When it comes to combating noise pollution, how do U.S. communities take measure of a problem that often does not affect every listener the same way? Samantha Johnson wakes every night at 2 a.m., thanks to the train that barrels behind the house she has lived in for three years.
Her neighbor three houses up says she is never bothered by the train, and has never been woken at night.
“It’s hard for me to believe that any of my neighbors aren’t bothered by the train noise,” Johnson says. “My neighbor says she never hears the trains, and we have never adjusted to them.”
There are two railroad crossings in the downtown area of Johnson’s community, a bustling area with a mix of homes and shops, increasing auto traffic and both commuter and freight trains. After some local residents complained about noise from the train and the train whistle, town officials budgeted a study to determine whether a quiet zone should be created downtown.
To Johnson’s dismay, most of her town’s residents haven’t exactly rallied to the “quiet zone” cause.
“We have received a few complaints from three or four individuals," said Town Manager Ray Smithson.
“Our residents aren’t gathering en masse to demand we do something about noise, but we try to take the concerns of all our residents seriously, and creating a quiet zone may be a solution.”
Traffic, trains, construction crews hammering first thing in the morning, neighbors with power lawn mowers and noisy heat pumps have all created their fair share of noise.
But what constitutes noise to some people may barely register in the background to others.
John Hammond, an acoustical consultant, has found that noise tolerance is largely subjective. Some people live comfortably in city apartments surrounded by trains, traffic and people, while others living in an isolated country home are kept awake at night by crickets.
Noise is measured in decibels, which Hammond compared to air temperature. Generally, a level of 70 decibels is comfortable, just as 70 degrees is a pleasant temperature. When noise reaches 100 decibels, it hurts.
A soft whisper reaches about 30 decibels, according to the League for the Hard of Hearing. A normal conversation hits 60 decibels, a ringing telephone 80 decibels, a leaf blower 110 decibels and a balloon pop 157 decibels.
"It's a tolerance level," Hammond says. "Some people have zero noise tolerance, but for most people noise doesn’t become a problem until it interferes with what they're doing.”
For the most part, background noise such as traffic or even, for some people, airplanes soaring overhead are not what bug us.
A pure tone, a sound that stays in a narrow frequency range, is the most irritating - like the hum from a fluorescent light fixture. Noise that covers a range of frequencies, such as ocean waves or wind blowing through dried leaves, is not usually annoying.
"If you went out to an expressway and you listened to that sound, even though it's loud and you can't carry on a conversation, it's not particularly aggravating to you," Hammond said. "People will not tolerate a pure tone; for instance, if you had a flute and you played a constant, steady C; hat's like a pure tone, a very narrow frequency, and it can drive many people to distraction."
Studies are showing that excessive noise can damage hearing, disrupt sleep, induce stress and generally lower our quality of life. Noise tops the list of complaints people raise about the neighborhoods in which they live, and the hotels in which they spend vacation or business time.
Still, there are no blanket policies on noise at the national level. There was an Office of Noise Abatement and Control within the Environmental Protection Agency, but it was phased out in the early 1980s when federal officials decided noise was best regulated on a local level.
The states regulate traffic noise, conducting studies on new highways and building sound barriers where necessary. Some communities have come up with their own regulations, often after residents lodge noise complaints.
Noise laws vary from town to town. Some set decibel levels in its noise ordinances, while others rely on law and code enforcement officials to respond when noise levels become unreasonable. The problem is, when officials use a noise meter to measure the decibel level, more often than not the noise meter will show that the noisemaker is within the ordinance limits.
“Rarely is the complaint justified,” Hammond said.
While the decibel limits help lawmakers create ordinances, considering the subjective nature of noise complaints, one person can be unable to function due to noise that does not bother others around him.
Window coverings offer privacy, block the harsh rays of the sun and sometimes even provide a layer of insulation during the winter months, when cold air can easily leak into the home through the windows. There is a seemingly endless variety of window covering options to suit almost every taste and purpose, but not all of them provide a sound barrier to keep out the ambient noise from traffic, construction and numerous other sources. soundproofing
There are sound barrier window treatments available, but you need to do your homework in order to track down the one that works best for your home and the level of noise deadening you are looking to achieve. Many products claim to block noise, but few actually deliver high caliber sound abatement over windows, which are perhaps the most difficult areas to block sound.
Sound abatement curtains come with sound dampening materials imbedded into the fabric, and have varying levels of effectiveness. In addition to curtains, there are other decorative options for silencing the noise that leaks in through windows and glass doors. Consumers report mixed results with these fixes, which lose their effectiveness in proportion to the level of noise they are trying to block.Soundproof
A company called Acousticalshutters.com produces beautiful custom noise reducing shutters for residential and business applications that block up to 10-times more outside noise than traditional shutters or curtains.
Called Shut-Eye™ acoustical shutters, they come in a variety of sizes and styles to fit virtually any window or sliding glass door. Comparing Shut-Eye acoustical shutters to other products shows that Shut-Eye brand provide 25-50 decibels noise reduction, where as other window noise reduction treatments only provide 5-25 decibel reduction.
Standard windows, sliding glass doors, French doors, arches, transoms, and other windows can be covered with the Shut-Eye Acoustical Shutters to block out nearly all exterior noises. They are ideal for reducing all invasive outdoor noise from traffic, aircrafts, and nearby construction. They are well suited for hotels, condominiums, private homes, apartments, military bases, and office buildings.
The Shut-Eye Acoustical Shutters were invented by an experienced acoustical consulting firm that focused its research on the acoustical weak link in most buildings. The aim was to create a cost-effective and aesthetically pleasing noise control solution for any window, anywhere.
One of the best features of the Shut-Eye shutters is that they don’t interfere with the functionality of your windows. You can still open and close them, and clean them whenever needed.
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Able Walling Solutions, based in Guteng, South Africa has been an official distributor of Acoustiblok soundproofing materials and products since 2008.
Able Wallings Solutions, operating in Guteng for more than 10 years, has has become the industry leader in office screening and fast track demountable walling. Offering quick and easy set-up and demounting of individual panels and doors combined with guaranteed next day service has lead to Able's growth in Africa's large corporate sector, including the tough banking sector, with many of Africa’s blue chip giants opting for Able Walling Solutions's offerings.
In July 2006, Able completed a Management buy-out of the previous financial investors in the business, RMB Corvest and ALCLAD. It was then the first dedicated BEE compliant business, and still maintains a level three BEE certificate. Able's commitment to green solutions within the office environment resolves the ever-increasing demand for tried and tested sustainable construction solutions.
Acoustiblok, a pioneer in soundproofing and thermal technologies for commercial, institutional, and multi-family construction, is a unique, environmentally friendly soundproofing material widely used in the United States and throughout the world to provide serious noise control in new and existing commercial, residential, and institutional buildings.
The thin, 1/8-inch sheet Acoustiblok material, which is added to a wall before drywalling, is engineered not to stop or absorb sound, as others attempt to do, but to actually transform the sound energy into inaudible friction energy as the material flexes from the sound waves. Just one, 1/8-inch layer of Acoustiblok in a standard metal or wood stud wall will result in more sound reduction (and provide more privacy) than 12-inches of poured concrete.