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Sounds and Silence

Now hear this! You might not be able to stop those annoying noises, but you can adjust your home to live with them.


Deeply embedded in the sofa for a rare daytime snooze, you're drifting off to Dreamland when a blast of noise jolts you awake:


You mutter an epithet for "leaf blower" and pad off to close the window. The sound from the leaf blower diminishes, but now the window glass rattles in vibration.

You need:

a) a new home;

b) a hand grenade;

c) noise control.

The world has become a noisy place. We live close together and drive more cars. We use more appliances, hire more high-tech gardeners and fight our own little sound wars.

c) Noise control is the answer.

Take Gerard Dubish of Orange Park Acres, for example. When the Dubish family moved to a home off Santiago Canyon Road six years ago, the neighborhood had a rural feeling. Cars traveled a sedate 35 mph on the two-lane road, which was lined with eucalyptus trees and open land.

Now, the road has been widened to four lanes, and cars zip by at 50 mph. New homes have been built across the road and the wall that surrounds them bounces traffic noise back to Dubish's house across the street.

The eucalyptus trees are gone.

But Dubish battled back. He accepted the noise control recommendations included in a city-county noise impact study on the road widening project.

He installed "sound-rated" windows (double panes with a layer of air in between) and added new solid core doors, central air conditioning and attic insulation. Then he built exterior block walls.

The price tag? About $15,000.

The result? "It's like night and day," a satisfied Dubish said.

Noise problems don't have to be as complex as Dubish's. Perhaps your noise nemesis is a dishwasher that's so loud no one can hear the TV. Maybe your neighbor plays music too loud, you live next door to an aspiring rock star or a dog stuck on "bark."

Perhaps the situation is worse--your neighbor is a commercial airport.

Whatever the noise problem, there is something you can do. We asked interior designers, an acoustical engineer, a remodeling contractor and a window supplier for their suggestions.

New Windows

Most Orange County homes have single-paned windows, especially those built during the '80s construction boom. All the experts agreed that replacing windows is the best way to deaden exterior noises that range from typical neighborhood sounds to mind-numbing aircraft takeoffs.

Insulated or double-paned windows help with energy-efficiency and are good at handling outdoor noises. But for heavy noise like traffic, you need sound-rated windows. These specialty windows sandwich a layer of air in between the glass and have seals around the perimeter. The airspace and glass thickness vary.

How much noise they block out is measured in "sound transfer coefficients," and the higher the number, the better. Sound-rated windows are about triple the cost of regular windows but you don't have to put them everywhere; just replace the windows facing the source of the noise.

Insulate and Ventilate

Insulation muffles noise; air conditioning allows you to keep those sound-rated windows closed. Installing central air conditioning and heating in a 2,000 square foot house would cost about $5,000.

You can insulate your attic and your walls, but our experts disagreed on the merits of shooting insulation into existing walls. If you have a really big sound problem, the drywall can be removed and "resilient channels"--pieces of Z-shaped metal that act like shock absorbers in cars--can be installed.

Weatherstripping and solid core doors come into play here too.

Big Trees

Landscaping was recommended as a sound buffer by everyone except acoustical engineer David Wieland, who said it works--but only psychologically.

General contractor Dennis D'Ambra says he's recommended it to several clients who all swear by it. Interior designers Lisa Weber, Carmen Olsson and Pat Sullivan think it works too.

But Wieland says if you measured the sound levels before and after planting large trees, there would be no measurable difference unless you put in "several hundred feet of dense forest."

If you want to know exactly how noisy your noise problem is, his firm, J.J. Van Houten and Associates, will send someone out to tell you. The Irvine-based firm charges $110 an hour to assess the noise and make recommendations on what to do about it.

Covered Walls

Hard surfaces reflect sounds; soft ones absorb them so you want to turn your interior into a cocoon, the designers said.

When it comes to walls, they recommended upholstering them with fabric, an expensive process that requires framing, padding and stapling fabric to the wall.

An alternative would be to cover the walls with sheer fabric hung from rods at the top and bottom. Fabric choice is important. Linen and flax combine to keep out noise better than moire. The fabric needs to have air pockets, Olsson said.

Sullivan used acoustical wallpaper to help soundproof a TV room in an older house in Laguna Beach. The commercial-grade product looks like flannel and has a masculine feel.

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