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Summertime Heat Brings Noise Pollution

Baby, It’s Hot Outside and A/C Noise is Raising Tempers

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.

Summertime Sounds: Lawnmowers Add to Second-Hand Noise Pollution

Summer is here, and with it come the familiar sights, scents, and sounds of the season.  We all love the smell of fresh cut grass, but the noise emanating from the lawn mowers? Not so much.  This may or may not surprise anyone, but the noise from lawn mowers is causing hearing damage to the folks who are doing the mowing.

Gas-powered lawn mowers can reach 90-106 decibels, while the threshold for continuous noise is 85 decibels before hearing damage begins to become an issue. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 85 decibels over an eight hour day is the maximum permissible in a work environment before hearing is threatened. For every five decibels over 85, those permissible hours are cut in half. Allow me to do the math here: exposure to 90 decibels and permissible (safe) hours drop to four. Ninety-five decibels, two hours. One hundred decibels, and exposure should not last more than one hour.

Most professional lawn care workers do wear hearing protection, but what about weekend mowers?  Folks who are mowing their own lawns, and young people mowing neighborhood lawns to earn spending cash? These are the the people who are not as aware (if they are aware at all) of the dangers of prolonged exposure to the mower’s noise.

Compounding the problem?  iPods.  People are cranking up their iPods so they can hear their music over the blare of the lawn mower.  The two sources of loud decibel noise can make for a serious assault on the ear buds.

For many of us, listening to music at full volume is one of the pleasures of mowing the lawn. I am just as guilty as the next person – at least I used to be. I don’t play with fire these days, and I try to protect my hearing at all costs. Hearing protection, in the form of good, industrial ear plugs while you’re mowing the lawn is going to spare your delicate ears a lifetime of trouble.

In addition to the decibel dangers of lawn mowers to their operators, let’s take a look at the effects of lawn mower noise on the neighbors who can’t escape it. In most areas of the country, people have windows open and spend more time outdoors in the summer. But the drone of lawnmowers from morning to night takes a toll on everyone subjected to the sound, whether they know it or not.  Lawn mowers can disrupt an otherwise peaceful Sunday afternoon, wake us too early on any given morning, and contribute to the noise pollution that is effecting the health of humans and animals.

Lawn mower noise easily falls into that category of second-hand noise pollution, a term used to describe noise that is experienced by people who did not produce it. There’s a growing school of thought that second-hand noise is as detrimental to our health as second-hand smoke, and even some who consider second-hand noise a civil rights issue.

More and more people are looking for new ways to protect themselves and their families from pervasive noise by installing noise blocking and noise absorbing materials into their homes and offices, and even sound blocking fencing in their yards. But summertime is all about being outdoors, and yet outdoors is becoming less pleasant all the time, especially when you have two or three neighbors mowing at the same time.

For anyone in the market for a new lawnmower who is interested in not contributing to the neighborhood din, check out the chart I came across at a site called PeoplePoweredMachines.com.

With a header that announces “Your lawnmower choice will affect the quality of your neighborhood,” the chart offers some detailed options for choosing a quieter lawnmower that might be a welcome change in your neighborhood.

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2017-10-26T13:47:39+00:00