Create a Living Sound Barrier
LESLIE: Well, road noise assaulting your ears day in and day out can really wear on your nerves and interfere with the peace and quiet you want to feel when you’re at home.
TOM: But if you’d like to muffle the noise before it even reaches your walls, you might want to consider adding trees to create a natural and a beautiful sound barrier in your yard. Here to tell us how is This Old House landscaping expert Roger Cook.
ROGER: Thanks for having me.
TOM: So, many people use fences to quiet a yard but that can only help so much, right?
ROGER: Right. Because there’s restrictions on how high a fence can be. The great thing about using trees is there’s no restriction on how high they can get.
TOM: Yeah, that’s a good point.
So, trees reduce the perception of noise by sort of creating a visual barrier between the source and the hearer. But people are also less conscious of noise if they can’t see the source, right?
ROGER: Exactly. It’s a study that was done that says if you can’t see where the noise is coming from, it mentally blocks some of the sound.
LESLIE: That’s interesting.
TOM: You can’t see it if it doesn’t exist.
ROGER: Right. There you go. Yeah.
But noise is noise and it’s very interesting how it can weave its way through different things to get to where you want to be.
LESLIE: So when it comes to placement of these trees, do you want it to be closer to the noise source, closer to the house or can you go right in the middle?
ROGER: Right in the middle is probably the worst spot. Ideally, you want to be as close to the noise source as you can.
LESLIE: And I think in your ideal mind, you want these bushes or shrubs or trees, whatever you’re using, to be really close to one another. But you’ve got to give them the proper space to sort of grow into their own, right?
ROGER: Well, it’s a fine line on what you want to accomplish right away. And you can pick certain types of trees that will grow upright so that they will grow into each other and become a living hedge, which could get 8, 10, 12 feet tall and really knock down the noise. If you pick out trees that get too big, then you’re going to end up pruning off some of the branches, which will let the sound through again.
TOM: Now, when it comes to choosing the trees, I guess you want to decide if you’re going to have this deciduous tree, so that’s going to leaf in the spring and the summer, or an evergreen that’s going to be green all year round. Because without the leaves, you’re certainly not going to get the same kind of sound protection, right?
ROGER: Right. So it depends where the noise is coming from and what’s bothering you. Are you out on your patio when this noise is bothering you and is it different in the winter? If it’s just when you’re out on the patio, then you could use big, deciduous trees with large, large leaves on them to knock down the noise. If it’s something you’re trying to – like road noise you’re trying to block all year round, then you’re better off going with evergreens.
TOM: Now, before you make that final determination, I guess it’s important to know your hardiness zone?
ROGER: Yes. You know, there is a USDA map that shows everyone’s hardiness zone. And you want plants that’ll survive and grow well in that zone, so it’s important to pick out the right plants for the right spot.
LESLIE: Yeah, we used Leyland cypress to do this in our yard.
LESLIE: And I mean it’s amazing how tall they’ve grown over the 11 years we’ve had the house. They’ve been 20 feet tall consistently since about 3 years after we planted them. They’re fantastic.
TOM: And how is the noise working out?
LESLIE: Those neighbors moved but it was a really …
TOM: See? So they worked perfectly.
LESLIE: It worked great. But it really was an excellent sound buffer.
ROGER: Right. But if I plant Leyland cypress up here, maybe every four or five years it gets so cold they get knocked back or killed.
ROGER: Yep. So we use arborvitae instead of Leyland cypress.
TOM: So, again, you’ve really got to know your zone and choose the plant that’s appropriate for your part of the country.
ROGER: Yeah, it’s an investment. Like Leslie just said, they grow and they grow and grow. And they only get better and better.
LESLIE: They really do.
ROGER: They not only knock down sound for wildlife and birds and everything else. So, choose the right plant for the right spot.
TOM: Great advice. Roger Cook from TV’s This Old House, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
ROGER: Thanks for having me.
LESLIE: Alright. Catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And This Old House is brought to you on PBS by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.