Good acoustics aren’t just for musicians. Did you know an acoustic fence can reduce environmental noise levels in your yard and home? You could block out noise from traffic and neighbors while enjoying quiet time outdoors. That good news may be music to your ears, but what is an acoustic fence and how does it work?
Not to worry — we’ll discuss definitions, materials, and other soundproofing options so that you’re well-equipped to install the right fence to reduce noise. Check your local laws and HOA rules to be confident your noise barrier will solve problems, not cause them.
What is Acoustic Fencing?
Acoustic fences are designed to reduce noise from noisy neighbors, roadways, construction sites, sports arenas, and railways. They’re a popular fence choice in urban areas. Governments and businesses commonly install them, but homeowners also have plenty of options.
These barriers are made with solid acoustic fence panels. The only gaps are for gates and driveways. Some acoustic fences have a different material inside them such as mass-loaded vinyl to boost their efficacy.
While noise levels above 70 decibels can be harmful to your health, an acoustic fence can reduce sound by 10 to 30 decibels.
How Does Acoustic Fencing Work?
Loud noises create sound waves that radiate outward until they fade with distance or hit an obstacle. A fence needs to either absorb or reflect those sound waves to reduce sound. Fences that resonate will transfer or amplify sound and thus aren’t effective.
Are acoustic fences effective at blocking sound? Yes, though the amount blocked depends on the quality, materials, construction, and placement. While no barrier can eliminate all noise, any reduction could provide you more peace than you have now.
How is Acoustic Fencing Different From Traditional Fencing?
Not just any fence is soundproof. Here are the factors that make an acoustic fence different from others:
- Design: A soundproof fence can’t have any gaps for sound to pass through. That means no open pickets or holes. Solid panels or board-on-board picket designs create the most effective sound barriers. Some acoustic fences also utilize layers and textures for extra sound absorption and reflection.
- Thickness: The thicker the barrier, the more difficult it is for sound to penetrate. Thicker fences will work better than thinner ones of the same material. However, thick material mainly works for low-frequency sounds with little difference made for high-frequency sounds.
- Density: Generally speaking, denser materials dampen sounds better than less-dense materials. People often select materials based on budget, durability, or personal preference. However, acoustic fence manufacturers carefully choose materials with suitable physical properties (including density).
- Position: Place acoustic fencing as close to the noise source as possible. This positioning allows the barrier to intercept the sound before it can go farther into your property. Even when some sound makes it through, it will have to travel more distance to reach your home and will continue fading along the way.
- Height: If it’s in your line of sight, you can probably hear it. That’s why acoustic fencing is 6 feet or taller. Local regulations may limit fence height in your area, so check before you install and go for the tallest possible option. Many cities restrict front yard fencing to 4 feet and backyard fencing to 6 feet.
Best Acoustic Fencing Materials
Now that we know what makes something an acoustic fence, what are the material options? Several materials meet the sound-reducing standards we laid out:
Choose the material that suits your tastes and budget. Some fences use multiple materials in combination for maximum effect. For example, mass-loaded vinyl sandwiched between wood panels provides extra sound reduction while retaining visual appeal.
Wooden fencing dampens sound by absorbing and reflecting it. You can choose from many types of wood to suit your budget and tastes, but redwood and cedar are the most common for wooden acoustic fences. Stain or paint wooden barriers to give them a longer lifespan.
You can pair wood fencing with mass-loaded vinyl for additional noise reduction. Attach the mass-loaded vinyl to one side of the fence or sandwich it between wooden panels.
✔ Visually appealing
✔ Relatively affordable
✘ Vulnerable to the elements, fungus, and wood-destroying pests
✘ Can warp, fade, and crack
✘ Requires regular maintenance (cleaning, painting, staining)
✘ Relatively short lifespan
Cost: $14-$31 per linear foot
There’s a reason people use mass-loaded vinyl to soundproof other fence types. Many vinyl materials are designed to reflect and absorb sound. The Ohio Department of Transportation sponsored a study that concluded vinyl fencing was effective for mitigating traffic noise. Vinyl acoustic fencing is either hollow or filled with acoustically-absorbant material.
Vinyl fences last longer than wooden fences and come in many colors and styles, like faux wood and stone. However, they’re challenging to repair and customize after construction.
