately, noisier for residents who live near them. The collegiate sports facility market alone continues to grow and evolve. As student enrollment increases, outdated facilities age, programs shift and competition on the athletic recruiting front grows more intense.
With the increased expansion of outdoor collegiate sports complexes near residential areas, more and more people are experiencing noise disturbances near their homes. This noise pollution can diminish privacy, affect peace of mind, and increase tension levels for many people. Increasingly, municipalities are looking closer at potential noise issues before new complexes are built. They are seeking proactive approaches and new ways of controlling noise before they are built, rather than rely on reactive solutions later that may or may not be effective.
Let’s look at some recent happenings that made the news at a few colleges and universities. As student populations grow, so must the campuses and physical elements of these schools. As they grow and expand closer and closer to residential areas, so too does the intrusion of noises these complexes onto nearby residential areas.
Northern Kentucky University (NKU), located in Highland Heights, KY, (about 12 miles southeast of downtown Cincinnati) built a new $6.5 million soccer stadium to support its successful men’s and women’s soccer teams. The beautiful, new open-air soccer stadium was built into a hillside on university property near the school’s $69 million state-of-the-art basketball arena.
The soccer field borders a residential area located near the backside of the field. Music and voices from the game announcer is broadcast over a public address system before, during and after games. Over the past year, nearby residents have voiced concerns to the university and to the Highland Heights City Council about the noise levels at the complex. Recently, the university announced it is turning to a commonly used solution; planting evergreen trees along the backside area to partially block the noise to nearby residents during games and activities at the soccer complex. These tree barriers are generally not an effective and acceptable noise reduction solution.
Similarly, West Virginia University (WVU), located in Morgantown, WV was facing a noise issue at their collegiate soccer complex (shown directly above and at the top of the article). However, rather than using only a natural product like trees to partially block the line of site noise, WVU is taking a more modern and proven approach to solving their noise concerns. They decided to use Acoustiblok’s Acoustifence product, a 1/8-inch thick unique sound deadening material that easily attaches to fences to form a noise barrier. It’s a simple and economical first step noise abatement solution that provides a noise blocker. The material itself provides a meaningful reduction in sound and can represent more than an 80 percent reduction in sound to the human ear depending on the surrounding environment. It is virtually indestructible, very resilient and is proven to reduce noise.
In Kalamazoo, MI, Kalamazoo College (shown below) recently built a new $16-million sports complex that is near a residential community. Even though the new complex is aesthetically pleasing to the residents, some residents of Seven Oaks, Rob Roy on the Lake, and other neighborhoods in the River Hills area formed an organization to oppose the sports complex and retained an attorney to represent their interests. In addition to the traffic issues, they cite problems with wastewater, light pollution and noise. Some residents are concerned that the complex will affect their property values.
So the next time the referee blows the whistle to signal the start of a collegiate sports match, it may not be the hundreds or thousands of spectators in the stands that make the most noise. It may be nearby residents who make the loudest noise after the games through noise complaints City Council about their noisy neighbors.
For years the FAA has been working with residents living within so-called noise impact areas of U.S. airports by providing grants to pay for soundproofing materials to be installed in homes within these designated areas.
With aircraft noise pollution named as one of the most maddening and volatile environmental problems among homeowners today, it makes sense that the FAA is stepping in with noise abatement measures for residents who not only fear the health risks of the high decibel noise, but want to protect their real estate values as well. Noise pollution is associated with serious health problems, sleep deprivation, lowered productivity and other issues.
Although governmental agencies are stepping up to the plate to address the rising problem of noise pollution, the tables can turn unexpectedly for citizens who live in areas in which airport-related noise pollution levels are actually being lowered.
Residents living around the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California are eligible for federal funding to soundproof their homes, but they’re being told to act fast because the area impacted by air traffic noise pollution around the airport is actually growing smaller.
The shrinking noise-impact zone is changing the status of some residents because fewer flights are coming in and out of the airfield, and aircrafts are being built or modified to operate more quietly, which means the noise-impact zone is expected to condense.
Homeowners who already qualify for the grant-funded soundproofing need to act quickly and take advantage of the FAA-sponsored soundproofing improvements to their homes now, according to the airport’s Executive Director Dan Feger.
“People who have the opportunity right now should take advantage of it because in all likelihood funding for that will go away,” Feger said at a recent meeting of the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority.
The first draft of a noise-impact forecast on noise around the airport will now go to the FAA, which has six months to review it.
Since the launch of the soundproofing program, 2,356 single- and multi-family residences have had soundproofing materials installed, and another 357 residential owners have expressed an interest in having these measures taken in their homes as well.
But the owners of 1,926 eligible homes have yet to take advantage of the noise barrier measures offered to them by the FAA.
The decreasing noise-impact boundary surrounding the airport is a welcome sign for anti-noise pollution advocates, who say this is not the norm for airports nationwide. But with the decrease in noise pollution comes the very real fear that falling passenger figures are going to have a negative economic impact on the airport, which handles about 123,000 operations every year including commercial and private planes, helicopters and cargo aircraft.
