Homes can be noisy places. Appliances and HVAC systems, open floor plans, and high, vaulted ceilings promote uninterrupted flow of movement—and of sound. The fight against allergens and poor indoor air quality has caused homeowners to replace carpet with hard floors, which is great for those with allergies, but increases sound production in our homes. The bottom line is that we are removing sound absorbing surfaces from our homes, which can have alarming consequences for developing children and stressed-out adults.
Noise Affects Children
From the nursery to blaring headphones, sound plays a distinct and oftentimes disturbing role in the development of a child. The most obvious detrimental effect of noise on a child is hearing loss. Prolonged exposure to 85 decibels (dBA) can induce gradual hearing loss, but blenders, hairdryers, and garbage disposals all measure between 75 and 85 dBA. Just imagine the cumulative effects of the dishwasher, vacuum cleaner, and kitchen exhaust fan on a child over the course of 18 years. "Hearing loss is 100 percent permanent, but it is also 100 percent preventable," says Amy Boyle, Director of Public Education for the League for the Hard of Hearing (LHH), "and it is generally cumulative over time." Protecting ourselves from dangerous decibel levels—including those within the home—is the first step in prevention.
Behavior and learning are also affected by sound and noise. A 1993 study on "noise confusion" in the home concluded that high levels of noise and activity resulted in decreased attentiveness among children. Studies also indicate that excessive noise and distractions in the classroom result in poor behavior and decreased learning, so the EPA recommends an average maximum noise rating of 70 dBA in the classroom—considered by some to be too high.
Unfortunately, there are no regulations on noise in the home. The kitchen, often considered the activity hub of the home, is a popular place for children to do homework and study, but with exhaust fans, pots, pans, blenders, and silverware drawers, it also happens to be one of the noisiest rooms in the home. Any room adjacent to the kitchen in an open floor plan isn’t much better off. The lack of walls, doorways, and partitions only encourages sound and noise to travel, extending unwanted sound into other areas of the home.
Noise and Health
Uncontrollable noise is irritating. The roar of an airplane overhead, the rattle from a passing train, and chronic urban noise can have negative effects on health. Uncontrollable noise exists in homes, too—intermittent, impulsive, and continuous noises abound within the home, and may contribute to a host of health-related problems. In addition to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), which is said to afflict roughly 7 million Americans, noise can disturb our sleep, to the point that the EPA recommends a nighttime average sound level of around 35 dBA. Noise has also been shown to elevate blood pressure, lead to cardiovascular problems, cause gastrointestinal difficulties, and create high stress, flaring tempers, and aggression. Turning down the noise in the home will do more than help a child study and focus—it can mean greater health, more relaxing down-time, and better health for all family members.
Take Steps to Reduce Noise in the Home
There is no question that noise in the home can be reduced in a number of ways, from controlling appliances and their hours of operation to declaring quiet spaces and quiet hours that must be respected. Appliances are big contributors to indoor noise, so most manufacturers provide dBA levels in their information. To reduce the effects of noise on the family, appliances like dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, and vacuum cleaners can be run while children are at school. Carpet, rugs, and other sound-absorbing flooring materials, like cork, can reduce noise in the home. Ceilings can be insulated or covered with sound-absorbing materials. Windows can be covered with sound-absorbing window treatments. Partitions and hallways can be used to prevent sound transfer by breaking its pathway.
Homeowners should also make conscious choices to reduce unnecessary sound in certain areas of the home. Whole-home or distributed audio is a popular feature in today’s houses, but it can contribute to elevated noise levels. Volume can be kept at a reasonable level, and in some rooms can be kept off completely. Homeowners can also enforce quiet hours to ensure that focus, concentration, and relaxation are achieved by all family members. "Anywhere you can take steps to quiet your environment, you should," says Boyle. A quieter home is truly a happier, healthier home.
Credit: Renovate with Tommy Mac