Windows in Los Angeles

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NOISES OFF: A second layer of windows dramatically lowers outside sounds at the Mozaic at Union Station Apartments in Los Angeles.

Shhhh! When a Home Is Too Loud

With many people working or studying remotely, these strategies may help cut down the noise.

January - February
2021

Key takeaways:

  • Acoustic consultants are being asked to provide noise reduction help as remote work grows and home buyers are paying more attention to sound levels inside and outside homes.
  • Real estate pros and developers are being proactive in addressing noise issues that could hamper resale or leasing.
  • Noise reduction techniques tackle challenges from windows, doors, open floor plans, and hard flooring surfaces.

The ability to work from home during the pandemic has been a blessing for many people, but it’s also made some acutely aware of the absence of one element helpful for productivity: quiet. Many have taken to barricading themselves in closets or hiding in their cars to insulate themselves from chatty household members or noisy street sounds. Echo-prone open floor plans have exacerbated the problem as family members concurrently try to do their jobs or attend remote school.

Enter acoustic consultants, armed with sound- proof design techniques and technology to bring some peace and quiet to home environments. Real estate pros can benefit from learning about these enhancements, which can be a valuable amenity for resale, especially for a home on a busy street.

“The pandemic has forced people to look at their home’s acoustics very differently,” says Bonnie Schnitta, founder and CEO of SoundSense, an acoustic consulting company based in Wainscott, N.Y.

Since the start of the pandemic, Schnitta’s firm has been fielding more calls from real estate professionals and homeowners about noisy plumbing, loud traffic, and household sounds amplified by open floor plans. During site visits, they’ll calculate precisely how sound reverberates in a space and offer a range of solutions, such as adding sound-absorbing fabric or foam behind wall hangings or underneath rugs. While these fixes aren’t cheap—consultation fees start at $900—many find the results are worth it.

Real estate professionals are getting help for listings with challenging acoustics. For one hard-to-sell home on a noisy street, Schnitta suggested adding a water feature in the front yard swimming pool, which, combined with a barrier, masked the road noise. The home sold two weeks later. “You can rarely completely erase road noise, but there are ways you can mitigate it,” she says.

Noise can impact resale. A 2017 realtor.com® study showed that sellers of homes within a 2-mile radius of an airport tended to see discounted prices of 13.2% compared to similar homes elsewhere in the same ZIP code. Sellers near train tracks saw average discounts of 12.3%, followed by 11.3% for nearby noisy highways.

The luxury Mozaic at Union Station Apartments in downtown Los Angeles addressed street noise issues by teaming with Veneklasen Associates, an acoustics firm, to work on soundproofing. Because 90% of outside noise entering an apartment comes through windows, behind the existing double-pane windows, they installed secondary, noise-mitigating windows that dampen sound vibrations and prevent sound leaks using recording studio-style soundproofing technology.

Window add-ons from Soundproof Windows Inc. cost $790 to $1,070 apiece, while a sliding glass door insert sells for about $1,600.

Noise reduction can be as simple as adding a $50 door seal or as complex as spending $10,000 or more for full-home soundproofing. Here’s a range of recommendations from acoustic consultants:

  • Cover hard surfaces. Hard, highly reflective surfaces are among the worst sound offenders. Use softer materials, such as area rugs with a sound-absorbing pad underneath and fabric-covered furniture, suggests Audimute, an acoustic design consultation firm.
  • Reduce echoes in open spaces. In open floor plans, sound can bounce everywhere. SoundSense and Audimute offer fabric-covered panels to add onto walls for sound absorption. Or try bookcases—even just half-full—against walls to help absorb sounds. Artwork can also be used as a sound barrier. SoundSense makes a Paradise Foam product, which can be tucked behind canvased art to mitigate noise.
  • Seal doors and windows. Soundproofing companies offer acoustic door seal kits that fit snugly around doors or window edges to reduce sound coming through cracks.
  • Add sound-absorbing shades or drapes. Roman shades, using heavy fabric, can help reduce noise, as can cellular shades and plantation shutters. Heavy drapes and curtains—think suede or velvet—are also effective at absorbing outside noise.
  • Go green. In addition to improving air quality, houseplants can help reduce noise. (They’re most beneficial on hard-surface floors.) Consider a tall, potted Norfolk pine in room corners, Schnitta says. Sound will bounce from the wall onto the foliage instead of throughout the room.

“When [buyers] walk into a home and hear an echo, it can be a turnoff,” Schnitta says. In a listing, “there are several inexpensive things you can do: Put in an area rug with a specialized pad. Put a plant in the corner, even if it’s artificial. Add a bookcase. All of this can make a big difference when it comes to sound.”

How Noisy Is That Listing?

In 2020, realtor.com® began displaying noise levels near listings to help house hunters before a visit. The tool takes into account traffic, airports, and local sources, such as from restaurants, gas stations, sports stadiums, schools, and more. Noise levels are rated as high, medium, or low for the listed property, while a heat map displays noise levels in the immediate area. Also, the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics offers a National Transportation Noise Map to learn about noise pollution in an area or via an address search. It gauges noise from nearby interstate highways and airports.

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