When the last noise-impact study was completed in 1998, the airport handled 184,500 aircraft operations annually, so the drop-off is significant, However, projections show a rebound in flight numbers between now and 2017, which means this shrinking impact boundary may be short lived.
But homeowners who are eligible for the soundproofing now will lose that eligibility once the smaller noise impact boundary is confirmed and funding is halted. Even if the noise-impact boundary grows again in the future, there are no guarantees that the FAA will provide future home soundproofing for anyone.
Just three months ago, the FAA committed an additional $1 million to soundproof residences within earshot of the Bob Hope airfield’s flight paths in the area’s ongoing effort to reduce the impact of aircraft noise.
The average cost to install soundproofing materials is estimated at $32,094 per home, according to a project report.
In addition, a voluntary curfew was put in place from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. for commercial passenger airlines, but not for UPS or FedEx, which have to be able to fly their cargo into the airport to ensure their morning deliveries.
Funding for the soundproofing program comes from an existing Federal Aviation Administration grant, passenger charges, and the airport authority’s general fund.
Cities throughout the U.S. have similar FAA-sponsored soundproofing programs to alleviate the impact of aircraft noise on citizens who are adversely affected.
When Apple opened its new Palo Alto store last month, everyone was impressed – for about a minute. The new store is an architectural vision, 5,000 square feet of glass walls, a curved glass roof, and Italian stone hand-selected by Steve Jobs himself before his death in 2011. The store is a spectacular sight, especially at night when it is flooded by strategically engineered lighting.
Unfortunately, this vision in glass and stone was designed and built with no noise absorption whatsoever in place. In fact, the noise from reverberant sound bouncing off all these hard surfaces is so hard on the ears, customers are visiting once and fleeing after a short time. Apple’s $15 million echo chamber is been described as “earsplitting,” “almost unbearably noisy,” and “one big noise machine.”
One visitor told her husband she would not return to the store after spending just a few minutes – she’s afraid of suffering hearing loss.
Are people exaggerating about the noise? Well, in his own blog “Minding the (Apple) Store,” Former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassée wrote that a visit to the store shortly after its opening did not have the impact he was hoping for. Gassée said the new store is indeed big, bold, elegant, but almost unbearably noisy.
The quintessential testament to Apple’s success, painstakingly designed down to the most minute detail and meant to be a prototype for future stores, is an acoustical failure. Already people who have visited the store are refusing to return because of the high noise levels caused by sound reverberating off its entirely hard surfaces with no noise absorption whatsoever.
After his initial visit, Gassée returned a few days later with a decibel-measuring app he uploaded to his iPhone, and was stunned by findings. The sounds within the store measured above 75 decibels – five decibels higher than the 70dB threshold the EPA says can cause hearing damage from long term exposure.
Naturally the main question floating inside and outside the Apple organization at the moment is, “what were they thinking?”
Gassée even writes that the sound levels in the store are not just annoying - they're dangerously high. Employees subjected to this level of noise for eight hours per day are at an elevated risk of hearing damage and loss, and for every hour beyond eight that someone remains in the store, the risk increases exponentially.
It’s not the first time that Apple ended up looking as if it didn’t think things through thoroughly, although for the most part the company is known for its meticulous attention to detail; Apple generally enjoys a reputation of striving for excellence.
Nor is Apple the first company to blow a great architectural design by giving no forethought to acoustics either, especially in recent years when hard surfaces and minimalist design have become highly desirable.
But it has to be discouraging that the reverberant noise and deafening acoustics for which hard surface structures are notorious slipped past the architects and contractors, and came as a total surprise to everyone only after the store opened.
One company insider was quoted as saying, “It’s bad for customers, it’s bad for the staff, it’s bad for business, and it’s bad for the brand. Apple appears to be more concerned with style than with substance!”
Gassée likened the failure to the recent Apple Maps catastrophe.
“An obvious problem ignored,” he said.
When all was said and done, Gassée found that the inside of the store measured a full 10 decibels louder than the street traffic noise outside on high-trafficked University Avenue. When you’re talking decibels, sound pressure doubles for every three decibel increase in the environment. That said, a 10 decibel increase makes the noise inside the Apple Store about 10 times louder than the street noise outside.
It should be interesting to see who is held to the proverbial fire over this blunder, but to their credit, Apple is studying the noise problem and working on an answer. And although there’s no telling how long it might take, there’s little doubt the company will resolve the issue.
They’re Apple. They can do anything, right?
We've all experienced the frustration of trying to focus on a challenging or difficult task, only to be distracted by noise. By studying how annoying sounds that can interfere with our productivity, arrchitects are learning to design better building environments, and law makers can more effectively address noise regulations, right?
