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Finding a Quiet Lot

Building a home in the suburbs or countryside seems idyllic, but it's no guarantee of peace and quiet. Learn how you can minimize or control noise.

Selecting a peaceful site is the least-expensive way to make sure your new home is a quieter one, but not all sites are as calm as they appear. Take some time to listen to the noise environment before you sign on the dotted line.

The topography of the site has a dramatic effect on noise. Embankments adjacent to the house reflect and concentrate noise; building a house low relative to the surrounding landforms also raises the noise level. In contrast, the quiet house sits up high, away from reflecting landforms.

You'll also notice that a house that gets a lot of noise is near the crest of the highway. Large trucks are at their loudest when they climb hills.

A location upwind from a source of noise, such as a neighborhood ball diamond, will be quieter. If you build downwind, plant a windbreak between the house and the noise. A tight evergreen or deciduous hedge will provide noise protection as far downwind as 20 times its height.

If space is a problem, vines on fences or low walls made of wood and brick can be used as noise buffers and privacy screens as well. You can increase this protection by planting on berms (landscaped mounds of earth) or by combining trees and shrubs between your house and the source of noise. Mounds raise the height of plantings and make good noise absorbers at ground level.

To battle major noise sources, consider a plot plan that couples trees and shrubs with strategically placed fences and outbuildings. For example, a detached garage or tall fence near the lot line may effectively block noise from a busy street, creating an oasis of peace and quiet outside as well as inside.

In an urban area, large buildings can reflect unwanted sounds onto your site. The noisiest places will be on traffic arteries set between tall buildings. However, large buildings can perform a service if they are between your house and the source of noise. Greenbelts or trees, particularly if they include mature evergreens and are at least 100 feet wide, also can create pockets of quiet.

If you are considering building on land within 2 miles of a major airport, get out a map and check with airport officials about normal flight paths. The noisiest area will be a 3-mile-wide swath directly under these paths for 15 miles on either side of the airport.

Another way to shut out noise is to make sure your windows keep out more than the cold.

Just as pipes can leak water, windows can leak sound. Factors ranging from window design to installation technique affect the noise level in homes. In general, though, if you have energy-efficient windows, you'll be cutting down on the amount of sound entering your home.

Air absorbs sound; glass carries it. As a result, double or triple-pane windows absorb more sound waves than single-pane windows. The pane's thickness or the addition of low-emissivity coatings (a growing trend for energy efficiency) will not affect the level of noise control. By nature of their construction, wood and vinyl windows absorb more sound than aluminum models. Applying soft materials such as foam or caulking around the frame will increase sound absorption even more.

If the weather stripping runs completely around the edge of the glass, it will prevent sound from creeping in between the glass and the frame.

If you are serious about a building site, take the time to visit it several times during the day. Sometimes an area that is quiet at midday can become noisy at night or early in the morning. A site near a school is apt to be noisy before and after school and several times during the day.

Be sure to check out the activities of the neighbors. Auto buffs and do-it-yourselfers may ply their noisy hobbies well into the night. And check to see if any major construction projects are planned for the neighborhood. The roar of heavy equipment is enough to rattle the dishes right off the shelves.


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