As population densities increase around the world, the issue of noise has become a very real problem.
Although we can become accustomed to many different types of repetitive noise, there are some sounds that require mitigation from a sound barrier wall, either because of their impact on a business or residence, or because their levels are sufficiently high to cause physical issues to the receivers.
While there are many products available to treat noise within interior environments, such as sound-proof windows, doors and building materials, treating outdoor soundproofing is considerably more challenging.
Nuisance noises from such activities as highways, trains, HVAC equipment and many other sources are frequently mitigated with the use of noise barriers, or sound wall.
As the name indicates, these structures are designed specifically to block unwanted sound waves from a particular source from reaching a particular receiver.
While traditional sound walls were comprised of simple materials like concrete or wood, some of today’s sound walls employ sophisticated sound-absorbing technology.
Instead of simply blocking and reflecting the sound waves in other directions much like an echo, these sound absorbing panels actually diffuse and absorb the unwanted sound waves
Consumers today have a broad variety of sound barrier material and options to choose from, including wood, concrete, metal and synthetic materials.
The level of performance and durability of each product dictates the cost. Researching and determining which barrier type is best for you is an important process, given the significant cost for an engineered sound wall.
1. Sound Barrier Wall Performance
As you would assume, the most common reason for purchasing a sound wall is to reduce unwanted noise from a specific source. And noise sources are all different.
For example, a simple swimming pool pump may emanate sound in the 65-80 decibel range, which is comparable to riding in a subway car.
On the other hand, jet engine testing facilities have noise sources that can run as loud as 150 dBA, which can cause severe hearing damage instantly.
Obviously, you would not require the same level of acoustical performance from a sound wall in these applications.
Given the typical cost-to-performance ratio for sound barriers, it is important to match a sound wall’s performance to your specific noise source, to ensure you achieve the desired mitigation in the most cost-effective manner.
2. Sound Wall Panel Design
Sound panels are the individual panels that compromise a noise barrier or sound wall. The design of the sound panels dictates their ability to mitigate targeted noise.
While simple sound panels made of wood, concrete, or metal do a good job of blocking noise from passing through them, they reflect sound in unwanted and unpredictable ways.
More sophisticated acoustic sound panels are designed to absorb and diffuse sound waves in addition to blocking them, thus eliminating the issue of reflected noise.
Research shows that whenever possible, the use of sound-absorbing material is always better than the use of reflective material.
3. Product Durability
Since outdoor soundproofing material is required all over the world in some of the harshest environments, durability is an important consideration when selecting a sound wall product.
If your application is in Phoenix, AZ or Midland, TX for example, you need a product that can withstand extreme heat and UV.
Conversely, if your application is in Fargo, ND, you may be more concerned about the product’s ability to withstand subzero temperatures for long stretches of time.
Some applications require sound walls to be fire rated or even bullet-proof. While others along the Gulf Coasts require extreme wind-loading capabilities.
Whatever the case may be, long term durability is a consistent requirement for all outdoor noise barriers, so it is imperative to use materials with long and successful track records of outdoor exposure and stability.
4. Manufacturer History
Since sound walls are expected to last and perform for decades after installation, choosing a sound wall manufacturer that has been in business for many years becomes incredibly important.
How can a company that is only five or ten years old make claims that their product can last decades?
While laboratory theories and white board performance projections are OK, time-tested, real-world experience are better than theories.
When it comes to selecting a sound wall company, try to locate one that has been around long enough to provide firsthand confirmation of their competencies and products.
5. Sound Wall Aesthetics
While considerations such as acoustic performance and product durability typically rank higher on the checklist, aesthetics do come into play for some buyers.
From an acoustical perspective, aesthetic treatments are somewhat limited in sound walls because the barriers are designed primarily for acoustical performance, and adding aesthetic components often diminish their net acoustic performance.
Some precast concrete sound walls offer patterned panels, while some of the synthetic sound walls such as fiberglass offer clean shiplap designs.
In most cases it is noise reduction that rules the day, and any aesthetic touches are simply the icing on the cake.
6. Ease of Installation
One of the key cost drivers for any sound wall is the complexity and cost of installation.
Traditional sound wall materials like precast concrete are extremely heavy and require large equipment and cranes to install.
Alternatively, progressive lightweight noise barrier materials are easily handled by hand and require very little heavy equipment.
Labor and equipment mean costs. Generally, the easier and faster the installation, the less expensive it will be.
7. How Much Does A Sound Wall Cost?
How much does a sound wall cost is probably the most commonly asked question by those needing a noise barrier. And as you can see from the considerations listed above, there are many factors that influence cost.
Technically, wood is sometimes considered a sound wall, and when compared to an engineered fiberglass wall panels like the SonaGuard barrier system, wood is “cheap.”
But you typically get what you pay for with sound walls. This is why it is so important to match the sound wall product to your specific noise source and application.
Remember — the worst-case scenario is using a less- expensive and under-performing sound wall product, then having to replace it entirely with a better product that should have been used initially.
8. Made in USA
If you were not already a proponent of using products made in America, then perhaps the recent revelation that most of our medical PPE and medicines are made overseas has converted you.
If you have a choice, buy sound wall products that are made here in America!