How to Stop Nuisance Noise

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CEDS can help you with existing noise or a nuisance level of sound that may come from a proposed land use. Sound becomes nuisance noise when it interferes with your work, sleep, learning, or any other aspect of your life. A fourth of all U.S. households suffer some excessive noise or other nuisances. Frequently, you can nix nuisance noise on your own – without the need to hire CEDS or other professionals – through the Tips for Stopping Nuisance Noise given below. But if you need help right away or the tips fail to stop disturbing noise, then contact  CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org. We’ve helped folks resolve  noise concerns from existing or proposed:

TIPS FOR STOPPING NUISANCE NOISE

CEDS has been helping people eliminate neighborhood noise and other nuisances for more then three decades. Following is the approach we’ve found to be most effective. The approach works with noise coming from a neighbor, a dog kennel, a truck stop, or even a highway. In the following paragraphs the person(s), business or agency causing nuisance noise is referred to as the responsible party. In addition to these tips, check out the great Readers Digest article 12 Steps to Dealing With Bad Neighbors.

Talk with the Responsible Party

Your first step should always be direct contact with those you believe to be causing excessive noise – the responsible party. Usually the responsible party is obvious: a neighbor, a small business owner, a truck stop, etc. If the noise is coming from larger businesses, a government agency, etc. then it’s usually best to first go right to the top – the business owner-manager or agency director. Frequently, its the folks at the top who are most sensitive to the negative publicity that comes with causing harms to the public. These are the folks who also have the greatest authority to resolve the issue. Getting to these CEOs can be difficult, but is worth a try since, at least, you’ll usually end up speaking with someone higher up in the organization.

Be Reasonable & Positive

When approaching the responsible party present your concerns along the following positive, nonthreatening lines…

“Hi. I’ve been having trouble sleeping because of a loud noise that sounds like (describe). I believe the noise may be coming from your property (business). If this is correct then I’d like to see if there’s a way the noise can be reduced so it doesn’t disturb my family and me.”

Don’t Insist on Just One Solution

There are usually several ways to solve nuisance noise. Occasionally folks get wedded to the first solution they think of and resist any other approach. Don’t make this mistake. Instead remain open to all solutions as you work with the responsible party to find that which works best for everyone.

Will a Solution Stop Nuisance Noise?

If a nuisance noise solution is proposed then do some research to verify effectiveness. One of the best ways to verify effectiveness is to talk to those living near locations where: 1) residents were plagued by a similar nuisance noise and 2) the solution was applied. Those proposing a solution should be able to provide a list of these locations. Visiting these locations several times will give you an indication of how well the noise has been suppressed. If you suspect the noise may be intermittent then try talking to those living nearby. After explaining that you are suffering from the same nuisance most residents will freely share their perception of how well the solution has worked. If you have difficulty reaching the residents then CEDS can assist you with other approaches that have worked in difficult situations. To discuss how CEDS can  help contact us at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.

File A Complaint

If the reasonable first approach doesn’t work, then placing a call to the local police can be your first action, especially for very disturbing noise, especially from an individual. Some larger police departments even have a specialized unit for responding to noise complaints, like the LAPD Noise Enforcement Team. For ongoing noise issues and those from businesses, your local zoning or code-enforcement agency may be in a better position to get it stopped. You can usually find these agencies through an online search using keywords like:
  • the name of your town, city or county, and
  • zoning enforcement, or
  • code enforcement, or
  • noise complaint.
An informal CEDS survey showed that filing a complaint was the most effective action and resolved 61% of noise and other nuisances.

Seek Help from Local Elected Officials

Your local elected officials, like a county, city or town council member, can get things done far more easily then most of us. Savvy elected officials know that responding to voter concerns is key to winning future elections. They have influence with agencies like zoning-code enforcement that can accelerate resolution. So, if you are dissatisfied with the action taken on your complaint then contact the local elected official(s) who represent you. You can usually find your local elected representative through an online search using keywords like:
  • the name of your town, city or county, and
  • town council or board, or
  • city council, or
  • county council, supervisors or commissioners,

There’s Strength in Numbers

Generally, the more people who support your position, the more likely a successful outcome. If your initial efforts to work with the responsible party and your local elected officials fail, then explore opportunities to increase the number of people who join with you in calling for action. For example, does the noise disturb others in your neighborhood? If yes then consider options that show it’s not just you who want the noise stopped such as:
  • Sending a letter signed by you and others to the responsible party or elected official. In the letter describe noise, how it impacts all of you, and call for action,
  • Invite an elected official to hear the noise and attend a meeting with a number of your neighbors, and/or
  • See if you can get a local newspaper, radio-TV station or other media to cover the issue.
Additional recommendations will be found in the CEDS Mobilizing Public Support for Preserving Neighborhoods webpage at: https://ceds.org/mobilize/.

