Ever since I became interested in acoustics, I’ve wanted to learn how to reduce traffic noise in my backyard. If you have a backyard of your own, you’ve probably discovered how difficult this quest can be too. But as it turns out, there are several viable methods one might use to muffle the obnoxious sound of traffic coming from just beyond the fence.
Before we dive into it, let’s talk about the various types of noise you’ll need to address, in addition to the expected sounds of passing vehicles. Moreover, we should also start with a basic knowledge of the conditions we’d need to achieve to reduce the noise. So let’s get into it!
The Basics of Building Outdoor Noise Barriers
Your backyard should be the place you can go to after a long day of dealing with traffic, noisy coworkers, and other emotionally taxing situations. But getting assaulted by noise as soon as you step outside is bound to make you want to spend less time there. To begin dealing with the issue, you should consider the different kinds of sounds your barrier will have to withstand.
The Types of Noise You Might Encounter in Your Backyard
The steady noise of passing traffic is generally the easiest kind of sound to deal with when soundproofing any space. However, being in an open area leaves you more vulnerable to unpredictable sounds like the occasional screeching tires, honking, and sirens.
Moreover, when you’re trying to reduce noise in your backyard, you’ll also have to deal with any sounds that are coming from nearby businesses. Additionally, if you live near a park or a playground, you’re bound to hear children screeching and laughing at all hours of the day.
Lastly, if you have a yard, your neighbors will probably have one too. That means you’ll have the pleasure of hearing the deafening roar of lawnmowers regularly. And where there are yards, there are dogs as well. Chances are, not all of your neighbors’ pets are going to be quiet and well-behaved.
So to summarize, in addition to the sound of passing vehicles, you’ll also be hearing an assortment of automotive sounds. You’ll also have to deal with the noise other people and animals produce. And even if you manage to reduce the sounds that are coming from outside of your property, you’ll never be able to control the noise that’s coming from above. So if you live near an airport, you’re out of luck!
Outdoor Noise Barriers 101
One of the most difficult things about constructing outdoor noise barriers is the fact that you’ll never be able to block all of the noise mentioned above. That all has to do with the way sound travels. Soundwaves emanate in all directions from their source, interacting with every surface they come across.
In interior soundproofing, we often rely on sound-absorbing materials like acoustic foam. These products are porous and incredibly dense so laying them over your walls should soften those surfaces. Then, when soundwaves make their way toward the walls, they hit a soft surface that makes them lose their energy.
On the other hand, when soundwaves make contact with firm, non-porous materials, they usually bounce away. Since that causes echoes and reverberations, you should ideally reduce the presence of those kinds of materials in your home. However, if you use them to construct your fence, they might just block any surrounding noises before they can push their way into your yard.
Of course, when you build that fence, you’ll have to keep in mind the fact that sound travels in all directions. So if there’s a clear line between its source and your ears, you’ll easily hear it. Therefore, your fence will need to be taller than you are. If you can see over it, it won’t be an effective sound barrier.
To be safe, any fences you build should be at least 6.5–7 feet tall. That would make it effective whether you were sitting down or standing up. But if one of the other people who’ll be spending time in your yard is taller than that, adjust accordingly.
Ways to Reduce Traffic Noise in Your Backyard
There are several ways to reduce traffic noise in your backyard. However, you don’t have to implement only one. Throughout the guide, you’ll learn how the different tips on this list can be used together and how to implement the perfect solution for your yard.
1. Build a Wood Fence
If you’re looking to isolate our yard from the surrounding sounds, the most obvious thing you can do is build a fence. Ultimately, the construction of your fence will probably be more important than the material you choose. Still, there are some benefits to using wood, specifically.
To begin with, let’s discuss the optimal design of your fence. If you’re going to make it yourself, you should build it as a solid wall without any gaps. You can choose from a wide variety of timber and stack the planks vertically or horizontally. If you do end up with small cracks between the planks, close them with wood putty. After you sand the whole thing down, you’ll just have to treat the fence with a waterproofing sealant and paint it.
You’ll find everything you need for this project at your local home improvement store. However, if you don’t want to start building your fence from scratch, you could also get ready-made wood fence panels. Generally, those panels are 8 feet long and about 6 feet tall so they may not clear the height requirements we established earlier. Luckily, there are ways to get around that.
