Green Interiors

Shut out the cacophony at home
by Pamela Portwood

Whether it's the plane roaring overhead, the leaf blower whining next door or our own refrigerator humming, noise pollution fills our homes. Noise pollution is more than an annoyance - it has serious health implications. A lifetime of attending loud concerts may affect your hearing, but a lifetime of lower level noise can do more than that.

Noise pollution raises our stress level, and chronic stress with high levels of stress hormones has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. Noise pollution also disturbs sleep patterns, causing stress and fatigue.

Children from very noisy homes show delayed language skills, reduced cognitive growth and increased anxiety. Since chronic stress affects immune system functions, noise pollution can compromise both children and adults' overall health.

For seniors with age-related hearing loss, reducing noise pollution can make a tremendous difference in their quality of life by fostering communication instead of isolation and by increasing safety at home. Considering that hearing loss affects 25% of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 as well as 50% of Americans 75 and older, improving home acoustics is essential.

There are solutions to noise pollution besides asking your neighbors to turn down the music or control their barking dogs. Some techniques are a boon for more than noise pollution, too.

To reduce the level of outdoor sounds coming inside, start with the initial steps for improving your home's energy efficiency by tightening the building envelope: chalk windows, weather strip doors, add rubber thresholds to doors, add insulation behind the faceplates of electrical switches and outlets, insulate walls and attics.

There are many types of low-e windows, but to improve your interior acoustics as well as your energy efficiency, choose double-paned windows filled with argon gas. Installing storm doors also adds a buffer space in front of your exterior doors.

Adding a wall of block or another solid material (the taller, the better) around your house will muffle traffic noises. Planting tall hedges or dense trees can help as well. Plus, you can enjoy a relaxing view of greenery outside your windows.

Indoors, think of soft materials: drapes and fabric shades, upholstered furniture and even table clothes. Take a cue from medieval decorators who hung tapestries on the drafty walls to keep out the cold. Tapestries, quilts or other fabric art will improve a contemporary room's acoustics.

Carpeting is a great sound absorber, but it is not a good choice for indoor air quality. It harbors dust, pollen, mold and more. Standard carpet also off gases many toxic chemicals. Using a rug to cushion a hard flooring surface is another option.

The best flooring choice for acoustic control is cork because its spongy texture absorbs sounds. Cork tile also can be installed on walls for acoustic control. Today's cork doesn't have to look like a corkboard for pushpins. It's available in many patterns and colors.

When it comes to replacing noisy appliances - refrigerators, washing machines and dishwashers - look for Energy Star models that also have sound reducing features. Install your freestanding appliances at least two inches from the walls.

Heating and cooling systems that include insulated compressors are quieter than older models. Acoustical duct board and other duct insulation are available to deal with a noisy, existing system.

Even as I write, my computer is whirring, a car is driving past my house and a car alarm is honking incessantly down the street. Now I have two reasons to replace the rest of my 1951 home's old casement windows: my electric bill and my sanity. Until then, I need to take a deep breath and enjoy the mountain view out my window.

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Article is reprinted courtesy of The New Southwest (formerly Tucson Green Times).


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