How to Reduce Traffic Noise in Your Backyard: Reclaim Your Space

Bill Taylor
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Benefits of Taking Control

Increasingly, people are considering traffic noise as a major annoyance and safety hazard. There are many things that we can do to counter traffic noise and reclaim our space.

There are two ways to combat noise. Reduce the noise level of the source and reduce the noise at the location where you are trying to enjoy your yard. Both work.

For example, if your backyard faces the street, you'll want to first look at the street for noise control strategies. If you live near a freeway, there are noise walls available to you.

If reducing the noise level of the source is not realistic, then you'll want to choose a product that will do the best job of absorbing most of the sound and preventing it from penetrating your back door and windows. A good noise barrier will do just that.

Privacy

Screening a home can provide privacy. You can do this with evergreen bushes, bamboo or potted trees.

Keep it simple. Keep your plants simple. It’s easy to get lured in by fads.

Create a design using the right plants for the space at hand.

For flowering plants, some of the most popular plants, like petunias, snap dragons, and impatiens, are all available as hanging baskets.

These make great additions to the porch, patio, or balcony.

Another great flowering plant that grows up instead of out is the sweet potato vine. It’s vigorous, durable, and splashes out in a burst of brilliant flowers in spring.

And it just keeps going. If you’ve ever grown sweet potatoes in your garden, you know just how tenacious this vine is.

Citrus trees are great to give your backyard a Mediterranean flair. They’re also easily protected from winter cold, which makes them a natural in areas with harsh winters.

If you’re planning on using screen plants, you’ll want to talk with a professional landscaper about the types that will do best in your climate and area. They’ll also design your landscaping layout and recommend the right types of plants to use.

Setting Boundaries

The first thing you can do to improve traffic noise in your backyard is to choose where you plant trees, plants and shrubs. When you are planting trees, plan for them to grow up to 25 feet high. Plant your trees where they will form a thick barrier to the street. This barrier will help reduce traffic noise. If you want a lower growth tree, choose a tree with a thick and spreading canopy without thin branches. If you want to control traffic noise levels from neighbors, plant a hedge rather than a fence.

Plant grasses with deep roots such as Bermuda Grass rather than weeds and turf grasses with shallow roots such as Kikuyu. Bermuda grass plants are perennials and can tolerate heavy foot and vehicle traffic. The roots of a Bermuda grass plant can grow as long as 15 feet underground and will prevent the soil from moving and dislodging concrete and asphalt by acting as a root barrier. Apply a thick layer of mulch around your trees, hedges and shrubs.

If you are planting a hedge, add some bird feeders. Birds will live in the hedge and will attract other birds. The added birds become an additional natural barrier. They will also be another source of enjoyment for you when they sing and chirp in your backyard.

Pets Know Their Bounds

There’s nothing that effectively signifies your transition into parenthood more than purchasing a fence or gate for the first time. It conveniently occupies the transition between when you could leave your doors and windows wide open and when you needed to close them to keep your children and pets safe. Usually you start with a baby gate, but as your child grows and becomes more gradually mobile, you likely upgrade to a barrier that’s sturdy enough to resist her attempts to demolish it. Installing a fence with fences and gates is an easy way to define your space and worth a shot if you're looking to reclaim your backyard for your leisure time.

The good thing about fences and gates is that it’s not actually your time that they take up; with these two items, you can reclaim your space while you're off at work. And although you probably don’t have formal backyard plans, they come in handy when you're dreaming of a quiet dinner or game night without any (or at least the least amount of) interruptions. The best part is that these items can easily be taken down when a party is in the works.

