Help! Nuisance with High Pitched Noise
May 14, 2015 11:34 AM   Subscribe

My second story bedroom window directly faces a dryer vent (recently installed), that sits at street level across the street. The dryer, when on, produces a high pitched noise that penetrates my home and is loud enough to record on my cell phone. This noise grates at the back of my ears and creates tension in my jaw. It will wake me up at night.

What can I do to diminish this noise in my home?
Does high pitched sound rise and augment in a reverberation or echo?
Where can I find information to support the effects of high pitched noises?
How can I measure the sound inside my home?
So far the ear plugs I have tried as well as closing the windows tight does not diminish this terrible sound.

I have lived in my current home in San Francisco for over 25 years and have never found sound to be a problem until now.
The city of San Francisco came out and measured the sound of the (empty) dryer and the sound fell below the threshold of ‘permitted’ noise.
I have tried working with the people who own the dryer but they are most uncooperative. At most they try and ‘prove’ I am preposterous and they consider the matter closed.

Of the other people in my building that could be affected, my wife has bad tinnitus in one ear and she just turns her bad ear up at night when the dryer is going. The man downstairs is hard of hearing and wears a sleep apnea machine at night. So I am stuck with solving this problem.
posted by SFnative to Human Relations (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Get a sound level meter and check what it is at the loudest place inside your bedroom. See how that compares to the allowable levels in your zoning, both day and night. If it is excessive, lodge a noise complaint. In some places the nighttime limit, after 10 or 11 PM, is pretty low.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:39 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, and you can also check the local building code for the maximum levels allowable right at the vent. The level inside your unit may or may not count if they are not part of your building.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:42 AM on May 14, 2015

High frequencies are relatively easy to block with earplugs. My wife swears by Mack's.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:48 AM on May 14, 2015

You may be able to run one of the various colors of white noise (white, brown, pink etc) and it will negate the sound. You may have to experiment with both colors and speakers (phone vs external speaker vs laptop vs whatever else you might be able to try) before you find a combo that works.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:58 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

+1 for some good earplugs; I've also used Mack's soft foam ones with great success.
At least they are worth a try. The secret is to pull down on your earlobe while inserting the compressed earplug and really get the plug up in there so that it's a soundproof barrier.
At first it was disconcerting, but after a while strangely comforting to hear nothing but the beat of your own heart.
Give them a whirl! They are easily available at most drug and big box stores (Target, WalMart).
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 12:01 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can buy a sound pressure meter for under $30, which is how you'd measure against legal limits in your area. Unfortunately you may be dealing with a sound that is really annoying but perfectly legal.

Can you afford to buy your neighbors a new dryer? It's sort of an extreme option, but if you're unable to sleep, have no legal recourse, neighbors are unresponsive, and you don't want to move, it might get you relief.
posted by reeddavid at 12:29 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Since they don't seem inclined to help you, I would go with the noise machine/ear plug suggestions. If they were more receptive, I might see if you could get them to replace the vent cover on the exterior of the building with a different design. Newer ones are louvered and you are probably hearing the whistle of the air through the louvers rather than the dryer itself.
posted by cecic at 12:37 PM on May 14, 2015

Thirding ear plugs. You shouldn't be hearing anything if you've inserted them properly. I find it helps to shape them into a tight barrel, then lick them for lubrication, then pull on your earlobe and insert. They should plug your ear the way a snail plugs its shell, nothing should stick out.
posted by Dragonness at 12:40 PM on May 14, 2015

For a while, I actually slept with Bose noise-cancelling earbuds. Caveat: I think it's not perfectly safe (there are cords workaround was stuffing something like a small pillow inside them, to help avert the chance that I'd strangle myself, but if you move around a lot while you sleep, that might not work). It does, however, block out constant sound like that much, much, better than regular earplugs. You could at least use them while you're awake. Not cheap, but well worth it, I think.
posted by three_red_balloons at 1:15 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As an alternative to a sound level meter, there are some pretty accurate sound level meter apps for your phone. There was a recent article in JASA that tested the apps against a professional sound level meter and found there are a few that are pretty good. I use SPLnFFT. I would measure using the A weighting. You'll probably want to do a measurement with the noise and without, so you know how much the noise is actually adding to the level in your home. 6 dB is a doubling of loudness level. Over 85 dB becomes unsafe.

Earplugs are great. They'll give you around 25 dB of attenuation but you have to put them in correctly. The correct way to put them in is actually Roll Pull Hold. Roll the earplug between your fingers until it's squished, reach around the back of your head with your other hand and pull up and back on your ear (this straightens the ear canal), and then insert the ear plug all the way in and hold it as it expands. The earplug should be flush with your ear canal. It's deep.

It isn't likely the reverb would increase the original signal, but it can make the sound seem to linger as it bounces from thing to thing.

Do you have a lot of windows? Generally, high frequencies don't make it through walls and things, purely as a function of the short wavelength (as opposed to low frequencies). However, glass tends to act as a high pass filter, and will attenuate low frequencies but pass high frequencies. You could try thick curtains; it might give you a little. But closing the windows won't do much, as high frequencies will pass right through.

Otherwise, the best thing to do would be to somehow try and decrease the noise at it's source, which seems unlikely given what you wrote.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:27 PM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and on the white noise. You'd want to to try something like pink noise, if you want to try and mask just that frequency. Pink noise is high pass, so it has more high frequencies. The lower frequencies in the white noise won't give you any masking for the high frequency noise.

It will mask the high frequency if and only if you actually have the pink noise above the level of the high frequency.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:28 PM on May 14, 2015

How often are they running the dryer? You say the sound only affects you when the dryer is on. I would assume it's being used at a maximum of once or twice a day? (Depending on how much laundry they do)

I know you've said your neighbours are unresponsive, but I would try talking to them again - this time bring cookies, or wine, or both or something else you think they might like. A small gift can go a LONG way in these sorts of circumstances.

If you can reach some sort of compromise where they don't use their dryer at night time when you're trying to sleep, I assume this would help some?

In my experience, Dryers can be noisy, but usually the noise is only temporary thankfully.... otherwise, yes, earplugs!
posted by JenThePro at 1:44 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Installing double glazed windows, if you can?
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:03 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can you get the make and model of the dryer? Check the manufacturer's support and see if this is a known problem with this model. Maybe pay for a repair visit.
posted by at at 4:08 PM on May 14, 2015

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