✔ Comes in various colors and styles
✔ Easy to maintain
✔ Safe for kids (no splinters or hot metal material)
✘ Limited customization and repair options
✘ More expensive upfront than wooden fencing
✘ Not eco-friendly
Cost: $17-$38 per linear foot
Can’t decide between wooden and vinyl fencing? Maybe you don’t have to. Composite fencing is made of recycled wood and vinyl. These dense, durable materials absorb sound and require little maintenance. Composite fencing tends to chip, fade, and crack less than vinyl fencing. The vinyl shields the wooden components from termite damage.
Just like vinyl, composite fences come in several colors and styles. However, composite looks less like plastic than vinyl, making those wood and stone textures more visually appealing than vinyl fencing.
✔ Made from recycled materials
✔ Comes in many styles and colors
✔ Resists rot and pests
✘ More expensive than vinyl or wood
✘ Still vulnerable to mold and mildew
Cost: $26-$57 per linear foot
Masonry fences are ideal for blocking sound since they’re thick, solid, and dense. Any gaps between materials are entirely sealed with mortar, making them durable and secure. Choose from several materials, including:
While masonry fences can be budget-friendly, higher-quality materials will be more expensive than any of the other fencing types. They are also hard to modify once installed.
✔ Aesthetically appealing
✔ Come in various colors, styles, and designs
✘ Can be expensive
✘ Susceptible to earthquake damage
✘ Time-consuming to construct
✘ Challenging to alter once it’s installed
Cost: $10-$80 per square foot
How to Soundproof an Existing Fence
Don’t want to tear down your old fence? We don’t blame you. Fence removal and installation can be pricey, but luckily you can skip that process entirely by soundproofing your current fence.
Attach soundproof blankets or mass-loaded vinyl to your existing fence. Even chain-link fences can block more sound with fence fabric attached. Want a natural-looking barrier? Trees, bushes, and shrubs can create a secondary sound barrier if you plant them along your fence.
What if your fence is too short? Sound will still be able to pass over it. Fence toppers can add extra height and privacy to your barrier, but usually not more than a couple of feet. Your fence must be at least 6 feet tall to block out sound effectively. If you can’t get it to that height, you may need to install a new fence or plant tall vegetation along your fence to muffle the noise.
FAQ About Acoustic Fencing
Yes, noise pollution can be dangerous if excessive. Loud noises can cause hearing loss, deafness, hypertension, and heart problems. It also can also be harmful to one’s mental health by affecting concentration and contributing to stress.
How much sound is too much? Sound levels are measured using decibels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization agree that noise levels exceeding 70 decibels over a 24-hour period could lead to hearing loss. However, noise levels can reach 70 to 80 decibels within 50 feet of a highway, making noise barriers essential.
Both. Sound radiates out in a spherical shape from the noise source. It will either fade over distances or when confronted with an obstacle. The more sound-absorbant or reflective the barrier, the more likely the sound will stop in its track. That’s why barrier placement is so important.
When planning your project, keep this spherical visual in mind. Where is the sound coming from? What position or barrier height will block the most noise? If you’re on a hill above the noise source, a fence close to your home may be helpful. If you’re on a slope below the noise source, a barrier closer to the noise source would be best.
If fencing isn’t blocking enough noise, landscaping could help. Vegetation absorbs and scatters sound. Plant them along the fence to soundproof your yard and next to your house to soundproof your home. However, don’t plant trees too close to your home.
If you have a large yard, consider installing a berm. Berms are raised barriers made of soil that naturally block sound. Put your fence or plants on top of a berm for an even better sound barrier.
Another option is to replace external sounds with pleasant background noise. For example, water features produce calming white noise that will be music to your ears compared to obnoxious traffic and noisy neighbors. Wind chimes also can be a welcome distraction.
When to Hire a Pro
Once you’ve settled on your acoustic fencing solution, it’s time to build. DIYers can install fencing, soundproof their existing fence, and plant living barriers with some elbow grease.
If you dread the blood, sweat, and tears that go into DIY fence construction or landscaping, leave it to the pros? Get a quote from local fencing professionals so you can enjoy more peace and quiet without lifting a finger.
Main Image Credit: Michiel2005 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 NL