Mental Health and Contact with Nature

Several experts point out the obvious connection between mental health and the need for contact with nature. They don’t offer extensive validation to support their views, so this is one area that deserves your attention. What is the signal that tells you mental balance is at risk? The way your body reacts is a great indication that you need to make some changes. Your sleeping pattern may tell you that you’re nodding off outside the classroom or taking too many blue sleeping pills. Or your morning headaches might be the problem. But for most of us, the key is in the stiffness of our necks and the irritation in our shoulder muscles. Constantly lifting a cell phone to our ear, increases the tension and the likelihood of injury. The simple solution to this problem is to disconnect the telephone from the headpiece on a regular basis, and listen to the tonic of the world around you. You’ll recognize that you’ve enjoyed peace of mind, as soon as you get rid of headset. And you can start to hear the gentle sounds that tell you—re relaxed and happy.

Another excellent resource on this subject can be found in the book Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson. And even though the book was published in 1962, it has become one of the best-sellers and is a must-read for everyone who wants to learn about true value or beauty of nature.

Indirect Benefits

Whether you're preparing for your kids to play in the backyard all summer, planning a party in the backyard, or just want a place of quiet to relax, a large backyard is a solar-plexus-hitting advantage.

Lives can change, and the suburbs you moved to for a big backyard may not be as appealing as life as a new parent unfolds.

If you lack a backyard, don't be blue! You can still get the same benefits from a large property within a couple of blocks, or a park outside your front door. There are ways to add an outdoor area wherever you are.

Large spaces can also be prohibitively expensive to heat, cut into the home's livable square footage, and can be used by some as uninsulated storage space. A large backyard may not be for you…but if it is, here's what you need to know and do to tame a large backyard.

The Plan for Reducing Noise

Plan ahead and put up a fence (high or low; a barrier works best since they can't see anything through it), hang pots and pans, or use the many decibel reduction products available on the market to block out the sounds. You'll reduce your stress and be one step closer to reclaiming your backyard. Plus, a completed project is a great source of satisfaction and motivation.

Step 1: Know Your Boundaries

The first step is to identify the direction that your neighbors are facing. This will help you choose for noise-reducing plants that will discourage your neighbors from yelling over the fence. If they are facing away from your house, you might want to consider a hedge maze, trees, or tall decorative shrubs to discourage them from yelling and shouting. On the other hand, if they are facing you, you would want to plant shorter plants or plant beds. Planting a garden with tall trees on the side of your house not facing the neighbors will force them to yell in a direction where you can easily tune them out.

Step 3: Explore Options and What to Expect

Now you've figured out what your budget and patience levels are, it's time to explore your options to find the best fit for your situation. Here is what is out there and what you can expect with each.

Soundproofing – This is your method of choice if your neighbors are noisy on just occasion or if you can't afford to do a full renovation.

Step 3:

Spend a little time educating yourself on soundproofing if you are still in the research phase. There is some science involved that you will want to understand before you start making decisions on how to go about the work. Read up on the ins and outs of each material and the best way to install them. What you are looking for is effectiveness of noise reduction. To get the most comprehensive answer, you may even want to talk to a professional.

There are many products out there claiming to do the trick and all come with their own list of pros and cons. Here are some factors to consider when looking at options:

Material – Each material has its pros and cons so you will want to consider your needs. To get the best picture, take some time to research each option including: how effective it is, how to install correctly, and what kind of maintenance is involved. Some materials to consider are fiberglass, foam to metal, windows, and nontraditional options.

Physical Barriers

One of the things that really can help with noise is to have hard surfaces. For instance, if you have your pool, shed or patio constructed on concrete block pillars, or on a solid cement pad that’s a foot off the ground, that will really help absorb the noise from your pool or yard equipment in the backyard.

The same thing can help with traffic noise.

If you have a wall, some sort of stucco wall, it might be good to put cement blocks behind it. That would help reduce the traffic noise in your backyard a little bit more.

You could put up another wall and put a hedge in between. Bamboo, it grows overnight, it’s a big cost saver as well. The great thing about bamboo is that it’s really going to help hide unsightly things in your property like power or phone – things that you can’t get rid of but you can’t change the location of. Or, it helps reduce the traffic noise in your backyard.

Another tip to consider if you are going to have some hard surface, like concrete patio, or cement walk, or if you are paving some area in your backyard, it is important that you leave about six to eight inches in between the cement, and the soil underneath. Why is that important?

