Mowing Down Noise, Seeking Silence
One of the most pervasive sources of noise pollution in suburban neighborhoods is lawn equipment. The Noise Pollution Clearinghouse (NPC), a nonprofit agency providing access to a variety of materials on controlling noise pollution, has chosen lawn equipment as one of its primary focuses.
“The average life of the lawn mowers and weed trimmers in the United States today is about seven years,” says NPC executive director Les Blomberg. “By 2011 most of today’s stock will be in the recycle heap. There is a tremendous opportunity to reshape our neighborhood soundscapes by reshaping the lawn and garden marketplace.”
According to data provided by the NPC’s annual “Quiet Lawns” report, which rates various brands of lawn mowers on noisiness, a typical two-stroke gas-powered lawn mower subjects the operator to 85–90 dBA and should be operated only while wearing hearing protection. The latest (2004 model year) gas mowers employ four-stroke engines producing as little as 82 dBA. Electric-powered lawn mowers are quieter still, with the best model emitting only 68 dBA and not requiring the use of hearing protection. For small, evenly contoured lawns, consumers may want to purchase an old-fashioned reel lawn mower, used by golf courses because of their better cut. Some models produce as little as 63 dBA.
The NPC will be adding ratings for weed trimmers and chain saws to its annual report. “Our motto is ‘good neighbors keep their noise to themselves,’” Blomberg says.
As awareness is raised about the effects of noise on human health and well-being, public demand for controlling that noise will increase. In the not-too-distant future, technologies for developing machines that generate excessive sound may also incorporate the technology to suppress it. For societies seeking to cope with sensory overload, devices and innovations to reduce the sounds of modern life—and thus noise pollution—are good news indeed.