That's the goal, or at least part of it, of a new study on how short bursts of noise affect the mental state of people who are trying to focus on a difficult problem - in this study, it's math problems. That's right, researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln played short bursts of noise clips while test participants tried to solve math problems that required focus.
The researchers were able to document a general trend in lowered performance when louder noise was played, but more interestingly, they were able to identify the sound level ranges that caused study participants to make note of their annoyance.
The research was triggered by NASA's low-boom supersonic aircraft program. Sonic booms are generated when aircraft traveling faster than the speed of sound leave cones of compressed air in their wake - the resulting noise is extremely loud and can be unnerving to the unsuspecting who are within earshot.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began flying supersonic jets over Oklahoma City routinely back in 1964 as part of a test called Operation Bongo, immediately causing citizens to complain and file damage claims. Today, NASA is developing aircraft that leave a softer boom, if you will, although it is not clear at what volume the regular booms caused by commercial supersonic aircraft flying over land would be acceptable.
For this study, Architectural Acoustician Lily Wang of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln worked with graduate student Christopher Ainley to design an experiment that tests how sudden bursts of noise affects a person's performance and perceptions. In the past, sudies have looked at noises that are very loud - 80 decibels or more - which, as expected, established a marked effect on the test subject's ability to concentrate and solve problems.
For this study, Wang and her team reduced the volume to determine if a threshold value exists at which noise does not significantly affect the study's participants. Twenty-seven participants were instructed to memorize 6-digit numbers. Next, they were shown a four-digit number and instructed to subtract the second number from the first number in their heads, then type the answer on a keyboard. Researchers would intermittently play a burst of noise for a quarter of a second while study participants were being shown the second number.
The noise bursts (or "booms") ranged between 50 and 80 decibels - comparable to sound levels on a suburban street corner at the low end, and to a loud vacuum-cleaner at the high end. The test subjects ended up solving a lower percentage of problems correctly when interrupted with a noise at the louder end of the spectrum, but the difference between the interference cause by the louder noise and the lower noise was not enough to be statistically significant. So it appears that volume isn't necessarily the only factor when it comes to noise causing a distraction and reducing a person's productivity.
There were significant variations in the levels of annoyance that participants reported when quizzed afterwards about their perceptions of the varying noise levels, however, and it appeared that most managed to somewhat adjust to the quieter booms while the louder ones remained jolting.
"This suggests that the acceptable noise from sonic booms should not be higher than 70 decibels once it gets inside the house," Wang says.
It's important to note that the researchers' lab did not have the necessary equipment to mimic the very low-frequency component of the noise produced by sonic booms, which is an important factor in noise perception, but Wang says the study helped to clarify the effects of the short-duration characteristics of the booms. Next up, researchers hope to study perceptions of the "rattling" component of noise that is often associated with supersonic jets passing overhead.
Researchers will report their findings at the 164th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), held Oct. 22-26 in Kansas City, Missouri.
News about noise pollution seems to be trending in a big way, as growing awareness of the health risks of noise makes more and more Americans less willing to put up with it. Recent articles and news coverage about unbearably loud environments in New York, Virginia, New Orleans and Los Angeles to name just a few raise a good question: Does noise pollution have to go hand-in-hand with urban living, or are city dwellers within their rights to demand change in the form of lowered decibels?
Recent articles in the New York Times, L.A. Times, and Wall Street Journal have blown the lid off of the life-threatening nuisance that is noise pollution. Several articles hit the media in early summer pinpointing roadway traffic noise as a proven contributor to heart attacks among people exposed. Long Island and Hamptons residents are close to anarchy over the uber-rich one-percenters flying back and forth in private helicopters daily between their Hamptons vacation homes to their Manhattan offices, with no regulation in place regarding flight paths or flight times. The helicopter noise, which residents claim shakes their homes and wakes them from their sleep, is being interpreted by the unhappy neighbors of these wealthy heli-commuters as intentionally inflicted harassment .
Yet the helicopter offenders don’t seem to care that they’re making their neighbors miserable and probably even affecting their health. Or if they do care, it’s not enough to give up their airborne transportation and return to fighting Manhattan-to-Hamptons roadway traffic every day.
But the escalating attention given to the hazards of noise pollution on everyday working Americans hit home hardest a few weeks ago when the New York Times published reporter Cara Buckley’s jaw-dropping account of noise levels measured in 37 Manhattan businesses - bars, restaurants, gyms and shops. Noise levels in one of every three business visited was 10-20 decibels or more above those levels deemed safe by OSHA and the World Health Organization.
City noise is no longer something Americans are taking in stride and chalking off as the price we pay to live in the city. Shortly after Ms. Buckley’s expose ran, New York Tines architectural critic Michael Kimmelman, tweeted about Manhattan noise.
"Not a sign of big city grit, but an urban blight." he tweeted. In a follow-up tweet, Mr. Kimmelman called noise pollution “the next ecological challenge for the city."
