How to reduce surrounding noise in patio area?

dakota01August 31, 2010

My new home is built in a "tradional" neighborhood. Zone 5/6 ( PA ) Meaning, very small yards and all the houses are very close.

I opted to have a side yard vrs. a back yard. I have a patio with roof and about 15 feet of grass space outward from there. The length of this area is about 50 feet.

My plan is to put in a nice privacy/garden fence with a gate near the front of the house. I will be having flower beds put in and a small pond.

Well, my neighbors air conditioner is right smack dab in the center of this area. The noise from this unit is horrible ! I'm looking for ideas to dramatically reduce the noise from thier unit.

Will a fence cut down on the noise? Is one fence better for that than another? Any particular smallish trees, shrubs that can help?

I think the sound of my running pond/waterfall will help, but I believe I need more than just that to lessen all the racket that is coming from thier unit.


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Fence? Not unless you're putting up a real sound barrier like is often erected when a multi-lane highway cuts through a neighborhood. Trees/shrubs unfortunately won't do any soundproofing either; however, they might give you a "sense" of enclosure and that coupled with the water sounds of the pond could give you a little relief.

I had a heat pump in Maryland; it kind of swooshed when it went on then was quiet after that. Maybe their unit isn't level if the fan or something is rattling.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 2:02PM
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You have my sympathies; we have a similar situation with a new neighbor's whining/humming pool filter just a few feet from the property line. Though it's probably not as loud as that air conditioner, the sound seems so pervasive!

After experimenting with some plywood sheets we had left over from a project, I had a wooden fence installed in that area, figuring the wood would transmit less sound than other materials. It is 6' overall, with the bottom 5' being solid and the top 1' being scalloped pickets to blend with other fencing we have. It has diminished the sound somewhat.

We also have a pond with waterfall ... and, while this wouldn't normally be my taste, I bought the biggest, loudest darn waterfall our supplier had! It also helps, and the wildlife loves it.

It probably would have been a lot easier and cheaper (and more effective) just to move, but my gardens have been developing and maturing here for about 30 years now and you can't just pick up and move something like that ... and there's no way I would leave them behind!

Duluth has a good point above that perhaps the AC unit is not level or there is some other problem with it. However, this can be a touchy thing to address without offending.

You might also want to invest in some good outdoor speakers. I'm not suggesting you blast the neighborhood, but a little background music can sometimes take the edge off other sounds. Honestly, though, I used to delight in just the sound of the birds and the wind in the trees in our neighborhood.

I grew up in a neighborhood (and era) with few fences and loved it, but more and more I'm beginning to appreciate the California suburb model of tall concrete walls between properties ... Ohhhh, I'm becoming such an old grouch ;-)

Good luck, and I wish you the best in your new home!

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 6:43PM
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Wow- I was really hoping for some better answers! When I bought the lot it was winter so naturallly I didn't hear thier unit running. I do believe there is something wrong with it as I've never heard a unit that loud before. But, w/my lucky it is probably creating an echo under my porch roof. I dobut that I can go to the neighbors and right out the gate start complaining about thier ac ..

I am so use to peace/quiet and privacy from my old home - that right now I am very discouraged that I don't have that same type of space. I guess I was stupid enough to listen to the builder when he told me I could deaden any noise from their ac !! What the heck was I thinking!

As for putting on a radio, I did think of that too, but I enjoy quiet time rather than any background noise, that is except birds, trees rustling and the sound of water.

I really hope someone replies w/a resolve to this or by next spring I'll be putting up a FOR SALE sign !

    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 9:25AM
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Geez. Sorry we haven't been able to accommodate you. At least with anything less drastic than one of Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle's "Second Amendment solutions".

    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 11:44AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Does your municipality have a noise ordinance? It may be that the noise is actually excessive, and local government can require them to lower the decibel level somewhat.

Does the neighbor's a/c have any sort of fence around it? The best thing may be for them to install soundproofing closer to the a/c rather than for you to install it in your yard. If soundproofing around the a/c would be relatively inexpensive, it may be worth it for you to buy it for the neighbor.

But in any case, if you're building a fence, the fence can have soundproofing material built into it.

How you handle all of this without alienating the neighbor is something I can't advise on. Good luck.

I tried these Google searches:
neighbor "noisy air conditioner"
and the same words without the quotation marks.
Both searches came up with helpful sites.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 12:15PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I guess I don't really understand why you can't address this with the neighbour. You don't have to go in complaining, but rather to explore whether there is any potential solution. You could even articulate concern about the mechanical soundness of their unit, saying that you've never heard one that loud.

I also don't know anything about air conditioners, but I believe this could be either a unit sticking out a window that is needed for that room, or it could be the unit for their whole house? For each one, there may be a different solution. Specifically, the solution may carry a different cost, which if I were you, I would be more than willing to help with - on one condition, and that is that they are not violating any ordinances, bylaws, what have you, with their current set-up. In that case, I would first explore that option.