Give CEDS a Call

If the preceding actions fail to halt nuisance noise then contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org. We’ll be delighted to spend a few minutes exploring options you may not have pursued. There will not be any charge for this brief initial discussion. And if we can’t nix the nuisance with this no-cost service, we can usually get it for fixed for a fee as low as $300 to $500.

CEDS Good Attorneys Network

Though it is seldom needed, there are occasions when the preceding tip fail to halt nuisance noise. An option of last resort is to retain an attorney to take actions such as:
  • Sending them a lawyer-letter threating legal action, or
  • Pursue a nuisance action against the responsible party.
The CEDS Good Attorneys network consists of several hundred lawyers nationwide with a reputation for successfully representing citizens with a variety of issues impacting a neighborhood or the environment. Contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org to explore the possibility of retaining one of these attorneys to assist your effort. After learning the details of your case we’ll send a summary to the good attorneys in our network for your state to see if any are available to assist you. We will need to charge a fee of $300 to draft the summary then coordinate with the attorney. The attorney will likely charge a fee of $1,000 or more. In some cases a law clinic will represent folks free of charge (pro bono) with nuisances. To explore this possibility do a search using the keywords: your state and law clinic or legal aid.

WHEN DOES NOISE BECOME A NUISANCE?

The chart below compares noise levels in decibels (dB) from a variety of sources. The USEPA recommends that noise not exceed 55 dB outside a home or 45 dB inside. A conversation becomes difficult when noise from other sources exceeds 55 dB. Learning in a school room is hindered at 45 dB or higher.

HOW NOISE DIMINISHES WITH DISTANCE

In general, noise decreases 6 dB for every doubling of distance from a source. So, if at 50 feet an idling truck is emitting 85 dB it would be 6 dB lower or:
  • 79 dB at 100 feet, then
  • 73 dB at 200 feet, then
  • 67 dB at 400 feet and so on.
Simple noise models, such as the Distance Attenuation Calculator, indicate that a separation distance of 1600 feet would be needed for the 85-dB noise from idling diesel truck engines to decrease to the residential property acceptable level of 55 dB.

MEASURES TO REDUCE NUISANCE NOISE

There are a number of noise reduction measures that can be taken at a noise source, between the source and a home as well as on the exterior or inside of a home.

Trees & Other Vegetation

As shown in the following graphic, a 5 to 8 dB decrease can be achieved for each 100 feet of densely growing evergreens and shrubs between a noise source and a home. So, if 100 feet of forest separates the 85 dB from an idling truck and a home, the noise level will be in the mid-70 dB range at the home, which is far in excess of the 55dB acceptable level.

Earth Berms & Walls

Earth berms and walls are sometimes used to reduce noise from highways and other sources. They can reduce noise by 7- to 10-dB. As shown in the next graphic, these measures only work in the area of the noise shadow created by the berm or wall. In other words, if a berm or wall does not obstruct your view of a noise source then it may do little to keep your home quiet.

Home Treatment Measures

Sometimes it’s easier to make it more difficult for noise to get in a home than to just focus on the noise source. Measures to achieve this goal range from a white-noise generator when sleeping to sound proof windows, insultation, etc. Many home soundproofing articles can be found on the internet, such as How to Soundproof Your House from Outside Noise.

Prohibition of Truck Idling

Those living near truck stops, warehouses and other locations where trucks idle for extended periods can be subjected to very disturbing noise. A number of states prohibit diesel trucks and other vehicles from idling longer than five- to ten-minutes while parked. These laws were mostly prompted by air quality concerns. A listing of state-by-state idling restrictions and programs to minimize idling is available on the U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center webpage: https://afdc.energy.gov/conserve/idle_reduction_basics.html. It is unclear how effective the restrictions are in curbing idling. If your state has such a restriction then you may wish to visit several truck stops or other truck parking areas in your state to see if idling occurs for extended periods. If you do so, please let us know what you found by taking our What Did You Observe During Your Truck Stop Visit(s)? survey at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/truckstopvisit I suspect in most locations enforcement of idling restrictions is complaint driven. If you are subjected to idling noise try calling in a complaint to the local or state police, especially if yours is one of the jurisdictions that prohibit extended truck idling. Some newer truck stops and warehouses have installed facilities for connecting trucks to heating-cooling-electrical system so idling is unnecessary. Planning officials should require a noise impact study for all proposed truck stops, especially if they are within a thousand feet of homes or trucks will pass through residential areas.

