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Having a balcony on your house increases your outdoor living space and upgrades the overall exterior design of your house.
Unfortunately, with the balcony comes the potential for noise exposure, particularly if you live next to the road where noise pollution is the norm. And with traffic noise linked to health effects that include high blood pressure and psychological stress, blocking it is more than just about your comfort.
How to Reduce Traffic Noise From a Balcony
You can reduce traffic noise from a balcony by erecting a fence or a wall, changing your landscape design, using noise replacement sounds, and installing a water fountain to drown out the noise.
In the rest of this article, you’ll learn exactly how you can use the above hacks to reduce the amount of noise you experience on your balcony. If you live in a high rise building, the first three options will not be applicable. Read on for more.
1. Put Up a Perimeter Wall
Erecting a perimeter wall is the first thing you should consider when you can’t stand the noise seeping through to your balcony. The essence of a perimeter wall is to block traffic noise, so it doesn’t find its way into your backyard. When noise can’t enter your backyard, you won’t experience it on your balcony.
However, different types of perimeter walls have varying noise-reduction capabilities. That means for the most soundproof solution, you’ll need to be careful with your selection.
So, what makes a wall an effective noise barrier?
Typically, the difference in noise reduction capabilities of various types of walls lies in the construction. So before you make a choice, consider the following:
- Material density
- Type of construction
Let’s take a deeper look at each.
The density of the material refers to how closely packed its molecules are. Typically, highly dense materials block sound waves, while low-density materials transmit sound through them.
The density of the construction material also determines how much the wall will vibrate. With a low-density material, you’ll experience a lot of vibration, which can be just as disturbing as the actual noise from traffic.
So when choosing a material for your perimeter wall, you’ll want to choose something with high density. This way, you’ll reflect back sound waves from nearby traffic and prevent vibrations in the wall.
Don’t know what these high-density materials are? Don’t worry; chances are you already know most of them.
First on that list is the good old concrete. Naturally, concrete walls are high density, especially when constructed thick. So if you already have a concrete perimeter wall and are still experiencing noise in your backyard and balcony, increasing its thickness is one way you can reduce it because a thick wall can reduce the balcony noise by up to 6 decibels (dB).
Keep in mind that increasing the thickness needs a sizable budget. If your budget doesn’t allow it, there are still other cheaper ways to reduce traffic noise.
Other high-density materials you can use on your perimeter wall include stone or brick. Both work in the same way as concrete, so we won’t go much into that.
Lastly, you can also use solar photovoltaic panels to generate electricity while also reducing traffic noise, but this is more of an idea for the future. Experts are yet to reach a consensus on the feasibility of such panels, and the available information remains limited.
Type of Construction
The way you construct your perimeter wall will determine how successful it will be in keeping your balcony noise-proof. In fact, the type of construction has a bigger impact on soundproofing than the material used, so pay close attention.
Ideally, your perimeter wall should have no gaps because sound waves penetrate through the holes and find their way to your balcony. This won’t just help keep out the noise; it’ll also give you a better sense of privacy whenever you’re having important conversations on your balcony.
Your wall should also touch the ground to seal off the vibration noise that comes from the car tires. On the other end of the spectrum, it should be high enough to block noise from flowing over the top. As a general rule, if you can see the source of the noise, you’ll be able to hear it.
But just how much traffic noise can a high wall reduce?
An 8-foot-high solid wall can reduce noise by as much as 6 to 10 dB of traffic noise, which usually measures 60 to 70 dB. While this may not seem like a big difference, a 10-dB drop means half the noise to the human ear.
However, if you have an elevated balcony, even a very high wall—say 8 or 10 feet (96 or120 inches)—might not be the best solution for reducing traffic noise. That’s because your balcony will likely be higher than the wall, meaning there’ll be space above the fence for sound to travel through.
Provided you don’t have an elevated balcony, here are a few things to keep in mind when constructing a perimeter wall:
Seal Cracks and Edges
To get a soundproof wall that will keep noise off your balcony, seal it well at the perimeter. If there are holes or cracks, the insulation against sound will be greatly compromised. A hole measuring only 1-inch or a crack measuring 16 inches will reduce the ability of the wall to keep off the noise by almost 10%.
Besides letting in unwanted sound from the streets, cracks act as routes for dangerous animals like snakes and rats, which isn’t ideal, to say the least.
