Soundproof Fences: Are They a Good Outdoor Acoustic Treatment?

When it comes to reducing noise in outdoor spaces, your options are pretty limited. After all, unless you want to encase an outdoor area in soundproof materials, you won’t be able to prevent all sounds from reaching your ears. But if you happen to live in a particularly noisy neighborhood having soundproof fences around your property might do the trick.

With that being said, the efficacy of this solution will ultimately depend on both the material the panels are made of as well as the construction of the fence. That’s something we’ll explain later on. For now, let’s see what you can do with so-called soundproof fences.

How Do Acoustic Barriers Work?

Right off the bat, we should clear up one major misconception. Namely, calling outdoor acoustic treatments soundproof fences may be a bit of a misnomer. After all, the only way to make something soundproof would be to block all soundwaves from entering the space. That’s obviously not something you can achieve with a fence.

However, once you understand the way sound waves move through space, you’ll see that fencing really can make a difference. Even though sound can be directed, it generally spreads in all directions, going in straight lines. When someone is speaking, their voice will sound more clear to the people they’re facing. But they will also be heard by others in the area due to the reflective properties of surrounding surfaces.

For example, if we put a tall acoustic partition on one side of the speaker, the sound of their voice would bounce off that barrier. Moreover, the vibrations that are not reflected would get absorbed by the material. Consequently, their voice would sound quieter to the people on the other side of the divider.

The only catch is that the partition in question would need to be tall enough to cover the speaker and then some. The same goes for any acoustic barriers you might put in an outdoor space. But generally, the kind of noises you have to deal with outdoors come from moving sources like cars, dogs, children, and even airplanes.

As it happens, a vertical barrier couldn’t do much to block out the sound of passing aircraft. But would it be good at preventing the sound of traffic and other residential noises from entering your yard?

Are Soundproof Fences an Effective Solution for Outdoor Spaces?

As we have established, there is no such thing as soundproof when it comes to noise attenuating walls or fences. If you can’t seal off an area and create a barrier between its interior and exterior walls, you’ll always have some kind of noise coming in, whether it’s airborne or structural. Still, noise-reflecting walls have shown a great degree of success in external environments.

Just imagine standing in your yard with just a chain-link fence between you and the passing cars. The noise would freely reach your ears. Conversely, if you had a solid wall that reached above your head, the sound would be mostly reflected onto the road. Moreover, any noise that reached your ears would sound substantially quieter.

That solution is already widely used to protect people who live next to highways from the effects of noise pollution. You may have even seen similar structures along certain stretches of railway tracks. They’re often used to reflect sounds away from residential areas.

That should tell you that a similar barrier should be an effective tool for reducing the noise you hear in your back yard too. Whether you’re struggling because of barking dogs, loud neighbors, pool pumps, or just roadway sounds, a solid fence should significantly decrease the volume of noise.

Most manufacturers of soundproof fencing claim that their products can shave up to 20 decibels off the noise you’re hearing. Since every 10 decibels represent a halving or doubling of volume, depending on whether they are added or subtracted, losing 20 decibels will make your yard four times quieter than surrounding areas.

What Is the Best Soundproof Fencing You Can Get for Your Yard?

Now that we know what a soundproof fence could do, it’s time to find the best acoustic solution for your yard. To begin with, let’s see why regular fencing materials simply can’t block out sound.

The Usual Fencing Materials Aren’t Effective

As you might have guessed, most residential fences don’t prioritize acoustics. Rather, their function is usually to act as a decorative border of a property. Because of that, many fences are simply made of metal wire or evenly spaced-out wooden pickets.

Of course, that doesn’t do much to block out residential noise, does it? That’s why some people opt for solid metal fences — but that usually doesn’t work either. On the other end of the spectrum, you have people who opt for double lap and cap timber fencing — which is more similar to what a professional acoustic fence might look like.

At the very least, that kind of barrier doesn’t have the huge gaps you’d get from a picket fence. Moreover, it’s usually taller than a picket fence, which means that you at least get privacy. Even so, wood and metal aren’t dense enough to stop noise in its tracks. So if you were hoping to get that effect with a regular fence, you’d be better off with a thick brick or cement wall.

What Makes a Good Soundproof Fence?

Needless to say, thickness and density aren’t the only criteria you’ll need to consider when choosing a soundproof fence. You’ll also need to think about its construction, placement, and height. So let’s break these factors down one by one.