Could it be that people are becoming proactive about noise pollution? Maybe. Architects and builders in recent years have discovered the importance of including noise abatement materials in new home and renovation designs, as noise pollution creeps further and further into every cranny of our existence, with disastrous consequences to health and hearing. Soundproofing increases the value of real estate, as buyers find real appeal in the idea of home being a true haven, particularly when home is in the heart of any major urban area.
And, new and improved noise barrier and noise deadening materials are available today for use in residential, commercial, and industrial structures. As it stands, the U.S. is significantly less stringent on acceptable decibel levels in the workplace than almost every other country on earth! The economic impact of enforcing noise abatement in public places vs. the health risks of noise pollution has so far been siding with economics. For instance, noisy sightseeing planes in the Grand Canyon have been proven to damage wildlife habitats, and impose unhealthy noise levels on tourists, park rangers, and park employees alike; but a recent bill to regulate low flying aircraft noise over the Grand Canyon was rejected by Congress during passage of a federal transportation funding bill in early July that opponents claim was unexpected and unannounced.
Ironically, this happened just before the National Park Service was about to present its final recommendations on reducing aircraft noise over the Grand Canyon – a recommendation that was formulated after years of noise studies, at a cost of $6 million, plus the collection of nearly 30,000 public comments researchers had gathered. Arizona Senator John McCain spearheaded the effort to quash aircraft noise regulation in the national park, stating that the regulations would cause serious economic hardship to small plane and helicopter tour operators at the Grand Canyon.
It’s hard to say how much longer noise pollution in the U.S. will be relatively free of limitations. At lease noise deadening materials keep improving, so that if you choose to live in the city, you can install a noise abatement solution that can give you some peace and quiet.
Hoping to find a more targeted approach to helping people who suffer from sleep deprivation, researchers have been studying the brains of people who are able to sleep through the night even when subjected to noise levels that prevent others from sleeping well.
Are some folks just better wired to block out noise? If so, can the gift nature bestowed on them be used to help others who are struggling with noise-related sleep impairment? As most of us already know, environmental noise can wreak havoc on sleep quality, which can eventually impact our health. In fact, studies showing the heightened incidents of heart attacks in people exposed to noise pollution from excessive road traffic noise note sleep disturbances among those issues that are common to most (if not all) study participants.
According to a 2009 CDC survey, approximately one in 10 Americans report difficulty sleeping. More than 50 million Americans are plagued with chronic sleep disorders that can potentially lead to serious health problems.
Electroencephalography (EEG) testing on 12 healthy people, performed by researchers from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, was used in the study to establish sleep quality. By capturing brain wave rhythms through the EEG scans, researchers could identify movements made as each test subject passed from one stage of sleep to the next.
The researchers subjected people to sensory information, including sound, which passes through the thalamus – a structure in the brain that relays sensory and motor signals to the cerebral cortex, and also regulates consciousness, sleep, and alertness. The sound passes through the thalamus before it reaches the brain’s cortex, where communication signals are processed, even during sleep.
Here’s why this is important, if somewhat confusing to non-scientists. In the second and third stages of sleep, brain wave patterns actually slow down but then are scattered with short, quick pulses called spindles. Spindles only occur during sleep, and researchers think that spindles might help block sensory information like noise from reaching the thalamus to begin with. So, maybe some extra spindle activity could be the answer to sleeping through noise?
What these researchers did to test this theory was to alter the noise levels delivered to the sleeping subjects over a three-day period. The first night they kept things quiet, but the second and third nights the subjects were exposed to noise beginning with 40 decibels for 10 second intervals. By measuring the brain activity each night and then comparing the differeces, researchers concluded that those test subjects who could sleep through noise levels equivalent to a telephone ringing or highway traffic were determined to have higher spindle rates on their EEGs.
The effects were so pronounced, according to one researcher, that they could be measured after just one noise-filled night. The next step is to figure out if behavioral techniques, new drugs, or external devices might offer an added boost to spindle activity, which will allow people who are noise sensitive to maintain a healthy, natural state of sleep when confronted with noise.
So far, the best we can do is provide a sleep environment in the home that is as quiet and possible. Installing noise blocking and noise absorbing materials into one or more rooms can have a dramatic effect on sleep quality, and the quality of our sleep plays a huge role in the quality of our lives.
It’s great that researchers are seeking answers to help people sleep in noisy environments, but before we turn to methods to interfere with noise transmission to the brain, shouldn’t we be looking at ways to reduce noise pollution from our environment first?
Noise abatement materials improve all the time, and in many new home building projects architects and contractors are writing the soundproofing material right into the design, so that installation happens before drywall goes up and there’s no worries about retrofitting later. Other options for blocking environmental noise pollution from residences and outdoor spaces are available, effective, and drug-free.
Summertime in the Hamptons is, by and large, a playground for the wealthy - including those who commute from their offices in Manhattan to their Hamptons summer retreats. Residents and vacationers love the idyllic atmosphere of charming beach towns bustling with weekday morning book readings in the local libraries, antique fairs on the weekends, and picturesque beaches often sprinkled with celebrities.
