Outdoor Noise: The Sound Barrier Fence

Looking for a way to enjoy peace and quiet in your own yard? A sound barrier fence can help. What is needed for effectively blocking noise outdoors?



A fence specially designed for sound blocking can reduce the amount of noise entering your yard. The amount of reduction will be much less than that achievable with indoor soundproofing, however.

The two most important elements for an outdoor sound barrier are height and mass.

Height

To effectively block noise, outdoor sound walls need to be tall. It is not enough for the barrier to block the noise source from view, because sound doesn't just travel in straight lines. In most cases, for best effectiveness, you will need a fence that is at least 12–15 feet high; the higher, the better. Check your local regulations to see if there is a limit to the height of the structure you are allowed to build.

Mass

Any solid, massive substance will block sound. The thicker, the better, of course.* For fencing material, possibilities include:
  • Wood (cedar, redwood): A good, relatively inexpensive material.
  • Steel sheeting: Very durable.
  • Straw bales: Cheap and quick.
  • Concrete or masonry:
    • Precast concrete fence: An effective option, and cheaper than masonry blocks.
    • Concrete blocks.
    • Brick or stone: Effective but quite expensive.
  • Rammed earth: Effective and eco-friendly but very pricey.
If you have more money than space, you can add more mass by attaching overlapping sheets of mass-loaded vinyl, which provides very high mass in a slim package.

The sound barrier fence should be designed and constructed so that there are no gaps or holes. Noise will be able to find its way through any cracks or slits in the fence. Use acoustical caulking if needed.

If you have the space, building an earth berm is also a possibility.† Unlike a fence, an earth berm will reflect the noise upward, so that the sound will not get bounced back from nearby structures.

Other Considerations

A high, solid wall needs to be able to withstand the wind forces it will be subjected to in your area. Also consider that children may be tempted to try to climb the wall. Design the wall to make this as difficult as possible; for example, avoid exposed horizontal rails.

Landscaping

Trees, bushes, and other vegetation unfortunately don't do much to block sound, although they may help take the edge off some high-frequency noises. The pleasant-looking visual privacy may provide some psychological benefit, however; the noise may seem less intrusive if its source is hidden from view.

An Alternative

If building a sound wall or fence is not feasible in your situation, as an alternative, you might consider installing an outdoor fountain. The steady and pleasant "white noise" sound of water falling can serve to mask unwanted noises.

* Environmental Protection Department, Guidelines on Design of Noise Barriers (Hong Kong: 2003), 5.
US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, The Audible Landscape: A Manual for Highway Noise and Land Use (1976).





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