Landscaping for Noise Reduction

Milwaukee Landscapers On The Use of Plants, Walls & Fences for Screening Out Ambient Noise

Outdoor noise is a common problem for homeowners in urban areas. Whether it’s from cars going by, the neighbor’s TV, or a bar down the street, outdoor noise can make a patio or deck considerably less appealing. Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet that will eliminate all ambient noise, but there are things you can do to mitigate its intrusion into your outdoor living space.

Fences and Walls: The thicker and taller, the better

Brick wall construction by Brennan Landscaping
Brennan Landscaping built this brick wall around the front of a turn-of-the-century Milwaukee home.

A hard, solid surface like a fence or wall will bounce sound waves off them. It won’t completely eliminate the noise, but it can noticeably reduce it. An 8 ft. high fence or wall, for instance, can reduce traffic and ambient noise by 6 to 10 decibels. This may not seem like much when you consider the typical outdoor/traffic noise is around 60 to 70 decibels, but a reduction of 10dbs is actually perceived as about half as much noise.

The structure has to be solid, with no gaps in between the boards of the fence or the structure of the wall. If there’s a gap at the base of the fence, it can be filled with pressure treated landscaping wood. For best results, we suggest a brick or stone wall. The thicker the wall, the better it will reflect and absorb sound waves. The only caveat is that most cities have zoning laws limiting the height of masonry walls. In some areas, they aren’t even permitted.

Height of the fence or wall is also a factor. Sound waves will flow over the top of the structure, so if your patio or deck sits higher than the fence or the wall, there’s little benefit.

Fountains for White Noise

One of the oldest tricks in the book for dealing with noise is to drown it out with the far more pleasant noise of a fountain. For this to work, the fountain needs to be in close proximity of the house in order for it to be heard more than the ambient noise.

Garden fountain mounted on fence.A small fountain mounted on or against a fence next to your patio is an inexpensive way to create a more soothing ambiance. They’re generally made of synthetic stone or polyester and cost around $100 to $300. Another option is a water wall fountain, which can be either free-standing or installed against a fence or masonry wall. Because there’s more water and it falls from a greater height, water walls will create more white noise than a small, wall-mounted fountain.

water wall fountain
Water wall fountains mask ambient noise and add visual interest

With our extensive masonry experience, we can build virtually any type of wall fountain or koi pond fountain you might envision. Of course, the one drawback to a fountain is that you can’t use it in our winter weather. But then, you probably aren’t going to spend a lot of time on your deck or patio in the winter, anyway.

Can Plants Block Noise?

Yes, they can. Unfortunately, you need a barrier of trees about 50 feet deep to have any significant effect on noise levels reaching your house. Even if you had that much space around your house, you’d spend a fortune on buying trees and would have to wait years for them to grow large enough to have any effect on the sound waves reaching your house.

However, wisely chosen shrubs and trees can help to soften and disperse sound waves. Dense evergreens are the best choice for year-round benefit. Although landscaping in general won’t dramatically reduce sound levels, when it blocks your sight of the noise source it can create the perception of a drop in noise levels. There’s a whole field of science devoted to this (psychoacoustics). The gist of it is that if you obscure the source of the noise, it doesn’t seem as noisy.

If noise is really an issue, you can double up with plants and a fence (the tallest your local zoning laws will allow). A row of dense, evergreen trees like arborvitae or blue spruce can be a good first line of defense to soften the onslaught of noise from a busy street, with the fence reflecting back whatever noise breaks through the trees. Keep in mind, though, some evergreens can reach 30 to 50 feet in height when mature. So if you don’t want them blocking out the sun, choose your trees carefully.

Speaking of choosing trees, this is an area where our Milwaukee landscapers have plenty of experience. We know which species will thrive in our environment and we approach every landscaping plan with an eye for both the immediate needs of the homeowner and the long-term impact.

The American Pillar Arborvitae: Our Top Pick for Privacy Screens, Noise Reduction and Less Than Desirable Views

John Houser with his American pillar arborvitae

 “This particular arborvitae [‘American Pillar’] will withstand extremes of heat, cold, and moisture, making it a candidate for home landscapes, and screening situations in most of the lower forty-eight states. Other plants commonly used for screening purposes, such as hemlock and pine, have diseases that are depleting their usefulness.” 

John Houser

This fast growing arborvitae has a great history. Around 2008, John Houser, an 85-year-old retired landscaper, discovered an unusual branch mutation on a Hetz wintergreen arborvitae (THUJA occidentalis) in his yard. Houser cultivated the branch and found it to be incredibly fast growing with a dense, columnar growth pattern. Realizing it was perfect for landscaping, he applied for a patent and began selling it to landscaping companies.

With a growth rate of nearly 40” per year, Houser’s THUJA “American Pillar” arborvitae quickly found favor with growers, landscapers and homeowners looking for quick privacy screens. Their spread of just 36 to 60 inches allows them to be planted in close proximity for a quick visual screen.

Although American Pillar Arborvitae tends to be a little scraggly in the first few years, by the third or fourth year it thickens up considerably. Height at maturity is a manageable 10 to 12 feet, making them perfect for locations where you want a screen, but not something so tall it blocks out the sun from ever reaching your house.

Request a Landscaping Consultation At Your Home

Whether you’re looking to invest in landscaping for noise reduction, privacy or just to enhance the aesthetics of your lawn, Brennan Landscaping is here to help. We’ll meet with you at your property to get an idea of what you want to accomplish and what sort of budget you have to work with. Then we’ll add some ideas of our own and work up a proposal for you to review.

We’ve handled landscaping projects big and small for both homeowners and businesses throughout southeast Wisconsin. Let us show you what we can do for you.

Contact Brennan Landscaping to schedule a landscaping consultation.

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"The owner truly cared about creating an authentic plan for my yard. I utilize the patio more than I ever expected to. The job took an extra week to finish, but the quality of the work and materials were worth it. Meticulous work."

– Cindy, Green Bay

You did a great job, Tim, we could not be happier. We also enjoyed working with such a nice and professional person.

– Michael, Fox Point

Thank you for the beautiful landscaping job! So many people have commented on how nice it looks.”

– Marie, Wauwatosa

Thank you for all your hard work on our project. We are thrilled with our patio and are very excited to complete the backyard landscaping this spring.”

– Jay, Fox Point