Shhh! Sealing out neighborhood noise
By Ken Sheinkopf
QWhen we bought this house last summer, we had no idea how
noisy this neighborhood was, with barking dogs in several
nearby houses and a street out front that we thought was quiet but
sounds every night like a training ground for the Indianapolis 500. Are
there things we can do to our house to keep it quieter inside that may
also make it more comfortable for us and hopefully even save some
money on our energy bills? —T.S., Camden, N.J.
c lot of things about a home can be fixed, improved or radically
hanged by making energy-efficiency improvements. These fix-ups can
indeed make a home’s interior quieter by excluding outdoor noise, and at the
same time improve indoor comfort and eliminate lots of energy-wasters.
and hot air, insects and outdoor pollutants, but they’ll also stop a lot of noise.
Then there’s another key energy-efficiency strategy to consider: landscape
around the house. A row of trees and bushes can help channel summer
breezes to your windows while also blocking strong winter winds. Trees have
sometimes been called “green air conditioners” since they’re often used by
city planners to help reduce daytime temperatures and help to channel
nighttime air around the home. And since leaves, twigs and branches are
great at absorbing annoying high-frequency sounds, they’ll also help cut down
on some noise before it gets indoors. Besides, they improve the home’s look
Think of the other things you might do to save energy and you’ll realize many
of them would help block noise as well. Closing the drapes and blinds tightly
helps seal the house better. A shade wall or awning can reflect or disperse
sound as well as light. Just give some thought to ways to better protect your
home’s interior from the elements, and you’ll realize that noise is exactly one
of those elements you will be reducing.
cn view of the rising gasoline prices and the higher costs of
ommuting to work, it seems obvious to me that the coun-
try needs more planned communities with not just energy-efficient
homes, but which put just about everything a homeowner needs in
close proximity. Why don’t we see more of these developments?
need to drive far from home.
cOuRTESy OF RENEWAL By ANDERSEN
—L.R., Sacramento, Calif.
A There are more opportunities to live in places like this around the
country than you realize. I did a search on the internet and found
literally hundreds of communities that are using efficiency and renewables to
achieve sustainable, affordable and comfortable living while minimizing the
A high-tech energy-efficient window is also a barrier against the whine
of your neighbor’s leaf-blower.
While this type of community has been around for at least 25 years, I think the
tremendous increase in both driving costs and surging home utility bills have
stimulated the huge growth going on today. It’s essentially a reaction to the
Start with a basic efficiency strategy. Tighten up the home’s thermal envelope.
This term refers to the structural elements that protect the home from the
outdoors, including the walls, foundation, attic, roof shingles, insulation,
windows, doors, soffits and siding. Tightening it up means you seal any cracks
or holes to the outside, make sure the doors and windows close tightly, check
to be sure you have adequate insulation levels in the walls and ceiling, and
otherwise look for building features and strategies that can stop the unwanted
flow of air inside and out. Think about installing double- or triple-pane insulat-
ing windows. Doing these things will not only stop the unwanted flow of cold
urban sprawl that surged after World War II with the moves from the cities to
the suburbs, and it’s now bringing people back to the old “main street” feel of
living in the center of everything.
One example of this type of development is a community I found called
Oshara Village in Santa Fe, N.M. ( osharavillage.com). They use local contrac-
tors to build a range of homes in a wide variety of sizes and prices. Buyers can
select Energy Star appliances, passive solar home orientation, super-insulation,
wood-burning stoves, a solar water heater and other features that can cut
energy bills in half. There’s even an option for solar-ready construction if
the buyer wants to add a solar electric system later. In addition, a nonprofit
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