But a group of East Hampton residents is up in arms over a growing problem that is shattering their serenity - a slew of ultra-wealthy homeowners and a growing number of investment bankers and hedge funders traveling to and from the East Hampton airport daily in privately owned helicopters. Noisy helicopters, at all hours of the night and day, and on weekends.
East Hampton residents feeling tormented by the increase in noise pollution caused by the choppers have formed the “Quiet Skies Coalition” in the hopes of setting some ground rules like curfews and other limits on their noisy neighbors who don’t seem to care how much ruckus they make in their commutes.
One of the worst offenders is Wall Street hot shot and billionaire Ira Rennert, whose 63-acre Sagaponick estate was the inspiration for the book “The House That Ate the Hamptons.” Rennert’s 19-seat Sikorsky S-92 "helibus" - one of the world's most powerful civilian helicopters – carries Rennert back and forth daily. Rennert’s traumatized neighbors have registered sound levels from the chopper as it flew over their homes as high as 88 decibels, causing their homes to shake.
The World Health Organization warns against exposure to noise levels from air or roadway traffic exceeding 55 decibels.
Rennert’s neighbors, and for that matter any Long Island residents under Rennert’s flight path are subjected to not only Rennert’s chopper noise, but that of a multitude of others that can travel just minutes apart with no regulations in place regarding flight times, frequencies, or flight path.
The problem has increased in recent years as more and more affluent New Yorkers chopper their way to work and back routinely. Senator Chuck Schumer has been calling for new FAA regulations which would force helicopters to fly over waterways instead of land to protect all Long Island residents. But Hamptons residents want more.
The Quiet Skies Coalition is calling for the East Hampton airport to be closed on weekends and late nights during the week, and they want helicopters banned completely.
The helicopter businesses are fighting back, of course, by calling federal involvement in the fray “overreach” and calling for helicopter operators to voluntarily quiet the Hamptons air space on their own terms.
Helicopter noise is becoming an increasing problem over all of Long Island. Noise pollution connected to helicopters has been linked to serious health problems including cardiovascular disorders, sleep deprivation, increased anxiety, and impaired learning ability among children according to a study released by the Natural Resources Defense Council on helicopter noise pollution in New York and the Tri-State area. Helicopter take-offs and landings in the East Hampton Airport have increased 141 percent since 1998, and takeoffs and landings at Westhampton’s Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach are up 38 percent in the past year alone.
Residents of the Hamptons and Long Island are not the only victims of earsplitting helicopter noise polluting the airspace; communities in California and Virginia are turning to lawmakers to curtail flight times on private and chartered helicopters in an effort to lessen the noise impact of the choppers over their homes. But New York seems to have an unrelenting population of wealthy travelers who won't to let go of this form of transportation - they simply can't handle the idea of dealing with ground traffic to and from Manhattan.
In May, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was caught breaking a law that forbids weekend landing and take-off at the East 34th Street helipad in Manhattan. The law, more than a decade old, seems to not apply to Mayor Bloomberg, who owns a private helicopter and multiple vacation homes in the Hamptons and elsewhere. One weekend in May, Bloomberg’s helicopter took off and landed illegally eight times in two days, defying the weekend ban in place since 1998. The ban was made into law after years of complaints from New York residents plagued by the noise of the helicopters and concerned about rising noise pollution levels.
The weekend ban is policed by the helipad’s operator, which has a contract with the city. Since there are no formal fines or penalties for violations, it's anyone's guess what incentive Mayor Bloomberg or anyone else has to abide by the ban beyond common courtesy.
Residents near the East 34th Street helipad say they don’t think Mayor Bloomberg or others who use it realize the impact the noise has on their lives. Dr. Ron Sticco, a physician who lives in a high rise nearby, took the amateur video footage of the Mayor’s multiple flights that May weekend out of frustration.
Sticco told a New York Times reporter that sometimes the helicopter noise got so loud, he would have to go into his bathroom to talk on the telephone.
Critics view the helicopter trips of Rennert, Bloomberg, and other wealthy residents who rely on this mode of transportation regularly as arrogant and dismissive of the impact their noise pollution has on their neighbors, ordinary residents who live with this noise problem that seems to have no resolution,
Hunter College Professor of Political Science Kenneth Sherrill says it is indicative of the arrogance of power and entitlement among the very wealthy who have stopped thinking about the political and public consequences of their actions, and do not take the fight against noise pollution seriously.
You’ve heard the warnings many times before, and you’re even beginning to become aware of it in your own environment. Noise pollution is taking a toll on our health according to medical researchers around the globe. We all need to step up to the plate and make an effort to quiet our environments before the noise makes us ill, or worse.
Worse? Yes. Noise can kill us. It can also drive us to do crazy things.