There is one other issue, which is that wherever you can get them to move the noise, there may be repercussions for them. For example, moving the unit to their back yard would mean the noise would bother THEM! Heaven forbid, no doubt. Or, moving it to the front of the house would make it not look nice. So they may be burdening you because they don't want to be burdened themselves.

But even so, if they are doing nothing illegal and you go to them to discuss it with chequebook in hand so to speak, they may be willing to consider a solution - such as soundproofing around the unit or moving it. If they won't talk it out, you can, regretfully of course, move on with complaints to your local authority - or, come to think of it, the manufacturer of the unit, whose name is likely on the unit and who might be prepared to find a way to solve your problem too.

If there is no solution to be found in these avenues, then you can start working on landscaping solutions. But as they are so unsatisfactory, I would tend to try for the more obvious, effective solutions first - the ones that are in your neighbours' hands.


    Bookmark   September 2, 2010 at 9:35PM
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It is frustrating when something is not in your control. Just for background information. Check the municipal noise code for maximum decibel levels allowed at property lines for homeowners. It should be in the 45 to 60 decibel range. See if the City Disputes Resolution Dept can take a reading with their sound meter or if you know someone who can. The advice by previous poster are good ideas but be prepared by knowing if the noise surpasses normal level. There are sound deadening panels(similar to ceiling panels) that could be built into a fence but need to be pretty close and higher than the AC unit. Best of luck. Aloha

    Bookmark   September 2, 2010 at 11:06PM
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thier ac is whole house not a window unit. I like the idea of building something around it to keep w/the rattling, squeeling that it is making.
Yes, I would be more than willing to pay to have something put around it. I have not seen thier windows open all summer so I have to suspect that they don't even realize how honking loud the unit really is.

I will be having a 6ft. high fence put in, so maybe I too can add something to either or both sides of my fence to help create a quiet space. My bedroom windows are also on that side so maybe after I move in, build some quiet into my fence and if I still hear all the noise I can approach them.
I am definately not a person that likes to complain or address a problem.

I'm meeting w/the landscaper today so maybe he can give me some additional input. Outside of putting a bubble over my space ! LOL

I will also check google for suggestions.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2010 at 10:33AM
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First, talk to the neighbors and let them know that their AC is unusually loud compared to others and that you fear it might be getting ready to break. An out-of-adjustment fan is inefficient and sounds like a helicopter taking off, and they might not have noticed it because they are seldom out there.

Second, make sure the sound isn't reflecting around your patio area by having acoustically "dead" surfaces on the house walls and under the patio cover. Trellised vines, outdoor fabric drapes, decorative stretched fabric panels mounted an inch away from the wall or roof ... it all helps quiet things down by trapping the sound wave energy.

Third - keep the sound away from your patio with a \__ shaped set of wood fence panels. The open end goes towards the street. Test this out by propping them in place and adjust the angle until you hear the difference.

An irregular top on the panel will minimize refraction (where the sound wave bends over the top and keeps on going).

Fourth - Irregularly perforated panels are more effective than solid panels for blocking sounds coming straight towards you.

A 2-layer design that could really help has a perforated panel facing towards the AC unit, with a solid panel on your side. Sound goes into the holes and bounces around in there and doesn't come out.

Long shot: might be cost-effective, hung as part of your fence.

Here is a link that might be useful: Indian noise-reducing window covers :)

    Bookmark   September 3, 2010 at 12:29PM
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All I can say is that I empathize. Talking with them about the A/C unit makes sense, most neighbors are really reasonable people who will likely be grateful to know it needs service (cheaper now than when it breaks) and mildly horrified that they hadn't noticed it themselves. We went through a similar problem with our dog, he has access to the backyard & when we weren't home, he barked at the neighbors. We didn't know until they told us & we jumped on the problem right away with training, an anti-bark collar that sprays lemon-smell at him, and positive rewards for quiet behavior. In a week, the problem was solved.

The only other solution I can think of is if you plant a really stinky plant as close to the A/C unit as possible. Then they'll learn that when it's on, the house smells bad & maybe they'll run it less?

    Bookmark   September 6, 2010 at 1:17AM
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I hear you! I've learned to tune it out. Even my own. These units are loud even when new. I have to ask though, why did you opt for no backyard? I'm sure you have your reasons just wondering. If the unit is that close not much you can do to resolve the problem. Fencing may help however the sound will still travel up and into your space. A loud fountain will just drown out much of what you want to achieve like solitude. I can stand in my backyard and hear alot of the neighbors units kick in. So I get it. You do say that you have 50 feet to work with so can you put you entertainmen/solitude area more away from the offensive unit? Like a seperate room? More dense with plantings and a water feature? Maybe some fencing and some music while using the area? It's a stretch but it may work.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2010 at 3:21AM
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