We live above the freeway: how can we cultivate quiet?

July 6 |
Is this the view from your apartment at night? night8 © by ntcrwler, used under Creative Commons license.
My husband and I are about to apply for an apartment. It's almost perfect! Except for the interstate being a stone's throw from the balcony.

Are there any non-damaging but permanent ways to help keep our apartment relatively quiet and calm?

Oh man, I feel you — I live next door to a fire station AND across the street from a night club and a bar. So far, we've only had enough money to replace the bedroom window with double-paned glass, but it's done WONDERS for cutting down the noise.

Other than new windows, who else has some good suggestions for de-noising your apartment?

  1. Light-blocking curtains are often also noise-blocking….but who wants to live shut up in the dark all the time?

    I think hanging quilts or tapestries on the walls help to absorb sound. Try putting bookshelves on the walls towards the noise. Other than that…I've heard of people using white-noise machines to even everything out.

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    • those light blocking curtains will dampen noise just by being there, even if they are open to let some light in. Also concentrate on soft decor to dampen internal noise, lots of pillows and fabric. Potted plants can also provide some noise dampening. The good thing about freeway noise is that it's rather constant and you will likely eventually be able to ignore it. It will also help to provide some internal, pleasant noise: a water fountain, wind chime, fish tank, or even a white noise machine.

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      • True, even while open the light blocking curtains help out A LOT with the noise from the freeway next to our apartment. We usually keep them tied back with a hook from Home Depot (like $1) and a strip of fabric with a cute pattern on it.

        Also, you could try playing music softly in the background. Something like http://www.rainymood.com or a nature sounds cd. It sounds better than speeding cars anyways. =)

        • Rainy Mood + Fragrance of Dark Coffee + Virtual Fireplace. Forevah.
          BRB Sleep.

          We had noise-blocking curtains and there were wubbulous. We only had them on the side that faced the road, so we got plenty of light from other windows. I know some apartments don't offer that particular luxury (my current one certainly doesn't.)
          I think covering the windows is the most effective way to block the noise, so if the lack of light bugs you, string up Christmas lights all over the window space.

          1 agrees
  2. I used to live in an apartment in California, and LAX was right outside my balcony. After awhile I didn't even notice it. When I was on the phone, I would just stop talking for a second while a plane took off, and then continue after it was gone. You become accustomed to it after awhile.

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    • I grew up under the flight path for Lambert Airport in St. Louis. To this day, my whole family does the pause in conversation when a plane goes overhead, and then we pick it up right where we left off.

      You get to a point where you really can sleep through it. I've also lived within earshot of the train station and on a fairly busy road. Every once in a while there's an odd sound that you notice, but otherwise, it's pretty tolerable.

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  3. You could also try putting your wardrobe or other shelving against the outer walls.
    I live right over a tramline, though, and honestly I don't really notice it most of the time.

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  4. I lived next to train tracks for most of my life and after awhile I stopped noticing the noise. Of course you did notice it during films sometimes, but not often. Good curtains will help. If the noise bounces off your walls then maybe make/buy some fabric panels to put on the walls to absorb sound. Libraries with marble columns sometimes do this to minimize quiet chatter getting amplified. You could even make them into something arty!

    If allowed/possible you could also hang planters outside your windows and grow plants that will block the road a bit, maybe something tall and useful like chives or some flowers.

    • We live in an apartment that is also nearly perfect except for it being down the road from a train station, about 20 metres (21 yards?) from the track itself and in between two level crossings where the local roads cross the track – one with no gates to stop traffic.

      So not only do we get the noise of the train rumbling slowly past we also get the blast of the horn as it approaches each crossing. Luckily it's only about six or eight times a day!

      If I'm home during the day with doors & windows open the noise of the train blocks out everything else for a few minutes as it goes past. And for those times I put on a pair of ear mufflers (the kind you wear when working with heavy machinery). Looks silly but it helps.

      And, as Jen mentioned above, we have gotten used to it. The noise used to wake us up during the night for the first few weeks but now we rarely hear it unless an unthoughtful train driver decides to hold onto that horn for a little too long.

      Hopefully the benefits of your apartment will make up for the background noise of the freeway.

      Good luck with your application.

      1 agrees
  5. I would definately try adding potted plants to the balcony – they can help reduce noise plus provide you with cleaner air.

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  6. You can use fans or sound machines to muffle the noise, though I've found that I actually enjoy highway sounds as white noise.

    And after years of living on a main college footpath filled with, em, exuberate students returning home in the wee hours I can also confirm you can get used to living and sleeping through odd noises. :o)

  7. I've lived over the freeway for five years now. You do get used to it though we have to keep the windows closed and rely on air-conditioning in the summer. You get to hearing the highway as white noise. We also try and focus on the things that make this place awesome. Like for us, being near the freeway means we are half a block from the el stop that takes us to downtown, because the el runs alongside the expressway here. And being along the expressway means a great view. We can see into the city and on July 4th we saw fireworks from several communities/locations. .

  8. I remember when I first moved into the city. I heard a LOT of sirens from police and fire trucks. Now I barely notice. For a while I lived near a very busy street that had buses going and traffic all the time, and in the winter I heard snow plows going half the night sometimes after a huge snow. You really do adjust. Our house now is on a bus route and I rarely notice the buses. I notice when a neighbour moves something heavy and metal at 4am or when there's a concert relatively nearby but the regular sounds do fade out. But getting used to your television or music being just a little louder or not opening your windows during the day is not too bad. An air purifier is also an option for noise, especially if you find that you get not only the sound but some of the exhaust. You can also try earplugs if the noise is bothering you at night but it is probably easier to just learn to adjust to it if you can.

