The NSW Environment Protection Authority has reported that many people who call its hotline complain about excessive noise, especially late at night and early in the morning. This may seem petty, but noise pollution is an issue we should all consider. It’s not just annoying, after all. There are some serious health impacts that can accrue over time.
If you’re looking for a quieter life, read on to find out more about the sources of noise pollution, why it matters, and what you can do about it (including with your home furnishings) to reduce its impacts.
SOURCES OF NOISE POLLUTION
As you can imagine, there are plenty of sources of noise pollution. Usually, they're divided into internal and external sources.
External sources are usually the noisiest. Of these, transport (cars, motorcycles, trucks, buses, trains, aeroplanes, helicopters, boats, etc) is usually the noisiest. Depending on where you live, other noises include industry, agriculture, as well as neighbourhood noises like barking dogs, hooligans, parties, your neighbour’s conversations and latest Netflix obsessions, yard work (leaf blowers and high-pressure hoses especially), and construction.
Indoor sources may seem more innocuous, but cumulatively these can lead to a surprisingly noisy home environment. These include slamming doors, flushing toilets, hot water systems, TVs, desktop computers, musical instruments, sound systems, exhaust fans, vacuums, washing machines, dryers, air conditioners, fridges and freezers, food processors, microwaves, burping and farting husbands, loquacious relatives, argumentative kids, crying babies, and even light bulbs!
The light in my bedroom hums at a constant, identifiable pitch. Hardly noticeable most of the time, except when I'm trying to mke some music!
But it's not just the source of noise that matters. After all, a lot of the physical properties of noise, like loudness, are perceptual. This means that it isn’t just the perceived loudness of a noise that matters, but also its timbre, your mood, and the time of day. Some people are irritated by crying babies, for example, while others don’t care to hear their neighbours’ garage band jamming on an otherwise quiet Saturday evening (even though they might find it perfectly fine on a Sunday afternoon).
WHY CARE ABOUT NOISE POLLUTION?
For some of us it's just plain annoyng, especially if it's regular or frequent, and that’s enough reason to care. But hey, I want you to get something out of this blog, so here’s some science to make huffing and puffing at the neighbours feel more justifiable.
Let’s look at the health effects of noise pollution. The Australian Academy of Science tells us:
Exposure to prolonged or excessive noise has been shown to cause a range of health problems ranging from stress, poor concentration, productivity losses in the workplace, and communication difficulties and fatigue from lack of sleep, to more serious issues such as cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, tinnitus and hearing loss.
Noise is measured in decibels (‘dB’) and safe levels of noise are guided by government regulation. SafeWork NSW, for example, tells us that noise shouldn’t exceed 85 dB on average over 8 hours or 140 dB at any point in time. It suggests that, ideally, maximum noise levels should be no higher than 70 dB for routine activities and 50 dB for high-concentration work or effortless conversation. To put that in perspective: breathing is 10 dB, whispering is 20 dB, a library is 40 dB, conversation in the office is 60 dB, a vacuum cleaner is 70 dB, a food processor is 88 dB, a trumpet sounding at full volume is 100 dB, a thunderclap is 120 dB, and a teacher’s aide screaming at schoolkids is 129 dB. Noise starts becoming painful for the average person at 110 dB (coincidentally the dB level of you're average rock concert) and you’ll rupture your eardrum if it gets to 150 dB.
Also keep in mind that decibels are a logarithmic measurement. This means that, for example, a conversation in the office (60 dB) is half as loud as a vacuum cleaner (70 dB), while a thunderclap (120 dB) is 32 times louder than that. (Finally, my high school maths is useful!)
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT
Surprisingly, your home furniture and decoration options can have a significant effect on the noise pollution you experience.
But first, the most effective solution. Scientists say that most noise pollution comes from outside the house entering through the windows. This means that noise pollution will be best addressed by installing double- or even triple-glazed windows. These windows are essentially use multiple panes of glass with air or inert gas in between. This enables the window not only to block out a lot of noise, it allows the windows to become far more effective insulators, making your home thermally efficient and helping you save on your energy costs. Extra glazing is significantly more expensive, but it’ll pay off in the long run. (Plus, if you have musicians in your family, your neighbours will appreciate the extra glazing too!)
But not everyone wants to replace their windows. What’s a cheaper solution? Why, our interior styling of course!
The key is noise absorption, and we maximise this by choosing fabrics. Carpet is great for this. If you don’t have carpet, consider covering your floorboards or tiles with rugs. Just add upholstered furniture, such as sofas, and you’ve got a far more noise-absorbing environment than you had before.
Otherwise, it’s just about lifestyle adjustments:
- Look at your noisy tech. Not much you can do about things like fridges and freezers, but take stock of your computers, TVs, sound systems, computers, and yes, your light bulbs, and turn off anything you’re not using (by the power point if necessary). The cumulative effect of switching off is astounding (and honestly quite relieving)!
- Really, does everyone need to hear the video you’re watching on your bed? Or the computer game your son is playing? Or the music your daughter is listening to? Or the latest podcast your husband keeps insisting you subscribe to? Get your family to use headphones and you'll instantly have a much quieter home.
- When you are listening to or watching something communally, turn the noise down. You might love MAFS, but your neighbours might not!
- When there’s noise outside, shut your doors and windows. If your doors and windows don’t shut properly, spend the money to get them fixed. Also consider buying some draught excluders to block any noise which might escape underneath your doors. You can use these to block noisy rooms inside the house, too.
Being a furniture retailer, noise pollution is not normally the sort of subject we normally cover in our blogs. But, as a family-oriented company, we feel an obligation to do what we can to separate facts from fiction and help everyone keep their families happier and healthier. That's part of life in the family home, after all!
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