Landscaping Options

Soundproofing your backyard does not mean you have to bulldoze it and turn it into a landfill. There are a number of landscaping choices that reduce traffic noise in the backyard, plus, landscaping also enhances backyard living.

The noise you hear from highways, and especially busy streets, is from the vibration of moving vehicles caused by the amount of sound in the engine and exhaust systems, especially at low speeds.

There is also a great deal of noise associated with tires traveling over road cracks.

Dampening or eliminating traffic noise depends on the materials used to create privacy fences, enclose the garden or create trees or shrubs to muffle the sound.

The following list of landscaping choices is not meant to be exhaustive, but it represents some of the more popular noise reduction landscaping options.

Water Features

A water feature can be designed to enhance the look of a patio, and even cool down the temperature of your outdoor area.

It could be as simple as a decorative fountain or as elaborate as a rock waterfall. But water features can’t be overestimated as a way to generate that oh-so soothing sound of running water. The soothing sounds will help you and your family relax and decompress and enjoy your backyard.

A waterfall on your patio can help mask noise and soften the sound of the backyard. When you’re enjoying your patio, you don’t want to overhear the playing children next door or hear the sounds of the city.

Your waterfall will help create a cozy atmosphere and make your backyard one that you’ll want to spend time enjoying.

Step 4: Making Your Plan

If you have never integrated wildlife into your life before, this is the perfect time to start.

Wildlife doesn’t need to take over and rule over your space; they are looking for safe havens and homes. Remember, they are a part of your ecosystem. If you and the wildlife can live peacefully with one another, everyone will benefit.

In this case, let’s focus on animals like deer and rabbits. You can’t physically keep them out of your yard, but you can keep them out of places that you don’t want them in, like your garden.

A deer-repellent fence is a super easy way to keep small wildlife out of your garden beds. They are easy to put up and easy to maintain. You can either have an annoyance barrier that keeps them at bay or, if you choose to be more eco-friendly, make sure you’re using non-toxic repellent once they begin to freely enter your garden bed.

Step 5: Keep It Real

While 4-foot to 6-foot bushes may help to cut down on noise, they won’t necessarily keep it from your yard and house. Noise-deadening material, such as a heavy, black sound blanket, is expensive but does a good job at subduing noise.

Using a low wall or fence can also help to lessen the flow of noise. Height is an advantage as it blocks sounds, so consider 6 to 8 feet. Another possibility is to build a soundproof wall that isn’t entirely solid. This permits the sound of traffic and can still give you a view.

Hose down any walkways or areas where you walk, so they don’t take on the noise of footsteps.

Modern Sonotube is yet another option for building a sound barrier that’s inexpensive and easy to install.

Step 6: Let’s Do This!

While you may already know how to rake the leaves and have tools for ground cover, the next few steps require a little more specialized hardware.

Driveways and patios are the most susceptible to water damage. If you don’t have a shed, building to place a water catcher can deflect water towards the ground and prevent it from pooling.

Don’t forget about the roof! Make sure it is clean and scrape any algae or moss from the roofing surface. This will ensure the water flows along the roof – not into the attic.

Walk around your boundaries and make sure all bodies of water, including the gutters and downspouts, are flowing away from the house.

Lastly, go back over the surrounding area and make sure there are no holes, puddles, or low spots. These are entry points for water to move in.

Final Thoughts

It's great to get out in the backyard and get a little fresh air for you and your family. You don't want the noise from cars, trains, and airplanes to ruin your little piece of paradise.

And if you can cut down a little bit of wasted space in the backyard and turn it into a vegetable garden, it's a double bonus for the health of your family.

The solutions are simple – fences, tree screens, and the removal of under growth, encroaching brush, and trees. But how, when, and where exactly do you start?

Once you're aware that your back yard is the focal point for noise and obnoxious neighbors, start with these simple tips. You'll be glad you did.

In Closing

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