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Pollution is our enemy. We focus on carbon products such as plastics, smog and waste but noise is often forgotten.

We are engulfed in noise every day, surrounded by traffic roar, road construction, hair dryers and sirens at escalating decibel levels.

According to the U.S. department of health and human services, nearly one in four (24 percent) of U.S. adults aged 20 to 69 years has features of his or her hearing test in one or both ears that suggest noise-induced hearing loss.

Noise pollution negatively impacts our health, well being, concentration, relaxation and our sleep. Hearing loss is considered the largest population disability in the country, more common than immobility or blindness.

We experience sound primarily in two different ways: airborne soundwaves to our ears and vibrations through floors and walls. The decibel (dB) is the common sound intensity measurement.

Roads and highways are major contributors of noise and we try to mask it with sound walls, but they reflect the noise upward bouncing off buildings only to add to the toxic roar.

I have designed freeway “sound gutters” to collect tire noise and cancel itself out. Still waiting for Cal Trans to call.

Here are a few of ways to reduce or cancel the everyday racket in our lives.

If you’re building a property line wall, use solid wood or plywood on both sides especially if facing a street or neighborhood noise generator.

Provide insulation and a moisture barrier right down to the foundation or grade. A well-built wood wall can have almost as good a sound reduction as a masonry wall.

Make sure your home is well insulated, including walls, attic and underfloor. Use higher thermal resistance or R-values than the minimum and make sure the walls and cracks are well filled.

Check your furnace and air conditioning unit often. Locate the units far away from bedrooms in a well-insulated closet or enclosed cabinets.

When possible use rigid duct work, short duct runs and quiet fans to push the air. Maintain the entire system and change filters regularly.

Install double-paned windows and weather-strip carefully. Even old single glaze wood windows have remarkable sound protection if properly caulked and weather stripped.

If you are building from scratch or remodeling, consider adding two layers of sheetrock or acoustical channels on the inside. It’s cheap and does a terrific job of minimizing noise transfer through the wall.

Consider “white noise” devices. White noise combines all the different frequencies of sound and can mask other annoying sounds. Many hotels are using devices to calm the rooms and hallways.

Use softer interiors: fabrics and textured surfaces to absorb and minimize sound bounce.

Paintings, drapes, carpets and throw rugs all help reduce sound levels within a space. Consider fabric covered “sound panels” as artistic character in your life.

I shudder when I see super contemporary homes with an abundance of naked hard surfaces of glass, granite and plaster that reflects and amplifies sound. I would hate to attend a party there.

At the very least they could use some human touches of art, paintings, draperies and real personal touches to make the space intimate and inviting.

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Chris D. Craiker, AIA/NCARB, is a Napa architect with Craiker Architects & Planners. He has been designing sustainable buildings for more than 40 years.

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