Help us reduce our new home's train noise problem.
May 29, 2011 8:26 PM   Subscribe

Help me (please) soundproof our new home against the trains that run right behind our house. Materials, strategies, tips: all are appreciated.

We just moved into our first home (hooray!) and it's wonderful except for the fact that there's a Via Rail train line that runs right behind the house. Oops.

Oh, and for context, we live in Toronto, just south of the eastern rail line that goes up to Stoufville.

Trains tend to go past around once every 30-45 minutes in each direction, and (thank god) it's just the train — we don't get engine horns. I'm looking to soundproof two things:

Easier: the house. Inside the house, the train sounds aren't too bad at all, but at night it can interrupt sleep. I'm guessing installing soundproof doors might help, but any suggestions on brands? Or other approaches that might be more effective for less cost?

Harder: the backyard. My assumption is we're mostly SOL here unless we can convince the city to build a sound barrier. But I'm all ears (AHEM) for any suggestions on how we can reduce the sound levels in our backyard.
posted by theNonsuch to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Double glazing on the windows facing the train line would help immensely. Seals on the windows and doors would also be helpful.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:38 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Since you're in Toronto, I suspect you already have double-paned storm windows. But if you don't, serious major insulating windows and doors are well worth big bucks for noise reduction as well as protection from the weather. Likewise, insulating your walls and roof will cut down on noise.

Planting a row of dense hedges along your back fenceline might help somewhat - not only does the physical material of the hedge act as a barrier, but air currents really do carry sound, so if you can break up the wind you might be able to dampen the noise.

I have found that living around steady or patterned noise of a specific type generally does get easier. I mean, if it doesn't drive you completely bananas, you will eventually acclimate. (I lived within a couple blocks of a rail yard. I stopped hearing the trains and even eventually blocked out the sound of the cars whacking together as they changed configurations at night.)
posted by gingerest at 8:42 PM on May 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

If the train noise isn't that loud inside the house, maybe you can get away with just sleeping with earplugs? The silicone kind stay put all night and will give you a solid 20+ dB of noise reduction.
posted by Dimpy at 8:44 PM on May 29, 2011

I live by a trainyard, and I just wear those wax earplugs for sleeping. Don't really notice the rest of the time. Our bedroom faces the trains, I keep the windows shut most of the time.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:48 PM on May 29, 2011


1. I moved into a room in a flat that overlooked a trainline, the trains to the airport were every 30 minutes. The first 2 weeks I thought I'd made the biggest mistake of my life. After that, my brain got used to the noise and I slept without any problems. (Visitors, on the other hand, had a bit of a different experience!) So don't stress too much just yet.

2. Friends of mine live in Windsor and depending on the wind direction, flights taking off / landing at Heathrow pass right over their back yard, so close that they take up most of the sky. Barbeques at their place were no problem - conversation stops for 30 seconds when the plane passes over and then resumes - no-one seems particularly fussed.

3. I worked at a site overlooking the London City Airport runway. The building was triple glazed and it was surreal to see the planes taking off and landing and not hearing a thing. So triple glazing might be a solution, if you decide that you need one.
posted by finding.perdita at 8:55 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you are VERY close to the tracks, then not everything you're getting is simply sound - you're also getting seismic vibration from the train passing through your home's vibration. Double or triple glazing will help, as will measures like padded carpeting, but if the vibration is being transmitted through the ground then the only thing that will eliminate it are seismic isolation units between the foundation and the house.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:56 PM on May 29, 2011

Seconding that you'll largely get used to it. I spent a year living in a third-floor apartment so close to the tracks that—no joke—I could have leaped into one of the passing coal cars from my window. For a few weeks it was frustrating, but in a month or two, I stopped noticing it. Eventually I really learned to like it.

Now I live six miles from the closest tracks (eight on the other side), and I love hearing the train's whistle blow. At this distance I can even feel the rumble of the fully loaded coal cars.

Soundproof, sure, but you might wait until you mind less. You may find there's less soundproofing to be done at tht point.
posted by waldo at 9:09 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I did a whole bunch of personal research into double-glazing recently, and supposedly to cut down low-frequency noise (eg aircraft, traffic or trains) you basically need to have the panes approx 100mm apart or more, which in turn reduces the thermal insulation properties of the glazing.

Having said that, any double-glazing is better than none.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:14 PM on May 29, 2011

Used to live near train tracks. Got used to it after a week or two.

This was above the arctic circle. It was a lot harder to get used to the "It never gets dark" thing. If I managed to get to sleep by the time that the coal train came at 4AM, and blew its whistle several dozen times to scare the moose off of the tracks, it didn't wake me up.

And, yeah. To have any effect on lower frequencies, any insulation that you install, be it double glazing, or actual insulation will need to have thickness as its primary attribute. Low frequencies are very difficult to deal with in any situation.

posted by schmod at 9:17 PM on May 29, 2011

Here is a This Old House article on building a sound-deadening property fence.
posted by LarryC at 9:19 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

You will definitely acclimate. My mom used to live in a house that was right next to a train line, and I didn't live with my mom, just visited regularly. I got used to it and was able to sleep through, and stopped noticing during waking hours. I'm not saying that you shouldn't do anything - clearly double-glazed windows and various heat insulation tactics are good for many reasons in your case, I'm just trying to give you hope that this situation will not be as difficult as you might fear right now.
posted by Joh at 9:25 PM on May 29, 2011

My mother in law lived in a close with her back garden against the railroad tracks with highspeed trains travelling London > Edinburgh. She had triple glazing on her doors and windows. It was fine with the windows closed, briefly loud with them open. With the windows open or with poor insulation, you do get used to it.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:26 PM on May 29, 2011

If you don't already have one put a "green belt" of trees and shrubs between your house and the train tracks. They can help insulate against the noise and give you privacy.
posted by smithsmith at 9:36 PM on May 29, 2011

And, yeah. To have any effect on lower frequencies, any insulation that you install, be it double glazing, or actual insulation will need to have thickness as its primary attribute.