I have written plenty of articles about the health effects of noise on humans, animals, and plant life. I have covered new findings relating traffic noise to increased incidents of heart attack, and ambient environmental noise to a host of disorders from sleeplessness to depression, increased blood pressure, delayed recovery from major illnesses and even surgery. Noise can be toxic, but if we all become at least somewhat mindful of the health risks of noise, we can take steps toward making our environments quieter, healthier places.
Once we do that, we can sit back and enjoy our improved quality of life, and watch it work its magic on our friends and families, right? Think about it, if we suddenly all became hypervigilant about our own noise emissions and eradicated 90 percent of environmental noise overnight, the serenity might be overwhelming. Would we know what to do with it, or what it would sound like?
In addition to the toll environmental noise pollution takes on our bodies, there is another way noise can lead to death - murder. Seriously, folks are murdering each other over loud stereos and high volume parties in rising numbers, and this is a whole new side effect of noise that I think we’d better start paying closer attention to. People are killing each other over noise, and the problem seems to be worsening.
OK, we know theoretically that neighbors have had deadly disputes since the Hatfields and McCoys began murdering each other back in 1863 and didn’t stop until 1891. Of course, their ongong feud wasn’t started because of noise, but it created a whole lot of noise for both families and their neighbors on the West Virginia–Kentucky border. Noise can be scary and intimidating, it can be used as a weapon. The Hatfield/McCoy noise occured in the days before restraining orders and costly noise citations were issued to prevent crimes between neighbors, so it probably got pretty loud over there on the Kentucky/West Virginia border.
Fast Forward to Brentwood California, 2004. I once watched a television news report about Actress Julie Newmar, whose Brentwood home is next door to the home of Actor James Belushi. For years these two have been making each other’s lives miserable, a feud triggered when the aging Catwoman first complained about Belushi’s loud music invading her serene home environment.
Now, neighborly spats over noise, and one neighbor’s refusal to turn down the volume causing the offended neighbor to set off on a “campaign of harassment” (so said Belushi’s $4 million lawsuit against Newman when the back and forth became unbearable) is nothing new, and neither of them killed each other (although both alluded to fantasizing about it). But they each had blood pressure spiking for years, trouble sleeping, and heightened states of stress. But, other than the fact that this was Catwoman and the younger brother of the late, great Bluto, they could easily be any two American neighbors being driven crazy over one man’s music being another man’s inability to cope.
It’s never healthy when neighbors begin behaving like bullies, but what’s worse is when one neighbor loses site of reality and takes their rage to the next level. Some people are truly hypersensitive to noise, and it can become pathological. Ligyrophobia is literally a fear of noise, and although not every guy who goes off on a tirade over the neighbor’s barking dog or noise coming from a party is ligyrophobic, you don’t want to be blasting AC/DC in your garage if your neighbor happens to suffer from the condition. Let’s face it, we really do need to become more considerate, we never know when our neighbor might have a legitimate sensitivity to noise. Ligyrophic or not, he or she may have suffered from a traumatic event in their lives, or even an illness that left them with a low tolerance for noise.
Or, they could be doing a schedule II drug like methamphetamine, which can make a person overreact to even the slightest stimuli, in which case it’s just not safe to egg them on.
Such was the case last month in Woodlawn, California when police were called to a home on a noise complaint. When they arrived on the scene, a man who wasn’t happy about noise coming from his neighbor’s house had worked himself up into quite a frenzy, flashing a toy gun he held under a towel at police – the same toy gun he had waved at his noisy neighbors just minutes earlier in an encouraging gesture to get them to turn down their stereo. Of course, brandishing even a toy gun is highly illegal, especially when you do it with methamphetamine in your bloodstream and in a little bag hidden in your sock for later. Had the toy gun been real, the noisy neighbors may never have learned how close to a psychotic episode their noise-sensitive by means of meth neighbor had come, and how seriously agitated he was over their loud music.
Methamphetamine ingestion can cause a person do rash things he or she might never do ordinarily, like shoot their noisy neighbors who refuse a request to pipe down.
And for more than a year we’ve been glued to the trial of a 46-year-old retired firefighter from Houston who shot his unarmed neighbor, a 36-year-old school teacher, over noise coming from a birthday party being hosted in the school teacher’s home next door. The shooter, Raul Rodriguez, insisted he had the right to “stand his ground” at the base of the noisy neghbor's driveway and shoot the neighbor along with two other victims. Rodriguez had a reputation for being a hothead and a bully, and he seriously believed he could use deadly force against a neighbor because the birthday party noise was agitating him. He’ll spend 40 years in prison, having been convicted of murdering his neighbor over noise.