Most acoustic panels you’ll find on the market are made to slide into concrete posts. But since the design of these fences is centered around their noise blocking properties, that sliding action will make the fence airtight. So really, the only gap you’ll have to plug is the one at the bottom of the fence.

As for the positioning of your fence, just don’t put it right between you and the source of the noise. According to the law of reflection, that means the soundwaves will have a direct line to your ear after passing the top of the barrier. Instead, the fence should either be closer to the source of the noise or closer to you.

Of course, the most crucial factor here is the height of the barrier. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t be able to see over it. Of course, even if the fence is tall enough, you’ll still hear the sounds coming from the other side. However, that’ll just be the diffraction of the original soundwave.

RW — Sound Weight Reduction Index

If you know anything about acoustic treatments, you probably know all about the Noise Reduction Coefficient. Simply put, the NRC is a value from 0.0 to 1.0 that indicates the percentage of noise a soundproofing material can absorb. So the 1.0 value means that the material absorbs 100% of frequencies.

Well, if you’re looking to purchase ready-made acoustic barriers for your yard, you might start seeing another rating system. The Rw is a number that shows how effective a soundproofing material is at reducing the weight of sound. In the case of fencing panels, it’ll tell you how many decibels the item can absorb or, more likely, reflect.

Typically, this value is measured in perfect conditions. For example, one of the manufacturers we’re about to discuss, ModularWalls, sends its products to the National Acoustics Laboratory for testing. There, the panels are placed between two rooms to measure the reduction of sound leaks.

Warranty

If you want to invest in professional acoustic fencing, you should hold out for a product that comes with a decent warranty. After all, these are products that will be exposed to the elements for years if not decades. So you should make sure the panels you get will be able to withstand that. On top of that, you should also look into any protective treatments you can use on the panels.

Examples of Good Soundproof Fence Panels

At this point, finding good acoustic fence panels is certainly a chore. Since the fencing industry doesn’t have standardized examples of acoustic barriers, finding ones that will work for your home may be difficult. Even so, let’s talk about some of the things you might find once you start looking for soundproof fence panels.

Forest Garden

The Forest Noise Reduction Fence Panels are a typical example of external acoustic treatments you could find at a local gardening and home improvement store. Though the company also makes traditional, decorative, and low-level fencing, its Noise Reduction line is the only one that will make a real difference in the decibel levels you get in your yard. According to the company’s tests, the fence panels can achieve a noise reduction of up to 30 decibels.

The 17 mm — or 0.66-inch — thick fencing uses all three principles of noise reduction — diffusion, reflection, and absorption. The material is thick enough to deflect most frequencies but porous enough to absorb some too. Moreover, the triangular shape of the timber breaks up the concentrated soundwaves, making them lose energy quickly.

A single fence panel comes in at exactly 6 feet tall, so if your family members are particularly tall, it may not clear their heads. Still, if you spend most of your time in the garden sitting or tanning, these panels will be effective enough.

Jacksons Fencing

Like Forest, Jacksons Fencing is another UK-based fencing company — though it offers several products that fit our requirements. In addition to its highway acoustic barrier, the company also makes reflective and absorptive panels you could use to make your yard into a peaceful oasis.

On the one hand, the Jakoustic Reflective barrier uses a flat timber profile to make soundwaves bounce away from your yard. The appearance and functionality of the product have remained the same since its inception in 2004. According to lab testing, these panels should be able to offer up to 28 decibels of noise reduction.

The same lab tests reveal that the company’s Jakoustic Absorptive panels are even more effective. Thanks to the addition of Rockwool fiber on one side of the panels, this product should provide a noise reduction of about 32 decibels. Even so, the manufacturer recommends only using the panels indoors. Specifically, they should do a good job containing the sound of generators, air conditioners, and waste compactors.

Now, both of the styles we have mentioned are about 1.3 inches thick. They’re also both available in four height levels ranging from just under 6 feet to almost 10 feet. With that being said, if the company’s pricing is out of your range, you may want to try its 12k Envirofence instead.

Even though the product is somewhat thinner than the others at 0.78 inches, it’ll still take the sting out of most traffic sounds. And as long as the wind in your area isn’t too strong, the product’s 25-year warranty will cover any fixes.

ModularWalls

ModularWalls is an Australian company that makes several kinds of external acoustic barriers. Even if the manufacturer doesn’t ship to where you live, you can learn a thing or two from its designs.

Of the company’s four soundproof fence panels, three are 75 mm or 3 inches thick. The TrendWall, VogueWall, and EstateWall panels can also reach up to 9.8 feet, depending on the height you choose.