The thickness of the panes themselves supposedly has a negligle effect on noise reduction - it's all about the space between the panes. You can also get specially coated glass that can help a bit.

Beware that doing either of these might be pissing into the wind, because if your window frame construction includes hollow spaces, these can act as resonation chambers & the noise gets through anyway!
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:40 PM on May 29, 2011

How long have you been there? I live right on Muni tracks, and sleep with the windows open. I do not notice the trains. I genuinely forget that they're there until guests comment on them.
posted by mollymayhem at 9:42 PM on May 29, 2011

Plants are sort of the placebo of sound control. If you want meaningful protection outside you really need a solid fence and at that point height and mass (as well as thickness) really matter. That is why sound barriers are typically a bit uncomfortably tall and made of concrete. You may get a bit of mileage out of a stockade fence depending on whether the property sits above the rail lines or at the same elevation, and certainly some plantings can help by both making the space more attractive and keeping you from standing quite so close to the trains.

For the house you definitely want to make sure doors and windows are sealed. This really should be for the energy savings, but will also help a bit with sound. If you don't already have at least double glazed windows I'd say look into triple glazed. In a climate like yours they have a reasonable payback and they definitely will help control sound.

Anything else would get into the "extraordinary measures" category. That would be things like extra layers of material on walls, different/improved insulation, etc. Wait a few months, and then hire a local design or acoustical professional if you find the need.
posted by meinvt at 9:50 PM on May 29, 2011

Oh, and since you specifically asked about doors, you could probably get performance fairly affordably out of adding glass screen doors outside any that face the tracks. Particularly if you notice that the sound of the trains is coming through your doors.
posted by meinvt at 9:52 PM on May 29, 2011

How far is your back door from the train tracks?

Do you have room and money to build a six foot wooden privacy fence across the back? Can you then put in fast growing leafy trees (25-30 foot eventually height) against the fence, alternated closely with evergreens? You could keep the leafy trees until the evergreens get 12 feet high or so, and then cut them down. Arbor vitae are fast growers to give you a quick barrier, although not my favorite. Alternatively, if you have plenty of room back there, plant the leafy trees, with the evergreens about 15 feet in front of them. In front of that, plant lilacs or some other leafy hedge plant. A fence plus three layers of vegetation will cut a lot of noise (and dust and smell.) Put up a trellis about three feet in front of the bedroom window, and train ivy up it.

If you can afford it, put triple glazing on all the back windows, or at minimum, on the bedroom window. Consider reducing the size of the window--we changed the north facing windows from 4x4 to 3x4 primarily for insulation, but it's amazing how it also reduced sound. If you can't redo your double glaze, then heavy curtains help. Or try putting a folding screen in front of the window. Make sure you have good carpet, and even put an area rug down in the bedroom. Hanging tapestries or heavy fabric on the wall will deaden the sound a bit, also. Put in a solid bedroom door rather than a hollow core.

For six miserable months I lived in an apartment next to the interstate--To deaden the sound in the bedroom, I bought sheet insulation, used spray on glue to attach fabric to the front and back, and inserted it into the window so that it was completely covered. Made it dark in the bedroom, but it was quiet. To keep from going crazy, I put LEDs behind sheer curtains to make a fake window.

Other ideas: Put more insulation down in your attic. Make sure you have a screen door and a good heavy, tight fitting exterior door. (Here's something on soundproofing doors.) Put up exterior shutters on the back.

I don't think I could sleep with ear plugs night after night, but a soft radio or white noise might help.

Nthing the idea that you eventually get used to it, but continuous noise of that type is a source of low level stress that exacerbates other stresses in your life. I'd do anything I could to deaden the sound.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:59 PM on May 29, 2011

I live on a busy road, and this has helped immensely

I did get used to it a bit anyway, but now I get hardly any stress at all from sounds, subsonics etc

I use the basic one
posted by Not Supplied at 11:17 PM on May 29, 2011

Several years ago, we lived in a house that was about a half-block away from an often-used railroad. Our solution was to plant a row of arborvitae along the backyard fence. This blocked the sound from both the rails as well as the street. The backyard became a very peaceful place.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:55 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

We used to rent a house that fronted onto a very busy road. The wondows on the front of the house were high quality double glazed sorts, but on top of that there were another set of windows that attached with a magnetic frame on the window frame inside the house. I'm not sure what they were called, or where the landlady got them, but the difference in sound with them on and off was astounding. I think the complete seal and the air gap between them and the house window did the trick.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:38 AM on May 30, 2011

If you do any remodeling, you could consider using something like QuietRock, a form of wallboard designed to provide insulation against sound. Not cheap, of course.

How well is the house insulated? I once added 1" foam board and vinyl siding to a wood-frame house that had the usual (then) <4" of fiberglass insulation. I was pleasantly surprised at how much quieter the house was.
posted by Corvid at 10:56 AM on May 30, 2011

Response by poster: Holy crap, you guys rock. Thanks for all of the responses!

I think we'll probably have to go with a hybrid of something like what Thorzdad (and others) recommended, and double or triple glaze windows. There is no vegetation between our backyard fence and the train tracks, so adding something there has got to be better than nothing.

Thorzdad, how much did those trees cost? I assume you bought them fully grown?
posted by theNonsuch at 12:17 PM on May 30, 2011

Response by poster: Corvid - I have no idea what the insulation situation is. That's something on my list now that we've actually moved in.
posted by theNonsuch at 12:19 PM on May 30, 2011

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