Good Neighbours: How to Stop Your Outdoor Noise Travelling
From rugs and awnings to screens, here are some noise-dampening ideas to keep you in your neighbours’ good books.
HAVE you ever struggled to sleep while the noise from your neighbour’s party drifted through your windows? Or, perhaps worse, has an irate neighbour ever knocked on your door in the wee hours and asked you to please take your garden party inside? With more Aussies living closer together, or in apartments, than ever before, exterior acoustics have become a big issue. Though thanks to these stylish sound absorbing solutions, they no longer have to be.
As a general rule, sound waves reflect off hard, smooth materials and are absorbed or diffused by porous, pliable surfaces. This is why concrete stairwells are akin to echo chambers, while a recording studio of the same size – with foam-clad walls – absorbs sound and reduces reverberations.
Of all the natural building materials we use, timber is one of the best at absorbing and diffusing sound waves. Decking helps turn down the volume more than concrete, tiles or bricks.
Renting or reluctant to build a deck? Try using timber deck tiles instead – they are removable so you can take them with you to your next home. These clever designs go by many names – timber tiles, decking tiles, wooden pavers and deck squares to name a few – and they come in a variety of woods and finishes.Timber tiles sit on top of your existing outdoor flooring, so are great for concealing old stained pavers and unattractive areas.
Tip: If you’re keen for a DIY project, you can usually cover a small balcony with deck tiles in one afternoon.
Timber battens and screens
Timber battens pack a powerful punch when it comes to noise reduction as well as making a strong statement. Battens can be used to create privacy screens or space dividers, to clad garden bed walls, or add texture to balcony ceilings and exterior walls.
If you have an undercover alfresco area that could benefit from some timber battens, it may even be possible to use a noise-absorbing material backing, such as gauze or scrim, which will further soak up the sound.
With some strategic planning, plantation shutters can be designed to have similar sound-diffusing properties as timber battens and decking. Louvred exterior shutters help insulate a home from heat and weather, as well as noise pollution. As with all things acoustic, the more area you cover, the more sound you will diffuse.
While shutters usually sit in an external wall, louvres can sometimes be placed further towards the boundary of your property.
To eliminate the problem of overlooking and overshadowing while maximising light, but providing shade from the west, your solution could be external louvres. Exterior angled shutters on the facade, which also offer a degree of sound insulation.
Need to bring some hush to your house and garden? We hear you. Acoustic panels harness innovative technology to help soundproof interiors, and now these noise-cancelling designs are moving outdoors and quietly taking traditional fences and walls by storm.
The ModularWalls system combines sound-absorbing composite fibre cement and EPS sandwich panels with the structural strength of a high-tensile post system. The result? Noise-insulating boundaries in a range of colours and designs.
Acoustic feature panels
As well as using sound-absorbing panels as exterior walls or fencing, you can also employ them as screening panels to offer privacy and textural accents. Acoustic landscaping solutions in panel form use the same technology as exterior sound-absorbing walls and fencing, and can usually be affixed to existing substrates. If you fancy a DIY project, most acoustic feature walls can be mounted in just a few hours.
Tip: Sound-cancelling panels can be used as freestanding screens as well as mounted to walls – highlight them with exterior lighting to show them off.
Artificial turf has been basking in the spotlight lately and for good reason. Added to its significant sound-diffusing qualities, new designs have a lush appearance, it boasts zero maintenance and is cushioned enough to comfortably recline on. It is easy to cut faux grass to fit the dimensions of your balcony or lot, and you can roll it up and take it with you if you move. Drainage is rarely an issue too, so most body corporates and strata plans approve of it as an external floor covering.
The same way carpet acts as an interior sound soaker, so too do outdoor rugs. Both are a richly textured material with an expansive surface area, which is key in sound diffusion.
Exterior rugs are usually made from water-resistant synthetic fibres so are slightly less efficient at absorbing sound than indoor rugs made from natural fibres, though they nevertheless will help improve your exterior acoustics.
Although different textiles are not created equal in terms of sound absorption, any fabric is better than no fabric when it comes to reducing outdoor noise levels. Thicker, highly textured weaves and natural fibres are usually better at absorbing sound, so if you’ve received some noise complaints and are thinking of installing an awning, try opting for these types of textiles.
The sheer romance of outdoor curtains alone is enough of a reason to hang some whimsical drapes from your balcony, pergola or outdoor entertaining space.
Next, simply sit back and enjoy an alfresco evening with friends while basking amid these billowing beauties, which will help dampen the sound.
Tip: Fabric umbrellas can diffuse sound outdoors, especially if you position them over your main entertaining area.
We all know that soft furnishings are the first step to improving acoustics inside, and the same rule applies outside the home. Scatter some outdoor cushions, throw a cosy blanket on a chair, hang a hammock and, if you are entertaining, unfurl a table runner and napkins to help bring the decibels down a notch.
Soft furnishings are just a small piece of the puzzle, but with acoustics, most things result in only a slight noise reduction. It’s when you combine multiple details within a single space that you’ll notice a significant drop in noise… and your neighbours should too.
If you’ve been looking for an excuse not to mow the lawn or prune the garden, here it is: just like fabric and soft furnishings, the leaves, flowers and trunks of trees and plants can help dampen and diffuse sound when grown en masse. So go on, be a good neighbour – put down the secateurs and invite the people next door over for lunch instead. Did we mention that healthy neighbourly relations are another great tool in solving exterior acoustic issues?