Now, wood isn’t an ideal material when it comes to noise blocking or sound absorption. Still, when it comes to outdoor noise control, there’s no better option. For one, it’s the best thing you can use if you don’t like the appearance of metal. What’s more, a metal fence is bound to make more noise when it comes in contact with soundwaves or passersby.
2. Use Mass Loaded Vinyl to Beef up Your Fence
Unfortunately, wood fencing doesn’t provide much in the way of mass or density. Attaching MLV to the inside of the fence is only one way to add those features if you’re not planning on building a brick wall around your property.
Mass loaded vinyl is an excellent sound blocking material for outdoor use. On the one hand, it’s thin and flexible so it won’t add much bulk to your fence. On the other, the material is durable and tough enough to handle all sorts of weather conditions.
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With that being said, let’s get into the installation process. First things first, you’ll have to measure the fence. Depending on its design, it might have neat sections for you to insert your MLV sheets. Either way, your initial measurements will provide the square footage of the fence, allowing you to get the exact amount of MLV you’ll need to complete the project.
When you get the MLV, you can decide whether you want to nail, screw, or staple it to the fence. Cut the material with a utility knife and attach it to the fence. When you’re done, you can add a layer of waterproof plywood on top to conceal the black MLV. But that step is purely optional.
3. Construct a Brick Wall
If you’d like to have a more substantial sound barrier around your estate, you could construct a brick wall. In that case, you wouldn’t have to add any MLV into the mix. Between the bricks and the mortar, this fence should be dense and massive enough on its own.
There’s just one problem. This project would admittedly be more expensive than putting up a wood fence. First, you have to consider the overall cost of the materials you’ll need to completely encircle your backyard. Then, there’s the matter of hiring a construction crew.
If you’ve never laid bricks before, you may need to get a whole team of people to do it for you. Well, if your yard is on the smaller side, perhaps one or two people could do it. But if it’s relatively large and you want the work to be done as soon as possible, you’d need a bigger budget.
And there’s one last catch. Depending on where you live, constructing a wall around your property may require some kind of permit. So you might want to consult neighborhood and city codes before you start designing the wall.
4. Invest in Professional Acoustic Barriers
If you want to go for the professional option, you could always invest in acoustic barriers. Imagine a fence made up of soundproof partitions, but make it weatherproof and much taller than your average cubicle divider. That’s what you’d be working with if you purchased acoustic fencing.
Of course, this industry isn’t developed enough to have standardized products to choose from. One company I found offers walls that are 8 feet tall and 2 inches thick and ones that are almost 10 feet tall and 3 inches thick. Moreover, they have more sleek, minimalist designs, and ones with robust posts between each panel.
Most manufacturers will let you choose between several of their original designs. Some of them may even adjust the final product to your liking — though you’ll have to be willing to pay the price for that service. Either way, acoustic fencing will almost certainly be a more effective sound barrier than wood or brick walls.
Generally, most acoustic fences can achieve a 20-decibel noise reduction. As you may know, ten decibels represent a doubling of volume. Therefore, reducing noise by 20 decibels would make your yard four times quieter than its surroundings.
5. Make Your Own Acoustic Fence
If you don’t want to pay for professional acoustic fencing, you could try making your own. Your approach would be similar to the one you’d take when soundproofing a wall in your home. However, you’d have to limit yourself to only using weatherproof materials.
If you don’t already have a tall fence, the first step of the plan would require you to build one. Make sure you have some room to work with since you’ll have to stuff it with insulating materials. Since this is just a fence, though, there’s no need to reach for the same kind of insulation you’d use in your home. Styrofoam will do quite nicely.
After you cut pieces of the styrofoam according to your fence measurements, slide them in place. When you have the whole section filled, put some expanding foam between the individual pieces. The goal is to prevent any air from being able to pass through the fence. When that’s done, you’ll top everything off with gypsum boards for exterior use.
When you finish nailing the gypsum boards in place, seal the cracks between them with acoustic caulk. Finally, apply a finishing layer like wood or vinyl siding, masonry veneer, stucco, or shingles. If you’re not sure how well this fence will perform, watch this video to see it in action.
