Building a Tall Fence to Block Noise

    There’s nothing quite as lovely as relaxing in the backyard on a nice summer day, drinking lemonade and watching the bees buzz among your flowers. Oh, except for the horrendous traffic noise screeching across your property, or the hundreds of children screaming during recess at the school next door, or the donkey across the street that just won’t stop braying. Noise pollution is a common problem, and while you unfortunately can’t soundproof your property (or relocate Eeyore), you can build a tall fence to block noise.

    How Tall is Tall?

    Here’s what you need to know about fencing to block noise: you’re going to need a really tall fence. Probably taller than you thought, in the range of ten to 12 feet, which may actually not be allowed under local ordinances, so you’d better check before you start building. (You may need a building permit even for a lower fence, so check that too.) At the very least, you should apply a line of sight rule. Can you see the source of the noise over the fence? You’re still going to hear it, although it may be muffled.

    How a Fence Reduces Noise

    Reducing sound with a fence is accomplished by using the fence as a reflective wall to bounce the sound waves off, which means you want your fence to be as dense as possible. Materials like concrete, stone, and brick are a fantastic choice, but they can be expensive, and again, local ordinances might frown upon them. (You also might not want to live in a compound surrounded by a 12 foot concrete wall.) You can use wood, but make sure the boards are snugly fitted together and run all the way to the ground, or sound will leak through.

    Can Plants Work as Soundproofing?

    Plants, alas, don’t make the greatest soundproofing. Noise still filters through them, and in fact, it can get worse, because the sounds may echo and reflect off trunks and foliage. That said, there’s no reason you can’t install a tall fence to block noise and add some plants between the fence and your home. Plants like bamboo and rustling grasses can be a good choice because the sound of the wind through the plants can help create an audible distraction to drown out the noise that slips through the fence.

    First Things First

    Before selecting a material and developing a plan, hit up the local office responsible for setting and enforcing building codes. Staff there can review your plans and provide more information about allowable fencing materials and heights. You'll almost certainly have to apply for a permit to build a tall fence to block noise. Your fencing contractor may need to occupy part of the sidewalk while working, so find out how to get permission for that, too.

    Develop Your Plan

    With these data in hand, you can sit down to determine which materials you want to use, how high you should make the fence, and how you’re going to construct it. Depending on what you’re allowed to do, for instance, you could build a low earth berm and top it with a stone wall or wooden fence to catch as much noise as possible. You could also go with a chain link fence covered in acoustic fabric, which wouldn’t be very pretty, but would definitely help block sound, or a simple (but potentially expensive, be warned!) wood clapboard option. Make sure gates are snugly fitted into the fence design so they don’t become points of leakage for sound.

    Build the Fence

    After you’ve developed a plan for a tall fence to block noise, possibly in consultation with a contractor or landscape architect, file for a permit and once it’s approved, you can order your supplies and organize labor. Building a fence requires a lot of hard work, so it’s a good idea to get assistants or to hire a contractor to install it for you. Contractors are especially great for brick and stone walls as these can be tricky to put up. A hard-working team can get a fence up in a week, so you can start enjoying your yard in peace and quiet.

    s.e. smith writes for Photo by Arnold Masonry and Concrete/Flickr Creative Commons.

    Updated April 5, 2018.

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