Weren't most of us at one time that smart aleck who thought it was funny to crank the stereo louder when a neighbor complained? It really wasn't a thoughtful gesture, and had I known then what I know now, I would not have participated in those antics. Noise is perceived differently by everyone, and even the most level headed among us, when subjected to noise that is invasive and inescapable for an extended period of time can be driven nuts. Our bodies aren’t designed for long stretches of high decibels. Some of us are more sensitive to noise than others. Of course, we expect our neighbors not to turn into murderous lunatics over sounds that we enjoy and relate to good times, but if they’ve knocked on your door, called you on your phone, or contacted the police because the noise is bothering them, they’re telling you the noise is too loud.
Turn it down. Buy some headphones. Install soundproofing material in your garage or home media room to block and absorb noise so you can crank your stereo without invading your neighbor's privacy.
Everyone will live longer.
When the noise from a residential a/c unit is ignored long enough, even the mildest mannered neighbors can turn into vandals. Who's to blame when it comes to this?
Twenty years ago, the majority of Americans north of the Mason Dixon line braved the few weeks of summer that were unbearably hot (which meant 97-degrees) without air conditioning - once considered an unnecessary luxury in the North. Folks depended on fans, icy beverages, and a neighborhood pool to get them through a heat wave, which never lasted more than a few weeks.
With climate changes raising temperatures in states like Michigan and New York to triple digit levels that would make Floridians gasp, people don’t consider home air conditioning to be a luxury any more, it's become a necessity. Drive through any Boston or Newark neighborhood this week and you will probably notice the drone of air conditioning units that fills the air in what were once bucolic suburban communities. In neighborhoods where homes are particularly close together, noise from one home’s air conditioning compressor could have the next door neighbors seeing red.
Depending on where the unit is placed, an air conditioner's compressor can be much more annoying to the neighbors than it is to you – in fact, unless it’s near a window in your home and you notice the glass rattling, you may never realize how much noise your air conditioning unit is emitting. If you notice that your neighbors who do not have air conditioning are keeping their windows closed, you can bet the racket from your a/c unit may be too much for them. They’d rather broil in their home than be driven nuts by your a/c's clatter.
In a recent article in Boston.com, guest columnist Rona Fischman recalls a case from 10 years ago of a young child who couldn’t sleep due to noise emanating from the neighbor’s a/c unit. The little girl was sensitive to vibrational noise, and the next door neighbor’s clattering air conditioning unit was keeping her awake nights. The a/c owner felt badly for the child, but not badly enough to turn off his air conditioning. The case went to court, and the air conditioner was eventually silenced with effective outdoor noise abatement material that reduced noise levels and vibration considerably – enough to satisfy the parents of the sleep deprived child.
Today, we know more about tackling noise, including noise from vibration, and we have better noise insulating and noise absorbing barrier materials than ever before. Many conscientious homeowners are successfully quieting their noisy a/c and heat pump units for the sake of maintaining peace with their neighbors. However it isn’t always easy to accomplish and If the noise includes vibration, a combination of sound absorbing material and noise barrier material works best.
Some people think that planting a foliage berm in front of the cranky unit will serve to reduce noise leaking into the neighbor's air space, but it’s actually a bad idea. If your air conditioning compressor is located outside the windows of a room in your home that is meant to be quiet, like a bedroom – even if the a/c unit is at ground level and the bedroom is on the second floor - you might be surprised to learn that sound is reflected off of trees and foliage and sent back toward the source. So now your neighbors are losing sleep and so are you, which at this point may give them some weird satisfaction.
Placement of the air conditioning unit is everything. If you purchase or rent a home that has an a/c unit at the side of the house, and the space between your home and the neighbor’s is tight, the likelihood that it is going to be excessively noisy is raised, since the sound is trapped and reflected between the walls and the eaves of the two homes. A fence can’t do much to reduce the noise unless it is treated with a soundproofing material meant specifically for outdoor noise reduction.
Building a noise deadening enclosure around the unit can be a fairly simple and inexpensive task. Such an enclosure needs to be set up in a way that the unit can be accessed for repairs.
Materials used for quieting a/c and heat pump units need to meet UL standards, be safe and effective for outdoor use, and they must be able to be applied in a way that does not interfere with the compressor’s air circulation, or obstruct electrical outlets. Again, the unit must remain accessible for repairs, so the noise insulating solution must be movable or removable.
When the whirring of a compressor combines with vibrational noise, the sound effects can be maddening to neighbors who can’t escape it. Studies have shown that exposure to this type of noise pollution for long periods of time can elevate stress, cause a rise in blood pressure, interfere with concentration (a real problem with record numbers of Americans working from home today), and interfere with sleep. All of these problems can lead to serious illness, not to mention bad blood between neighbors.
Noise pollution is a serious issue in the U.S. and worldwide today, one that has infiltrated residential neighborhoods at levels unimaginable to previous generations. It’s robbing us of our hearing and our health, and interfering with the natural order of flora and fauna.
The next move has to be proactive; step forward and do what you can to alleviate the intrusion of noise from your home to your neighbor’s. The first place to address noise pollution is in our own back yards.
