Making life in NYC less noisy: How to quiet your home

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By Dan Sears

For some New Yorkers, the symphony of city living sounds like honking car horns, passing trains, construction work, ambulance sirens, music from bars and footsteps from upstairs neighbors.

But just because the city never sleeps doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

Noise isn’t just a nuisance, experts say it’s harmful. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, problems related to noise include stress-related illnesses, high blood pressure, speech interference, hearing loss, sleep disruption and lost productivity.

Arline Bronzaft, a noise expert and board member of the environmental organization GrowNYC, has been studying and battling the city’s noise for four decades. She said New Yorkers can do small, but simple things to make their lives a little quieter, and the effort is well worth it.

“People will say, ‘Oh, I’m used to it. I’m dealing with it.’ Dealing means working to try to shut out the impact … the body is using extra energy in the long run,” Bronzaft said. “People think that by getting used to things, it’s not harming them. It is using extra energy, and that’s greater stress on the body.”

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Making your home quieter

Completely soundproofing an apartment can cost thousands of dollars, and isn’t an option for those who rent or can’t afford gut renovations. The city Department of Environmental Protection’s residential noise control guidance sheet offers New Yorkers a place to start when seeking relief from city noise.

Here are some things you can do to make city life less noisy.

Carpeting – Hardwood floors reflect and amplify reverberant noise in a room, so covering the floors with carpeting combined with thick padding can reduce residential noise, like footsteps.

Curtains – Heavy draperies, such as ones made from wool or velvet, can significantly block or absorb noise. Adding a vinyl layer to existing curtains can also have similar results.

Acoustic panels – Commercially available acoustic panels can be used to cover ceilings and walls to absorb excess sound inside a home – perfect for anyone who needs a quiet space for video calls or looking to create a more theater-like movie viewing experience. If you’re not into aesthetics, one hack broke musicians use is covering walls with empty cardboard egg cartons.

Door and window treatments – A majority of the noise that comes into apartments from outside does so via doors and windows, the ”acoustical weak link in the structure’s facade,” according to the DEP.

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If replacing them is out of the question, adding a plexiglass or acrylic panel can help block out some of the noise. Rubber or vinyl gasketing can also be applied around and under all doors to stop noise from seeping in.

White noise – While playing white noise through speakers may sound counterintuitive, it can be an effective way to mask annoying sounds.

Ear plugs – Though it may seem obvious, disposable or reusable ear plugs can go a long way in giving your ears (and brain) a break from the constant city noise.

Apps – Some meditation apps feature sounds or even stories designed to help lull you to sleep while blocking out the chaos of the city.

Knowing your rights when it comes to noise

One of the first things New Yorkers should consider when battling noise is becoming familiar with their rights around it, Bronzaft said.

The city’s noise code, which was last updated in 2007, lays out acceptable standards for everything from residential noise to construction noise. The DEP and the NYPD both enforce the noise code, and New Yorkers can file a noise complaint online or by calling 311.

Noise is covered under the warranty of habitability in New York state, which makes landlords responsible for maintaining livable apartments. Tenants should become familiar with the specific requirements around noise in their leases, like quiet hours and covering floors in carpeting.

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Do your part

Keeping in mind that noise is harmful, every New Yorker can do their part to reduce the noise they make and protect themselves and their neighbors. If nothing else, it’s good karma.

Playing music and TV shows at reasonable volumes, using headphones, not honking your horn at dumb stuff and knowing and respecting a building’s quiet hours are all positive steps toward creating a more peaceful city.

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