I enjoy spending as much time outdoors as possible, but definitely don’t enjoy my noisy neighbors. If you’ve ever had this problem you might be wondering how to soundproof an outdoor area. Well, there are quite a few options:
- Build a big fence
- Plant some trees
- Add some acoustic management materials
- Build a water feature
- Build a shed or sunroom
- Find other ways to mask the sound
In this article, I’ll look at the most effective ways to reduce noise pollution in an outdoor area. Bear in mind it’ll never be completely soundproof, but trying a few of these solutions will definitely improve matters.
Also read: Guide to Soundproofing Your Garden
What Kind Of Noise Are You Trying To Block?
To understand how to best reduce noise pollution in your outdoor space it’s worth first thinking about what kinds of sound you’re trying to block.
Sound waves can be broken down into 2 broad categories:
- Impact noise
- Airborne noise
Impact noises are those created when an object hits a surface. This creates vibrates that transmit through the surface and come out the other side as sounds. Examples include footsteps on a floor and furniture being moved.
It’s unlikely the impact noise will be a problem in your outdoor space, so you’ll be mainly dealing with airborne noise.
Airborne noise is fairly easy to understand. It’s sound traveling from the source through the air as mechanical waves. Sound waves are caused by particles in the air vibrating, which causes the sound wave to travel.
Examples of airborne noise include:
- People talking
- Music or TV
- Dogs barking
- Road traffic
Airborne noises such as these will typically fall in medium frequencies, such as people talking. But you’ll also find low and high-frequency airborne noises, such as the low notes of a car engine and birds singing.
Therefore, to effectively protect against airborne noises you’ll need a range of different options. But most will be concentrated on blocking out medium frequency sounds, as these will be the most common issue in outdoor spaces.
The other thing to consider is whether you’re trying to stop noise from entering (such as from a neighbor’s yard) or whether you’re trying to stop it from leaving your yard.
The only real difference this’ll make is whether you decide to install any acoustic management materials, such as sound baffles. These are fine for reducing noise escaping a space but won’t do much for noise entering the space.
Before we go any further though, it’s worth noting that you’ll never truly soundproof an outdoor space. You’ll have to sacrifice some amount of noise blocking for the area to still be considered “outdoors”.
A truly soundproof space will always have to be indoors because you’ll need to block all sound from entering or leaving it. But that said, you should be able to drastically reduce the amount of noise pollution that enters or escapes your outdoor space.
Which Of The Soundproofing Principles Do You Need To Know?
All soundproofing solutions can be broken down into 1 of 4 main principles. These are:
When it comes to soundproofing an outdoor space, you won’t use all of these. For example, decoupling will effectively be useless in an outdoor area. You’ll mainly rely on mass, absorption, and perhaps damping.
This one is fairly straightforward. The rule is that an object with more mass is going to block sounds more easily.
More mass means the object won’t vibrate as much when sound waves hit it, meaning they don’t transmit as far.
When sound waves hit an object, some of the wave’s energy is transmitted while some is reflected. Sound absorbing materials prevent the waves from being reflected.
Acoustic foam tiles are the best example. Their open-celled structure causes sound waves to enter and then reflect off the multiple surfaces. This “traps” the sound waves and expends all their energy.
Damping is the process of reducing sound resonance, usually by absorption or reflection.
A good example is when a wine glass rings and then stops if you put your hand around it. Your hand is damping the glass’s resonance.
Most damping products absorb sound waves and convert them into heat energy. A common example is acoustic caulk, such as Green Glue.
While it’s not necessary to get too deep into the science of soundproofing, having some basic knowledge of the main principles will make it easier to understand how the solutions below will help.
How To Soundproof An Outdoor Area
Now that we know a bit more about the type of sound we’re trying to block, we can look at some solutions.
Many of these can be combined for better effect, although some are more focused on masking the noise rather than blocking it.
1. Build a big fence
You probably already have a fence surrounding your outdoor space, but it’s worth upgrading it to a more soundproof version.
Choosing the right materials is vital to getting the right level of noise blocking. Ideally, the materials should have enough mass to reduce the transmission of sound waves.
My top recommendations would be:
- Hardwood (cedar or redwood, for example)
- Hay or mounded earth
The last option won’t be very popular but you’d be surprised how effective it’ll be.
Vinyl fences are fairly common, but consider making yours with mass loaded vinyl instead. This will instantly increase the fence’s mass, making it better at blocking sound.
Your fence should be 12-15ft tall to effectively block airborne noises. Granted, this won’t be the most attractive sight, but it depends whether you want a quiet yard or to see out of it.
Be sure to regularly maintain your fence once it’s built and to repair any small holes. While they might not seem like a big issue, they’ll let sound through, making the whole effort pointless.