Notably, though, the company’s fourth product — the SlimWall fence — is only about 50 mm or 2 inches thick. Moreover, the manufacturer has capped its height at just under 8 feet. Still, that’s as tall as it needs to be to fend off any of the usual auditory offenders.

Typically, ModularWalls offers a 10-year warranty with most of its products. However, if you go off-script during the setup process or forget to paint the fence within 30 days of installation, you may void that warranty. The company also offers professional installation services through its Trade Partner Network. Of course, that would naturally increase the cost.

How Much Does It Cost to Build a Soundproof Fence?

While we’re on the subject of finances, we might as well talk about how much dough you’d have to fork over if you wanted to upgrade your fence to an acoustic model. Luckily, the manufacturers we have discussed are quite forthcoming with the matter.

Without the cost of shipping, installation, and taxes, one square meter of the ModularWalls SlimWall would set you back about $72. Meanwhile, the high-performance panels in the company’s lineup can cost between $100–118 per square meter. Then again, some acoustic fence panels retail for upwards of $200 too.

Ultimately, the final price of the upgrade will depend on a range of factors. Namely, you should take into account the construction quality of the panels as well as their height and thickness. On top of that, you’ll need to calculate the total length of fencing you’ll need to surround your yard.

Of course, if you’re looking to save money, you could focus the acoustic fencing on the side of the yard that’s facing the street — or your noisy next-door neighbors. In that case, you may be able to get away with just covering a few yards with your soundproof fence.

How to Soundproof an Existing Fence

The point of getting your soundproof fencing from a place like ModularWalls is that the product is, well, modular. Essentially, it comes in pieces that are easy to assemble into a single barrier with no gaps. In fact, in that case, the installation process will only require you to:

  • Dig some post holes
  • Put concrete posts into the ground
  • Slide in the acoustic barrier panels
  • Paint the fence with exterior grade acrylic

But if you find the thought of going through that process tiring enough, you can always work on the fencing you already have. The goal would be to seal any holes you have in your existing fence and add mass to the whole thing. We’ve already talked about how you can do just that with MLV — so you might as well start there.

In fact, many online resources will recommend using a special acoustic fence wrap for this purpose. But really, those products are pretty much the same thing as mass-loaded vinyl. Once you nail, screw, or staple them in place, they’ll cover any gaps you have in your fence and increase its thickness and density. So that should automatically fortify your fence against all manner of sounds.

Attach the Acoustic Fence Wrap to Add Density

To properly apply a material that comes in a roll, you’ll have to let it loosen up first. Just unroll it while you get the other equipment you’ll use to attach it to the fence.

When you’re ready to start, lift a length of the vinyl or rubber to cover the bottom of the fence. Space out the nails or screws you use along the top edge so they’re about a foot or two apart. When you reach the end of the fence, you should be able to use a utility knife to cut off the excess material. Alternatively, you can keep going and leave the rounded edge in the corners of the fence.

Once you tack on the top edge of the vinyl, you’ll need some help with the piece that will cover the upper half of the fence. Make sure you have a few inches of overlap between the two lengths of material. Then, simply staple the very top of the material into the fence.

Now, it’s time to secure the acoustic treatment. First, screw through the overlap of the two lengths of material. When you complete that pass, make sure the lower edge of the bottom piece is secure too. Then, you’ll just have to pile some soil at the bottom of the fence to make sure you have no gaps left there.

Optional: Conceal the Acoustic Layer

Needless to say, the solution we have just discussed isn’t the most attractive thing in the world. If you don’t mind staring at a black sheet of rubber haphazardly studded with nails or screws — leave it as is. However, if you want to fix it up a bit, there are still a few things you can do. Namely, you can cover the whole thing with:

  • Hedges (if you don’t want to plant them yourself, just get ones that come in giant planters)
  • Climbing plants like sweet peas, wisteria, jasmine, etc
  • Plastic foliage or hanging vines — at least you won’t have to water them
  • Bamboo fence covers

Any one of these options would make the final result more pleasant to look at. But if you don’t mind the way it looks in the first place, you might as well save your money.

Other Ways to Cut Down on Noise in Your Yard

Even though soundproof fences won’t completely block out the noise that’s coming into your yard, they should significantly decrease its volume. But if the effect isn’t quite up to your standards, there are other solutions you can try. In addition to building thicker fences, you can also:

  • Create a berm barrier
  • Plant a thick hedge
  • Take your mind off the issue by getting a water feature

Hopefully, one of those strategies will help you make your yard a more peaceful hangout place.

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