Increase Studs Spacing
The spaces between the studs can be increased so that it can ‘drown’ the unnecessary sounds. If you have a one-stud wall, then increase the spacing of the studs to 24 inches. This can reduce noise by 2-5 dB over the normal 16-inch spacing.
Increase Airspace Width
If you have a single-layer perimeter wall, consider adding a second layer and leave airspace between the two layers. In structural design, this type of wall is called a cavity wall and is more effective at sound insulation compared to a single-layer wall of similar height.
3-inch airspace can reduce some of the balcony noise. But if you increase it to about six inches, you can reduce the noise levels by an additional 5dB. However, while it may seem like infinitely increasing the airspace means less noise, you’ll want to limit the space to 6 inches (0.5 ft) because anything wider will be expensive and hard to design.
Employ Staggered Studs
By staggering the studs, you reduce sound transmission. But for this to be effective, you’ll need to attach one stud per panel and alternate between the panels.
Use Resilient Materials to Secure the Panels and Studs
Using nails can compromise your wall’s ability to block off the noise because nails are metallic.
So instead of nails, consider using resilient layers like glass fiberboard, semi-resilient attachments, and clips that are resilient. These are relatively affordable, easy to use, and can increase the soundproof ability by between 2 and 5 dB.
Include Acoustical Blankets
Also called isolation blankets, acoustical blankets inserted in the airspace of a cavity wall absorb sound to stop it from bouncing back and forth within the airspace. This helps reduce echoing, and as a result, noise.
For the best sound absorption, choose acoustical blankets made of noise-absorbing materials such as fiberglass, rock wool, hair felt or wood fibers, and mineral. These can reduce traffic noise by close to 10 dB.
2. Build a Soundproof Fence
If you choose to go with a fence instead of a wall, ensure it’s a soundproof fence. Typically, these are fences or fencing systems that have been acoustically modified and tested yet appear like normal backyard fences.
They work by absorbing and blocking noise from external sources thanks to their thick and heavy construction. However, their capabilities in this regard vary, and you need to choose the right fence type to maximize sound insulation.
To help you with that, let’s take a look at some of the popular types of soundproof fences.
Mass Loaded Vinyl Fence
A fence made of Mass Loaded Vinyl can help reduce traffic noise to tolerable levels. A mass loaded vinyl (MLV) material is a vinyl sheet that has been infused with metal particles to increase its mass and therefore make it soundproof.
The beauty of MLV is that it is flexible, weather-resistant, and durable. This makes it easy to fit into your usual block or wooden fence to make it soundproof.
A wooden fence can help soundproof your balcony against traffic noise if it’s thick, solid, and doesn’t have any gaps. However, different wood types have varying soundproofing capabilities. Some of the most soundproof wood types include cork, redwood, and cider.
One major drawback of a wooden fence isn’t durable and can split with time due to harsh weather. Luckily, you can prevent this by covering the wood with a weatherproof soundproof panel or soundproof foam. This way, you’ll enhance its durability and soundproofing capability.
Heavy Corrugated Metal Fence
While heavy metal is a good soundproof material, it is more effective if you add the heavy metallic sheet to an existing normal fence instead of erecting a fully heavy metallic fence.
The beauty of this kind of fence is that it’s low-maintenance because it doesn’t need staining or treatment, which is often the case for many types of wood fences. This is particularly true if you choose a water-and-corrosion-resistant metal type such as stainless steel, copper, or aluminum. Iron can also be an option. But since it’s prone to rust, you need to ensure it’s galvanized with a rustproof zinc coating before buying.
If you can’t find such metal types within your budget, you can always paint the cheaper options to improve durability without breaking the bank. The paint will act as a barrier between the metal surface and weather elements, which will help protect your fence from corrosion and water damage.
As mentioned earlier, blocks and concrete are dense enough to block sound. As such, you can use a concrete fence to reflect back traffic noise, so it doesn’t find its way into your compound and your balcony.
Green Plant Fence
Green plants can help reduce backyard traffic noise and enhance the aesthetic appeal of your home. The idea here is to absorb some of the sound waves as they go through the fence so noise reaches your compound with less intensity.
But for the most soundproof green plant fence, you’ll need to use brushwood made of twigs, undergrowth, and small branches. Thick brushwood is effective in reducing the noise reaching your balcony, provided you ensure the thickness of above 60cm (23.622 inches).