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  9. I think I've lived under flight paths for just about my whole life. At one point I was living under the flight paths for a civilian airport and a USMC flight base, 500 yards from a drag racing track, 2 miles from a USMC explosive ordinance range, and at a horse farm. It doesn't take too long to adjust.

    If you're a light sleeper then white noise machines, quilts on the wall, and earplugs are your friends. Air quality would be my big concern, depending on the traffic density and proximity to the highway, so I'd get some air purifiers or plants.

  10. Putting your thickest, heaviest items against the wall nearest the noise source definitely helps – I had extremely loud neighbors on all sides in one home, and the quietest spot was in the living room, in front of my two huge bookcases, even though that wall was right behind a heavily used footpath.

    +10 on air purifiers for dealing with the noise AND the exhaust. I wouldn't have survived the big city without my Blueair.

    If light-blocking curtains aren't enough, I've heard very good things about Quiet Curtains (acoustic-curtains.com), which unfortunately weren't on the market when I lived in the noisiest places. Not sure what they cost, but if you plan to stay a while and won't have too many windows facing the freeway, they might be worth it.

    And you really do get used to road noise after a while. I used to live on an arterial street, and when grocery trucks drove by at 3 a.m., it would rattle the windows, shake the floor, and wake me up – for about the first two weeks. After that I slept right through it. Now if only there were a way to tune out loud voices, I could live anywhere…

  11. Oh! It's my question!

    We've been living here for a few months, and the interstate, while still a problem, isn't as big of a problem as the folks who live across the street. I'm sure that they're having great fun, but great loud fun at 2am on a Wednesday morning? Oy. We also live about three miles from a small airport, and behind a very busy Home Depot.

    There's only a total of three windows in the apartment. One in each bedroom, and a big ol' sliding glass door – which faces the interstate. But I'm digging the idea of curtains to block the noise and strings of lights to make up for the lack of natural light. I've been looking for a good reason to string lights up everywhere besides "BUT I JUST REALLY LIKE THAT LOOK."

    Thank you everyone for your input!

    • I lived in the flight path for Andrews Airforce Base for a while. Nothing is quite as much fun as a squadron of fighter jets buzzing the treetops on your walk home from the train station. And yeah, you'll get use to it eventually.

      • I used to live a few miles away from a bombing exercise area, and yes, jets buzzing overhead is great fun.

    • If you only have a few windows, then I'd really strongly recommend you look into getting them replaced with double-glazing, or even triple-glazing. My parents live right on a main road between an airport and a seaport, so there are lots of trucks, and replacing their windows has made a huge difference.

  12. We live very close to a busy street. upstairs I don't mind as much because we're usually only up there to watch tv/listen to music. Down in my bedroom, it was a little more challenging because the cars are inconstant so it's like a new sound for your ears to latch onto every 5-10 seconds.

    What I have done to help sleep is just keep a fan going all of the time. I concentrate on the hum and it helps me forget about the street. It's a big metal box fan- not some quiet slick thing. Go with something old & metal that will provide a nice constant noise.

  13. While I didn't live next to a highway, I did live next to the busiest east-west road in my little city for a while. I've actually frequently lived near busy roads and have come to like it. As someone who doesn't like being home alone the sound of cars and other things buzzing by always feels comforting to me like I'm not alone in my dinky apartment. A lot of firetrucks and ambulances would often go by and you really don't even notice after a while. People would point it out to me when I was on the phone and it was just like oh, yea I guess an ambulance did come by.

    1 agrees
  14. What about one of those trickling water fountains? They're for sale at Target for about $25. . .

  15. I know this probably goes without saying, but in addition to materials on the walls, make sure you throw some rugs down on any uncarpeted floors. They are non-destructive, and definitely help reduce noise echoing throughout the apartment.

  16. Our house backs up to a major freeway. We were lucky in the fact that the house already had double-paned windows, but you can still hear the freeway. After a few days, it just sounded like waves crashing & is actually kind of calming. It's the random 18-wheeler horn or Dukati motorcycle that will break that calm.

    I recommend checking the weather stripping around your doors. Our back door (which faces the freeway) had a big gap all around. Weather stripping significantly reduced the amount of traffic noise.

    All of our windows in the house have 2" wide wood blinds & in the bedroom, we installed thick white curtains as well as simple paper blinds behind the wood blinds (they just peel & stick). That, plus a nice thick headboard means our bedroom is now SUPER quiet! The only thing we hear is the ceiling fan.

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  17. I lived in the heart of DC for 5 years and then moved to a comparatively quite apartment in California. My new husband is from a small farm in Idaho where there is never any noise. (Or so it seems.) So when he moved to CA, he was ultra sensitive to any noise at all. We ran fans for awhile, but in the winter it got too cold to have both the chill of the evening and a fan blowing. We bought a white noise machine and use it every night. Best $50 bucks we have ever spent. I wish I had it in DC where the local church marching band used to practice by marching and playing their music up and down the street in front of my apartment. Yes. MARCHING BAND.

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