But over the past 15 years the noise level in major metropolitan areas has increased sixfold. Noise is Americans’ biggest complaint about their neighborhoods and the most cited reason
for moving, according to the 2000 Census. “Background noise” from planes, car horns, voices
and music inside the typical urban home averages 50 to 60 decibels, equivalent to the rumble of an air conditioner.
Inside our homes, the constant bumps, grinds and hums of refrigerators, air conditioners,
heaters, washing machines and coffee grinders can be distracting. Today’s open floor plans with
rooms merging into one another allow sound to bounce around freely. Great rooms connect
everything to the kitchen—the loudest room in the house.
Chronic noise affects your endocrine, cardiovascular and immune systems, and children
from 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.
The good news? You can eliminate unwanted noise from your home while bringing in
more pleasant sounds. Simply follow these tips:
–If your home is particularly loud—especially in the bedroom or home office or any place
where quiet is not a luxury but a priority—bring in a white noise generator. Small enough to
fit into your palm, these devices produce gentle rushing sounds that help mask traffic noise
and voices. (Pink noise generators are more intrusive, with ocean, rain and waterfall sounds.)
–Make sure that at least 25 percent of every room contains some absorbent material such
as drapes, window blinds, carpet, fabric wall hangings or large canvas paintings. Book-filled
bookcases and deep-seated upholstered furniture—the softer and larger, the better—will also
help stop sound from bouncing around a room.
–Newer energy-efficient machines are quieter than ever, so shop with noise abatement in
mind. (Home appliance manufacturer Miele claims its vacuum cleaner is so quiet that you can
talk on the phone while using it.)
–Federal energy efficiency standards implemented in 2001 mandate that all refrigerators
use smaller compressors and inject foam into the door and side panels to increase insulation—
which also muffles sound.
–Front-loading, high-efficiency washers use less water—and therefore make less noise.
Make sure the washer and dryer are mounted on a strong, level surface so that their spinning
vibrations don’t cause them to shake and spin off-kilter.
–Cork is a great sound-absorbing material because 50 percent of its molecular structure
is air; use it for floors and also to line the inside of cupboards and drawers, which will prevent
clanging as you put away dishes and silverware.
–Place ½-inch thick rubber or cork pads under the legs or corners of large heavy
appliances such as washing machines, dryers and refrigerators to stop vibrations from
transferring to the floor.
–Move appliances at least two inches away from the wall.
–Place rubber pads under small appliances, dish racks, on countertops near the stove and
in sink basins.
–Put stereo speakers on stands to prevent turning floors or walls into whole-house
speakers. Alternatively, place rubber vibration isolator mats (available from office supply,
computer or audio equipment stores) beneath speakers and computer printers.
–Sealing any small opening through which air and noise can enter a room is the cheapest,
fastest and most efficient way to block noise. (And it doesn’t hurt your home’s energy
efficiency, either). You can test for sound leaks by darkening a room to see where light—and
therefore sound—is seeping in, then caulk or seal openings in walls and doors.