Measuring noise pollution - Noise Map for Santa Clara CountyWe’ve learned about two websites for measuring noise pollution and thought our readers would be interested. In some cases, it can be surprising that the sound levels are lower or higher than anticipated!

These are great tools for getting a general idea on volume, but you’ll want to check out any properties in person and perhaps even talk with neighbors to know for sure if it’s an issue.

Measuring noise pollution: two sites

How Loud

The first site is How Loud.

With HowLoud, the higher the score, the quieter the location. You can check for just the volume from different sources. In my experience, it does not cover all sources of noise. It does reference the influence of traffic, airports, and local sources of noise.

Noise Map

The other site is Noise Map.

Noise map appears to focus on the roar from airplanes landing and taking off as opposed to any other sources. It provides a decibel reading, which is helpful.

Sources of sound pollution

If you’re interested in measuring noise pollution for a home you want to buy or rent, there’s no test like an in person visit. Better still is to make several visits at different days of the week and times of the day or evening. Sites like the two listed here may not account for every type of audio blast. Sound levels adjacent to sites that have volume issues for neighbors may not be reflected on these sites. Here are a few examples:

  • Schools often have loud bells, kids in play yards, soccer or other sports on weekends, and sometimes marching band practice (at early hours) or performances during or after games. I spot checked homes adjacent to a high school versus homes farther away and the homes bordering the campus’ football field were said to be quieter. I don’t think so!
  • Freeways, highways, expressways, and state routes all experience more vehicular traffic and sounds from busses, automobiles, motorcycles, etc. Helicopters may trace these routes during rush hour, adding to the cacophony. Sit in downtown Saratoga on a nice day and hear the roar of motorcycles heading up Big Basin Way for a nice ride in the redwoods.
  • Trains aren’t quiet, and in some areas they need to blast their horns at unprotected road crossings. This is quite inconvenient, especially at the middle of the night. Worse is if they have to couple and uncouple train cars, and those movements also trigger the need to hit the horn.
  •  The hills in Cupertino and Saratoga seem like they should be quiet places, but that’s not going to be the case if you’re close to one of the shooting ranges.
  • Open space and park trails may attract early morning mountain bikers, and often they are conversing – not quietly. If you sleep with windows open, the   6 or 7 a.m. sound of cyclists discussing things may not feel all that peaceful to you.
  • Problem neighbors cannot be part of the formula for these sites that help with measuring noise pollution. Some neighbors blast their music or TV or entertain loudly. Some scream or holler on a regular basis.  Some have dogs that bark at all hours. There are ordinances against offensive levels of sound after 10 p.m., you may not enjoy hearing these things when relaxing or working from home. When does it move from normal neighborhood activity to nuisance noise? That’s subjective and not every seller may include this information on their disclosures.
  • Related to the last point: if you are moving to a condo and have neighbors close by, you may not know if their primary hobby is rearranging furniture at 2 a.m. or that they practice tap dancing 4 days per week unless  the seller tells you.

Something to factor in is that there are several things that can mitigate offensive sounds. If you visit on a clear day, the sounds from the freeway or any other source may be louder or quieter than on days with different weather. If you visit a home for sale with wind chimes tinkling and fountains moving water, that sound may help to make measuring noise pollution harder for you.

Dual or triple pane windows can be an enormous help, but if you live with windows open, be sure to check out the din from the back and front yards, Depending on the source, they can be different from each other.


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