In a recent article in Boston.com, guest columnist Rona Fischman recalls a case from 10 years ago of a young child who couldn’t sleep due to noise emanating from the neighbor’s a/c unit. The little girl was sensitive to vibrational noise,and the next door neighbor’s clattering air conditioning unit was keeping her awake nights. The a/c owner felt badly for the child, but not badly enough to turn off his air conditioning. The case went to court, and the air conditioner was eventually silenced with effective outdoor noise abatement material that reduced noise levels and vibration considerably– enough to satisfy the parents of the sleep deprived child.
Today, we know more about tackling noise, including noise from vibration, and we have better noise insulating and noise absorbing barrier materials than ever before. Many conscientious homeowners are successfully quieting their noisy a/c and heat pump units for the sake of maintaining peace with their neighbors. However it isn’t always easy to accomplish and If the noise includes vibration, a combination of sound absorbing material and noise barrier material works best.
Some people think that planting a foliage berm in front of the cranky unit will serve to reduce noise leaking into the neighbor’s air space, but it’s actually a bad idea. If your air conditioning compressor is located outside the windows of a room in your home that is meant to be quiet, like a bedroom – even if the a/c unit is at ground level and the bedroom is on the second floor – you might be surprised to learn that sound is reflected off of trees and foliage and sent back toward the source. So now your neighbors are losing sleep and so are you, which at this point may give them some weird satisfaction.
Placement of the air conditioning unit is everything. If you purchase or rent a home that has an a/c unit at the side of the house, and the space between your home and the neighbor’s is tight, the likelihood that it is going to be excessively noisy is raised, since the sound is trapped and reflected between the walls and the eaves of the two homes. A fence can’t do much to reduce the noise unless it is treated with a soundproofing material meant specifically for outdoor noise reduction.
Building a noise deadening enclosure around the unit can be a fairly simple and inexpensive task. Such an enclosure needs to be set up in a way that the unit can be accessed for repairs.
Materials used for quieting a/c and heat pump units need to meet UL standards, be safe and effective for outdoor use, and they must be able to be applied in a way that does not interfere with the compressor’s air circulation, or obstruct electrical outlets. Again, the unit must remain accessible for repairs, so the noise insulating solution must be movable or removable.
When the whirring of a compressor combines with vibrational noise, the sound effects can be maddening to neighbors who can’t escape it. Studies have shown that exposure to this type of noise pollution for long periods of time can elevate stress, cause a rise in blood pressure, interfere with concentration (a real problem with record numbers of Americans working from home today), and interfere with sleep. All of these problems can lead to serious illness, not to mention bad blood between neighbors.
Noise pollution is a serious issue in the U.S. and worldwide today, one that has infiltrated residential neighborhoods at levels unimaginable to previous generations. It’s robbing us of our hearing and our health, and interfering with the natural order of flora and fauna.
The next move has to be proactive; step forward and do what you can to alleviate the intrusion of noise from your home to your neighbor’s. The first place to address noise pollution is in our own back yards.