2. Plant some trees
Planting a row of dense trees can potentially reduce noise pollution by up to 50%. Of course, this is a long-term solution as the trees need time to grow and mature before you can appreciate the full benefit.
Your best options are trees with dense foliage that are evergreen so you can get the benefit all year round. Consider the following options:
All of these are common hedge choices for their density, and they’ll help to reduce noise pollution.
Plant a row of trees in front of your new fence to increase the size of your sound barrier. What’s more, it’ll make the giant fence a bit nicer to look at too.
Using a range of different trees and shrubs will be effective because it provides a variety of surfaces. This will hopefully absorb sound waves in the same way as acoustic foam.
3. Add some acoustic management materials
Perhaps you’re not just trying to stop sound from entering your outdoor space but are trying to stop it from escaping. While the options mentioned above will help with this, you’ll benefit from using some acoustic management solutions too.
Fitting some acoustic tiles in strategic locations will help to reduce echo in your outdoor space. This in turn will reduce the amount of noise that escapes, as much of it will be absorbed into the tiles.
To understand where best to place these tiles, watch this video on a room’s reflection points. While this isn’t strictly accurate when applied to an outdoor area, it’ll give you enough information.
Similarly, consider the following tips:
- Acoustic tiles can be disguised by covering them in fabric, but don’t use any glue to stick them down.
- You might want to build a pergola or trellis over your outdoor space for easier application.
- Bass traps generally go in corners, so these are easy to place.
- Try to keep the acoustic tiles dry, as they won’t be as effective if they get rained on.
- This option won’t block sound but will help to absorb sound waves before they escape your yard.
Acoustic management shouldn’t be used on its own because it’s not designed to be a sole soundproofing product. Think of it more as a finishing touch, particularly for stopping noise pollution on your side of things.
4. Build a water feature
Sure, this option won’t specifically block sound from entering your outdoor space, but it’ll definitely help to mask it. For many, this will be just as good as blocking the sound entirely.
Consider building a fountain, waterfall, or stream to help mask incoming noise pollution. The more bubbly you can make it, the better job it’ll do.
5. Build a shed or sunroom
Although it technically won’t be an outdoor space any more, building something like a shed will give you an area that you can make almost entirely soundproof.
Build a wooden shed or prefab sunroom kit and then line it with mass loaded vinyl or sound deadening mats. Both of these products are perfect for this kind of job and will massively reduce the amount of noise you hear inside the shed.
Of course, this will also improve thermal insulation, so it might get a bit warm in there.
A shed will also add the benefit of reducing echo around your outdoor space. Enclosed outdoor spaces can become echo chambers, particularly in spaces like alleyways where sounds can bounce off the flat surfaces.
Putting your shed in a good location will reduce echo entering the yard, instead of reflecting it back down the alleyway.
While building a shed might be a bit pricey, it’ll arguably be cheaper than trying to soundproof the whole outdoor space. You’d be surprised how peaceful it’ll be to sit in there looking out at your yard.
6. Soundproof your existing fence
If you’re not able to build an entirely new fence or wall around your backyard, the next best thing would be to soundproof the existing one. This can be a much more cost-effective solution if you get the right materials.
I’d recommend using either mass loaded vinyl or sound deadening mats. Both are mass heavy and weatherproof, making them perfect for this job.
You’ll be best working with a solid wooden or vinyl fence. If it’s anything else, tear it down and build a new one.
Follow these steps to soundproof your fence:
- Remove any plants growing up the fence, clean it down, and repair it.
- Block up any small holes with acoustic caulk, such as Green Glue.
- Cut your mass loaded vinyl to size if it comes in a roll.
- Attach it to the wall using nails or staples, whichever is easiest.
- If using deadening mats, simply peel off the back and stick directly to the fence.
- Add a few nails for support too.
- Fill in any small gaps with acoustic caulk to ensure everything is properly sealed.
- Consider fitting a layer of wooden panels or trellis for growing plants, simply for looks.
You could definitely try adding more than one layer of your chosen material, but just be careful with this. Mass loaded vinyl weighs about 2lbs per square foot, so you don’t want to add so much the fence falls down.
7. Find other ways to mask the sound
If you don’t have the time or budget to install a water feature, there are other ways to mask sounds in your backyard. Obviously, these aren’t as effective, but they can make good finishing touches.
The first is to plant some tall grass, such as sedge grass. It makes a lovely sound when the wind blows through it, and looks nice too.
Another option is to fit some outdoor speakers that you can use to play soft music or white noise. While this might just be adding more noise to the situation, it’ll mask unwelcome noise pollution.
Some Final Thoughts
Hopefully, some of the solutions here will help you to soundproof an outdoor area in your home. Just be prepared to do a bit of DIY if you want the most effective solutions. I’d definitely recommend trying several options for the best results.