Train Horns

Federal law requires that locomotive engineers sound a horn when travelling faster than 60 mph and within 15 seconds of a crossing. Federal law also allows for the establishment of Quiet Zones: https://railroads.dot.gov/elibrary/how-create-quiet-zone

Dumpsters

In additional to the 85 dB from the idling truck, emptying a dumpster can emit a noise of 88- to 94-dB. There are measures that can reduce dumpster noise by 5 dB, which is still far in excess of the 55 dB acceptable level. Some jurisdictions prohibit the emptying of dumpsters at night in the vicinity of residential areas. For example, the following prohibition appears in Coopersville, Michigan law:

“The creation of a loud or excessive noise, unreasonably disturbing to other persons in the vicinity, in connection with the operation, loading or unloading of any vehicle, trailer, railroad car, dumpster or other carrier, or in connection with the repairing of any such vehicle in or near residential areas.”

Assume Regulations Exist For Other Noise Sources

One of the steps CEDS takes when researching options for stopping nuisance noise is to see if local or state laws restrict noise from a source. Being able to show that a noise source is violating the law makes resolution far easier. Most town, city, or county laws are available online via the jurisdiction webpage. Usually you can find local laws, called codes, with an online search using the keywords:
  • name of your town, city, or county, and
  • code, or
  • laws.
If this doesn’t work then try using online law search tools such as Municode Search or the American Legal code library. First, see if your local code is available on Municode or American Legal, then do a search on the keyword: noise.

HOW DOES NOISE AFFECT PROPERTY VALUE?

In an article entitled How Does Road Noise Affect Home Value?, the author wrote…

“A home valued at 500K can drop nearly $40,000 in value when affected by road noise pollution. A recent study showed 50% of buyers won’t consider a home with road noise.”

In another article, What Is Noise Pollution and How Does It Affect Property Values?, the author noted…

“According to a realtor.com study, sellers of homes within a 2-mile radius of an airport will discount prices 13.2% from the going rate of other homes in the same ZIP code; sellers will also offer discounts for close proximity to railway tracks (12.3%) and highways (11.3%).”

The following graphic is from the realtor.com study and shows the effect of other noise sources on property value.

Detailed Noise Property Value Impact Example: Idling Trucks

With regard to truck idling noise and property value, researchers concluded the following in a 2021 study entitled An Analytical Framework for Evaluating Potential Truck Parking Locations:

“Increases in noise pollution are inevitable in such a case where dispersed idling trucks are centralized into the new or expanded truck stops…

Mandated by the Federal Highway Administration, maximum noise levels for large trucks are not to exceed 85 dBA (decibel) 50 feet away. Combined, this data can be used to approximate sound values over different distances. For every 2.5 dBA increase in noise levels above 55 dBA, residential property values are assumed to decrease by 0.2% to 1.2% with wealthier communities, containing higher willingness to pay for peace and quiet, being more sensitive to such increases in noise pollution (Palmquist, 1980). Any truck stop development project will require a noise impact study that evaluates the feasibility of installing noise barriers to remediate the noise pollution problem.”

As noted in the preceding section of this webpage, in general, noise decreases 6 decibels for every doubling of distance from a source. So, if truck noise level is 85 decibels at 50 feet then it would be 79 decibels at 100 feet, 73 decibels at 200 feet, then 67 decibels at 400 feet. Simple noise models, such as the Distance Attenuation Calculator, indicate that it would require a separation distance of 1600 feet for the 85-decibel noise from idling diesel truck engines to drop to the residential property acceptable level of 55 decibels. The noise level could be 67 decibels if a home is located 400 feet from the portion of a truck stop, warehouse or other location where trucks would be idling, which is 12 decibels above the 55 decibel acceptable level for residential areas. After dividing 12 decibels by 2.5 decibels we get 4.8, which could result in a (0.2% x 4.8) 0.96% to (1.2% x 4.8) 5.7% decline in home resale value.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION…

Visit the Federal Highway Administration Highway Traffic Noise website for an excellent review if the topic: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/noise/resources/