If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
You don’t need humans to confirm the sound of a falling tree, or any noise for that matter, as scientists will tell you. The proof is in the behavior modifications that noise has caused in the forest’s wildlife.
The impact of noise on wildlife – from birds, to elk, to whales – has garnered plenty of attention from scientists in recent years. What may or may not be surprising is that studies are showing that animals with habitats in natural settings are modifying their behaviour in response to human noise.
You know that “fight or flight” instinct that we all experience when a door unexpectedly slams, cars collide, jackhammers tear up the street or an ambulance races by, sirens blazing? The “fight or flight” instinct in wildlife is being wildly over-stimulated, and although sometimes their behaviour modification is brief, it nonetheless happens. This is a real problem, as planet earth seems to be buckling to the impact of man-made noise on its ecosystems.
A 2009 article in Park Science describes animals reacting to human commotion in the reflexive manner of a creature suddenly threatened by predators. In humans, we know that these responses, when over stimulated for ongoing stretches of time, can lead to elevated blood pressure, stress, sleeplessness, depression and even heart disease. In wildlife, the constant flare-ups of anti-predator behavior interferes with their ability to perform normal functions, like foraging for food and taking care of their young.
The fear among scientists is that, as human-caused noise disturbances to wildlife become more frequent, populations of species could start to fade.
In Northern California – north of San Francisco, Muir Woods presents as a redwood-vaulted oasis, a place so silent that the air can be heard circulating around the redwood branches, and the gurgling of Redwood Creek is unmistakable and exhilarating. One of the first things visitors to Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County notice is a noise level monitor.
This place wasn’t always this quiet.
Back in 2001, Muir Woods had already been abandoned by the native otter population decades earlier, and pileated woodpeckers had abandoned the national park as well. A familiar pair of northern spotted owl – endangered species, in fact – were not frequenting the redwood cove as often as they once had, and park rangers were growing concerned.
Adding insult to injury, an asphalt walkway that had been installed was interfering with the growth of the redwood’s surprisingly shallow root systems, causing at least one of the redwoods – age somewhere between 500 and 1,200 years old – to fall.
Still, the man-made noise issue was the most worrisome, as the clamor of garbage can lids and park maintenance vans infested the park. Tying its proverbial noose, it seemed, was the park’s proximity to a metropolitan area of seven million people.
For decades, park rangers and scientists have been worried about the affects of human noise on wildlife, but little was done about it. Eventually, however, an effort to restore the Muir Wood’s natural sounds took hold.
Slowly, mechanical sounds were silenced, and park visitors followed suit. With a concerted effort, human noise was all but squelched. Signs posted near Cathedral Grove in the center of the park request silence from visitors. The decibel meter near the gift shop entrance that measures the voices of visitors had one park visitor commenting that they could see themself crunching on potato chips, as the decibel meter jumped with every crunch.
Today, there are times when the quiet in the park is so absolute, it seems possible to hear a banana slug slither by. According to scientists, this level of quiet is critical to the well-being of the native wildlife, which is recovering from the man-made cacophony that threatened its existence not too long ago.
Officials at some of the country’s national parks have worried about noise, and some have taken steps to make changes. Noise issues vary dramatically from one park to another. In the Florida Everglades, generators have been silenced at a campground, and park caretakers are trying to negotiate with airboat operators to measure the impact of their fans – which can mimic the sound of jet engines – to see if the noise they generate can be reduced. They have also approached officials at Homestead Air Force Base south of Miami about the timing of the sonic booms that shake the saw grass.
Noise reduction measures are being taken at some national parks, while there are high profile noise battles going on at others.
Park managers at the Grand Canyon want to require aircraft operators to shift to quieter planes, fly higher above the canyon’s northern rim, and refrain from flying at dawn or dusk. Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, has introduced legislation that would not only preempt the park’s plan to reel in aircraft noise, but would consider noise standards met if for at least 75 percent of the day, 50 percent of the park is free of commercial air tour noise.
Arizona environmental organizations have denounced McCain’s proposal, calling it a give-away to the air tour operators and an excuse to redefine what constitutes natural quiet.
A McCain spokesperson says the amendment was a measure to protect tourism jobs.
One of the most remarkable outcomes of the Muir Woods study comes from a year-long inventory taken of all sounds, natural and otherwise, in four places in the park. It was discovered that noise from the parking lot and gift shop bled a quarter-mile into the forest.
The parking lot was moved about 100 yards farther from the entrance, an ice machine was removed and the decibel meter was installed.
Park rangers are still establishing the affect that the reclaimed quiet has had on the park’s wildlife, since other clean up procedures were enacted at the same time, including removal of invasive weeds, elimination of the asphalt walkway, and installation of a new boardwalk that prevents visitors from walking on the forest’s spongy, porous moss-covered floor.
They say they don’t know the results yet. But otters have returned after a 74-year absence, and chipmunks are coming back as well.
In fact, two breeding pair of the rare, spotted nocturnal owls are inhabiting the Muir Woods site today.