LESLIE: Well, if your home happens to sit on a busy road or perhaps next to noisy neighbors, you may have found that getting a little peace and quiet is quite a challenge.
TOM: Well, while there are many ways to reduce sound from inside your home, there are also ways to reduce noise outside through some very strategic landscaping. Here to tell us how is This Old House landscaping contractor Roger Cook.
ROGER: Thanks for having me. And I’ll tell you, the number-one way is to move.
TOM: Sometimes, that is the way to go. But if you don’t want to move, you can improve your walls, windows or doors to reduce noise when you’re inside the house. But when it comes to the outside, what kinds of improvements can we make that might soften some of that traffic?
ROGER: Well, soften is a great word because it’s almost impossible to stop all that noise from coming into your yard.
ROGER: A lot of times, we’ll use a combination of either plants – mostly evergreens – or a fence.
Now, if I use a fence, I like to make it go in zigzag, not straight, because that helps break up the sound waves.
TOM: Now that’s just like when you see the sound walls on a major highway; they’re always angled like that.
ROGER: Absolutely. It helps knock down the sound. And again, the plant will filter it but it’s not going to do a lot. One of the things I say is that when I can’t see where the noise is coming from, mentally, I don’t hear it as much.
ROGER: It’s a great distraction to not be able to see those cars and trucks going down the road. And it just makes your mind think that – “Wow, it’s just not as loud as it was. Either that or I did a really good job.”
TOM: Now, when it comes to those fences, you put the zigzag fence in and then maybe, what, put some landscaping in front of it? Again, just to kind of provide more dampening for the sound waves?
ROGER: Right. Because those waves will ride right up over the fence. And a fence, if you put it in at 6 feet, in 10 years it’s still going to be 6 feet.
ROGER: If you put a plant in at 10 feet or 6 feet, in 10 years it’ll be 15 or 20 feet tall.
ROGER: So it’s going to really help knock down the sound.
LESLIE: Now when it comes to the fencing that you might select, does it make a difference which material you choose? Like should I be building a wood fence or should I go with one of those PVC guys?
ROGER: I like the wood fence but it has to be a tight wood – tongue-and-groove or something like that – because you don’t want any space in between the boards at all, because that’ll just let noise in.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And can you just put up a fence? I mean you really need to be asking your town if you can do this, right?
ROGER: Everything has to be permitted. You know, they’ll allow you a certain height but the biggest thing I need to do is I need to know where the property line is. Because I don’t want to put up a fence and have it be on the town property or the neighbor’s property and have them politely ask us to move it.
TOM: Yeah. “Just slide it 6 inches, would you?”
ROGER: Not so politely, yeah.
TOM: Yeah, exactly.
So when it comes to plantings, what kinds of species should we be thinking about? We want something that’s an evergreen, I would assume, right?
ROGER: We want two things. We want native evergreens.
ROGER: Because they’ll thrive there with the least amount of water or fertilizer. But you also have to remember you want something that’s deer-proof. Because they’re going to come in and they’re going to limb your plant up 6 or 8 feet tall and there goes all your stopping of the noise.
TOM: You get those kind of – I call them “lollipop trees.”
TOM: Because they eat everything that’s just 4, 5, 6 feet high.
TOM: And it stays green above that and there’s nothing below.
ROGER: Right. When the deer strip that foliage all the way up to 6 feet, well, that’s where most of the noise is coming from the tires and the vehicles. So they’re opening up a great avenue for that noise to come right into your yard.
LESLIE: It’s really amazing. It’s like do the leaves just not grow back there or are the deer just so voracious that they’re beating the growth?
ROGER: They tend to grab it and strip it. It has a real ragged look to it when you see where the deer have been browsing. In some cases, it will come back. But as soon as it comes back, they’ll probably eat it again.
LESLIE: They’re back on it.
TOM: We’re talking to Roger Cook, he’s the landscaping contractor on TV’s This Old House.
Roger, you actually did a job recently on This Old House to soften some of that backyard sound. It was the Carlisle project. Can you tell us about it?
ROGER: Well, it was on a major road. Really, a major road. And the problem we had was that when you came out of the front of the house, it was almost the same level as the road. So, literally, as those tires went by, you were looking at them and all you heard was the noise from the tires. So we built a stone wall and it was about 2½ to 3 feet tall. Then we added in planting behind it and it really seemed to knock down the noise from those tires.
TOM: So even a short stone wall like that with a bit of planting knocked down that road noise.
ROGER: Great combination.
TOM: Terrific. Roger Cook, the landscaping contractor on TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
ROGER: Again, my pleasure.