Earth Berm for noise control?

docbotanusFebruary 13, 2006

We live on a 1 acre plot, that, depending on the weather and wind direction, has what are maddening (to me)levels of traffic noise from the busy state highway that lies 1/2 mile west. (I know prevention is best. Unfortunately, the noise was slight, at worst, on the 7-8 trips I made to look at the house and evaluate noise)

The worst noise seems to come from the N and NW; I know plants are poor buffer against noise, and am considering an earth berm along the west and north property lines (abutting the street and forest preserve). To cast an effective noise shadow(for the front yard), the earth berm would probably be at least 10' high(due to the slope of the yard).

I'd cover it with foliage for aesthetics and erosion control, but I'm wondering if it's even practical. How wide a base would a sloped berm require? Is there any formula to calculate the base for a given height? Is this even going to be effective (not just psychologically- the road is already out of sight, but the grooved concrete and 50+ speeds make the noise obnoxious)?

Sorry this post is so long, but thanks for any help you can provide.

PS How effective would a 6foot solid privacy fence be for the back yard-any opinions?

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Generally, berms should have a recommended slope of 5-7:1, so you are looking at a pretty large pile of dirt!! You can make the slope more abrupt, but run a much greater risk of erosion and slippage. And a berm will compact over time, reducing slightly its overall mass.

Without seeing (or hearing) your situation, it is difficult to provide good alternatives, but personally I'd consider something significantly smaller in scale (unless you have a huge expanse of front yard, a berm the size you propose will look ridiculous) and plant it heavily with evergreen material in a series of layers. Yes, the plants will not be as effective in deflecting road noise but they will help. Planting material that is wildlife friendly and will encourage bird populations can provide distraction as will the white noise of a water feature. And too, consider realistically how much relaxing time you will actually spend out front. I also live a bit too close to a busy highway, but other than working in my front garden, don't spend a lot of time relaxing there. I could - given the layers of plantings and the activities and noise of birds and bees, I really don't even notice the road noise most of the time.

As to fencing, the sound barriers constructed along the freeways are 8-10' tall and are constructed of solid concrete. I'm not sure a 6' wooden privacy fence will provide much relief.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2006 at 9:15AM
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A friend lost a large section of the family farm to a major highway constructed with rumble strips. The traffic noise forced her to sell to a developer. Some town planning boards have required developers to construct berms along major roadways topped with evergreens to protect residents from traffic sounds. This practice seems to have been dropped and replaced by high concrete sound barriers.

A lovely home a bit south of us was impacted by a highway widening project. DOT, as part of the permit process, was required to install a massive berm on three sides of the property. I would guess it is 15' high. I will snap some pictures of it when driving that way and send them to you. Perhaps the owner will be kind enough to discuss the success of the berm with me. At this point I would call it ugly. The berm was heavily planted with native plants which are struggling to adjust to the situation.

I really cannot answer your question. My thought would be to take the appraisal price of the property, figure out what commission you would pay to a realtor to sell it and then decide if it might be cheaper to unload the house and move. I think it probably would be.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2006 at 10:22AM
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A 3:1 fill slope will usually work (that is 30' from the edge to the middle of your 10' high berm- 60' total width). You can get away with it steeper depending on your soil and vegetation. I would not expect any better than a 2:1 at best.

Vegetation is over rated as a sound buffer. That is why the concrete sound deflectors are being used.

You mentioned that the highway is out of site. It would not be because it is screened by vegetation would it? If so, how effective is it as a sound buffer?

An alternative way to mitigate sound is to mask it with another more pleasant sound such as a waterfall.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2006 at 7:14PM
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lpinkmountain(5b/6a border PA)

One of my best friends had an earth berm installed in her front yard to block the street noise after her once rural street was widened and is seeing increased traffic. In her case, the government seized part of her property for the road widening, so they installed the earth berm during the road construction. It is planted with a thick hedge of evergreens, small flowering trees and shrubs. It looks fantastic. She has a small patio and walkway behind the berm, with a wood fence and cool looking gate where there in entrance from her driveway. It is a very private garden, and the road noise is blocked. Not totally, but it does make a difference. The combination of visual and sound blocking is what I think makes her situation work. You walk in that gate and you really enter another world. Her walkway and patio are made out of beautiful beach stones she has madly collected over the years. She also I think has a large wind chime outside her front door.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2006 at 12:21PM
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Thank you all for your input. In response to the suggestion I consider selling, I agree it's not a bad idea; my wife,however, will hear nothing of going through a move again, and moving is not financially practical now. Finding a similar size property so close-3 miles-to work is near impossible.

The yard is sufficiently large that devoting the N and NW property lines to berm is not unreasonable; this part of the yard is useless otherwise and has little real landscaping. I suppose I'll next consult a landscaping contractor to get an idea of cost.

I've tried large chimes with some success, but really the best days are those when the noise is nearly nonexistent. I'm also considering a large water feature.

BTW, the only real physical barrier between us and thehighway is a smattering of homes(deciduous and evergreen)

    Bookmark   February 15, 2006 at 4:13AM
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We live right next to a highway. As in, we can see the backups that theyÂre talking about on tv from our bedroom window. The noise is bothersome, but the wide open views of downtown and location right next to a large park and major trail system do make up for itÂ.

Anyway, we mitigate the noise by masking it. This past summer we installed outdoor speakers on our back patio, and while you can still hear the highway noise, you donÂt notice it nearly as much any more. This solution works well for us because our lot it teeny tiny (less than 3,500 sqft), and only opens to the east, so we can hear the music well no matter where we are in the yard. ItÂs also cost effective and pleasantÂ.music during dinners outside and even some impromptu dancing afterwards!

    Bookmark   February 16, 2006 at 4:29PM
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Our neighborhood has a large privacy / noise berm (topped by a six foot privacy fence) that runs along our backyards next to a road which has gotten busier and noisier since we moved in. This berm was built by the developer before they even dug for our foundation. It works very nicely masking the noise of the street as far as we are concerned. We like the extra privacy that it offers also. We haven't had too much problem with erosion even though the resulting hill is pretty steep. I don't know how to measure the height and width of this berm but it sounds like it is close to the size you are thinking about creating. If you are interested I will try to figure out how to attach a picture so you can see it.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2006 at 7:15PM
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Hey all, I'm from South FL. Does anyone happen to have a picture of what a berm with a 6' fence might look like? I would like to have about a 2' berm with a fence on top but my spouse doesn't think it will look very nice. I'm at a loss to respond or refute so I could sure use some pictures. We have about 100ft along the right side of the house that faces the highway. Any thoughts out there?

    Bookmark   November 7, 2006 at 8:46PM
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To Nylajc,
I have read that to be effective, the berm has to be tall enough to block sight of the offending object. So I'm thinking at least half the height of the car or truck producing it. Therefore I don't think a 2 foot berm would do much. The fence on top might help if it is solid, like cinder block, but a wood fence doesn't help much.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2013 at 8:48PM
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