6. Create a Berm Barrier if You Can
If you’d rather turn to more natural-looking solutions to your noise problems, there are several landscaping tricks that might work. Creating a berm requires the biggest commitment, but it may pay off. Either way, it’s good to know you at least have it as an option.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, let’s take a moment to define berms. In essence, berms are hills — manmade raised barriers between two areas. Their original purpose was to provide a border or a fortification line, but they’re also decent sound barriers.
The only problem is that they usually take up a lot of space. If you wanted to build up an 8-foot tall berm, it would have to have a large footprint. The base would need to be quite wide for you to pile more soil on top. At that point, you wouldn’t be able to hear surrounding sounds due to sheer distance.
Moreover, some studies have shown that earth berms generally provide 2 dBA less noise reduction than walls of the same height. But all that is not to say that there isn’t a use for them. If you wanted to use a berm around your estate, you could use it in combination with another method. For example, you could top off a short berm with one of those ready-made wood fence panels.
7. Plant a Living Fence
While we’re on the subject of landscaping solutions for outdoor noise control, you might want to consider planting a living fence. You can do that in combination with a more substantial fence or use the plants only. Evergreen hedges would provide sound absorption year-round, but there are other options to consider.
Ultimately, the plants you choose will have to be dense and tall enough to block sounds from coming in. However, smaller plants are going to be cheaper to purchase and easier to plant. In that case, this solution may not provide instant gratification, as the plants would need time to grow in. Alternatively, you could get fully grown plants.
No matter which direction you choose to go, the following plants would make excellent living fences:
- Honeysuckle has a relatively plain appearance but a lovely smell
- Yellow forsythia or red pyracantha would add a lovely pop of color around your yard
- Bamboo can grow impressively tall and provide excellent sound absorption
- Cactus is great for those who live in areas with minimal rainfall
- Evergreen juniper trees provide year-round absorption
- Photinias are evergreen broadleaf plants with gorgeous red leaves
Of course, if you don’t want to commit to this option, you could bring in fully grown hedges in large pots or planters. That would allow you to move them wherever you need them and experiment with different kinds of plants.
Even if you don’t go the living fence route, you could still use plants to reduce noise by strategically placing them around your yard. Thick and dense vegetation can reduce noise by up to 10 decibels over 200 feet. But if you don’t have a hundred feet between you and the source of the noise, you could plant some trees and thick shrubbery around your yard and hope for the best.
8. Install a Water Feature That Suits Your Backyard
Incorporating a water feature into your backyard landscaping design is a fantastic way to drown out traffic noise. Once you have that gurgling, bubbling sound there, you’ll find yourself noticing the constant droning of passing vehicles less often. Basically, you’d be using the principle of white noise.
Best of all, the water feature you choose can be as fancy as you want it to be. You can get one for $20 or go all out and get a waterfall cascading into your swimming pool. And there are plenty of options between those two extremes, too. For example, you could build a garden creek or commission an artist to create your fountain.
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But really, a simple tabletop fountain from Amazon would work just as well. For under $50, you could find a:
- Modern 8-inch tall silver springs
- Brassy 17-inch tall 4-tier pots fountain
- Rugged 12-inch tall stone design with an LED light feature
So just figure out what kind of vibe you’re going for with your backyard, and find a water feature that will complement that.
9. Put Outdoor Speakers in the Yard
Of course, if you’d rather not add any clutter to your backyard, you could simply bring in some speakers. Mount them on the side of your house and forget about them. Then, when you want to hang out in your backyard, play your favorite soundscape to replace the sound of traffic.
White noise will probably be the most effective audio track for getting rid of unwanted sounds. However, there are plenty of other ambient tracks you could try — including the sound of running water! Alternatively, you could head to your favorite place in nature and record the sounds you hear there. Then, when you play them on your backyard speakers, it’ll be like being on your favorite hiking trail or fishing spot!
Relish in the Peaceful Environment You’ve Created
With a little effort, you can transform your yard into your slice of heaven. The only catch is that you’ll have to tweak some things to get it just right. Hopefully, these tips will bring you one step closer to enjoying your time in nature without having to put up with annoying traffic sounds.
Remember, many of the methods mentioned above should work perfectly well together. So pick the ones that make sense for your yard! You can build a fence, enhance that barrier with landscaping solutions, and top it off with speakers. Whatever you choose, it’ll surely be better than the roaring of engines!
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