Other than brushwood, you can also use a bamboo fence as a noise barrier to your balcony. Naturally, bamboo canes grow densely together, creating a mass of sound-absorbent material. Plus, they grow pretty fast, meaning you won’t have to wait for your noise reduction solution to kick in.
Lastly, you can plant the beautiful evergreen shrubs and jumpier plants. These plants can not only absorb sound but also produce charming sounds when hit with the wind, which can help drown out some of the noise.
3. Change Your Landscape Design
If erecting a fence or a perimeter wall is off the table, you can change your landscape design to reduce traffic noise. Sound travels in a direct line, and designing an outdoor space that interferes with this path can help shed off a few decibels in the traffic noise reaching your balcony.
For this to work, you’ll need to involve a professional landscaper. Ideally, they’ll help design your outdoor landscape such that there isn’t a straight line of sight between the road and your balcony.
There are two ways to do this; you can either lower your outdoor space or raise it in relation to the rest of your property. For the former, digging will be involved. By digging out your outdoor space, you’ll lower it than the rest of your property, creating a height difference that’ll break off the normal path of sound waves.
If sinking your outdoor space isn’t ideal, you can raise it. However, you’ll need much more space for this kind of intervention. By raising, we mean creating some sort of a raised hill between your property and the road. The hill will reflect sound waves away from your home in the same way a wall would, but with the added advantage of allowing you to adorn it will plants for aesthetics.
4. Pump in Replacement Sounds
Not all sounds can be considered as noise. There are pleasant sounds that calm you as you enjoy your balcony moments. So if your balcony is still noisy after trying out the solutions discussed earlier, consider pumping in desirable replacement sounds to make traffic noise more tolerable.
While this has nothing to do with absorption or sound blocking, it’ll reduce the amount of traffic noise you hear by keeping your ears’ sensors occupied with a pleasant sound.
One of the simplest ways to pump in replacement sound is by investing in a powerful outdoor stereo system (Amazon). Music has a calming effect, and you’ll rarely notice the chaos outside when jamming to your favorite playlist. Plus, this can be a great solution if you live in a high rise building, where fences, walls, and landscaping aren’t feasible noise reduction solutions.
When choosing an outdoor stereo system, make sure it has Bluetooth connectivity with wide coverage. This way, you’ll be able to play music without being constrained to the location of your music system.
You can also use plants such as weeping trees and ornamental grasses to create replacement sounds. Typically, these make rustling sounds when the wind blows, which can create a sense of tranquility in your home and balcony.
5. Use a Water Fountain to Drown Out the Noise
Developing a fountain made from a granite watering basin and a copper plug can also be a creative way to deal with traffic noise. Gushing water produces what for many people is a pleasant, calming sound, and you can use it to create a sense of peace in your compound by drowning out unnecessary noise.
The noise “drowning” effect is because the continuous sound of running water in a fountain has a similar frequency range to that of many unwanted sounds. And since it’s usually closer to your ears than traffic, it’s the only sound you’ll hear, hence the term “noise drowning.”
But while a fountain may work for noises from conversations or roaring car engines, it won’t reduce high pitched sounds such as horns. Also, your fountain needs to be close to the balcony to effectively muffle noise, which can be an issue if you live on, say the third floor.
In case you missed some of the important concepts, let’s take a quick recap of this guide.
In a nutshell, there are four ways to reduce traffic noise from your balcony, namely:
- Erecting a fence or a wall
- Changing your landscape design
- Using noise replacement sounds
- Installing a water fountain to drown out the noise
While the above hacks can help reduce noise, it’s important to keep in mind that they won’t make your balcony 100% soundproof. Rather, they’ll reduce the noise to bearable levels.
- Wikipedia: Density
- Techniconacoustics.com: Sound Damping vs Absorption
- Hunker.com: cedar vs redwood for fencing
- Sweetwater.com: Mass Loaded Vinyl
- Factmonster.com: Acoustics
- Nationalgeographic.org: Noise Pollution
- Isostore.com: Concept of damping
- Thespruce.com: Bamboo privacy hedges as noise barriers
- Fhwa.dot.gov: Audible Landscape
- Block.arch.ethz.ch: Acoustic insulation through structural stiffness
- Hypertextbook.com: Density of Concrete-The Physics Factbook
- Redfin.com: How to Reduce Traffic Noise in Your Backyard
- Groveteam.com: 4 Ways To Reduce Traffic Noise in Your Backyard
- Hortmag.com: Loud Plants – Horticulture