Is there some way to hear our brook inside in winter?
December 4, 2019 5:17 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to let sound in without letting heat out? Or does insulating for one necessarily mean insulating for the other? We miss hearing our brook now that windows are closed for the winter!

We live on a large brook, and with windows open, we love hearing it inside and especially falling asleep to the sound of it at night. We're in New England, so leaving windows cracked open isn't energy-efficient at this time of year. It's still very close to being audible -- when the brook's running well, we can already hear it a little through some of the closed windows. So we wondered if there’s anything we could do to hear it a little better.

We own, and we'd be up for trying somewhat inventive approaches. We've thought of a mic outside and speakers inside, but that wouldn't feel the same as hearing the brook directly.
posted by daisyace to Home & Garden (16 answers total)
In the goofy lateral thinking department, build a giant megaphone next to the brook, pointed at the house.
posted by zamboni at 5:40 AM on December 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

I sleep with windows open pretty much all year (Ontario Canada), and find that if I keep my door closed at night, the open window has very little effect on temperature of the rest of the house. A small crack open might give you the sound without too much cold. Then pile on the blankets!
posted by Ftsqg at 5:53 AM on December 4, 2019 [8 favorites]

I’m sure that there is some kind of internet of things outdoor mic that you could tie to a speaker indoors. Alternatively, record a long-ish loop of the brook and just play that.
posted by rockindata at 6:02 AM on December 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I don’t think keeping a window cracked would be good here. The whole upstairs is our bedroom, with a cathedral ceiling and no door. We’ve been able to turn the heat off upstairs overnight, and I don’t think we could with a window open.
posted by daisyace at 6:12 AM on December 4, 2019

You might be surprised how good a speaker and mic sound. Our local nature center has an indoor bird blind with a speaker system and the first few times I went I didn’t realize the sound was being piped in electronically.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:20 AM on December 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

So without an open window option, there really are only two possibilities, both mentioned by rockindata above: (a) mic your brook, play the sound indoors on speakers, or (b) fake it with a recording. The advantage of (a) is that it would catch additional natural sounds like birds, wind, etc. as they happen. Google "outdoor nature microphone" and various options come up, including this one.
posted by beagle at 6:26 AM on December 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also in the goofy thinking dept.: have you ever used a drinking glass to hear through a wall? Maybe try fashioning some kind of cone to the inside of your window, see if that amplifies what you're already able to hear.
posted by Bron at 6:49 AM on December 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Half way between open/closed window might be to A) just crack the window (you don't need much of a gap for sound transmission) and then B) cover the gap with a thin plastic like saran wrap taped onto the window with masking tape. The plastic would prevent air exchange which is going to be the major heat loss vector while still allowing sound through.
posted by Mitheral at 7:09 AM on December 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

How about a parabolic projector thing in combination with the small plastic covered hole?
posted by J.R. Hartley at 7:26 AM on December 4, 2019

I would second the idea of trying a way to leave a very small crack open in the window. I live in a very harsh mountain climate and also like to hear the river. It's amazing how little you need to let the sound in. We have triple glazed windows that you can lock a tiny bit open...barely a millimetre. It lets the sound through and really makes very little difference to the warmth in the room, in fact a little bit of air circulation is beneficial I think. If the windows are really tall / long, could you find a way to seal part of the length?
posted by tardigrade at 8:52 AM on December 4, 2019

What if you recorded about an hours worth of the brook and then played it on a loop on an MP3 player/speaker in your house?

It would not be live, true, but would you be able to tell the difference? You could record a bunch of snippets at different times and weather and just put them on shuffle.
posted by bondcliff at 8:55 AM on December 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Sound machine is an option--there are many with lovely brook sounds. Or a fish tank. My goldfish tank has a filter that creates wonderful and soothing white noise. Not quite a brook but it's joyful in its own way (and we love our fishies.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:44 PM on December 4, 2019

Last night was windless and in the lower 20's, so not worst that winters here have to dish out, but colder than I'd thought would work with an open window, but I tried it and was pleasantly surprised. I hadn't realized the tiny amount it was possible to open it for a noticeable impact in sound without noticeable impact on temperature -- I wouldn't even call it open, just unsealed, way less than a millimeter. Still not quite as audible as I'd like, but better! I think I'm going to experiment with making some kind of cone projecting from that tiny gap towards the bed. If that does make it louder, I'm thinking I can fashion some kind of cone-on-a-wire, where a stiff wire poked into the tiny window gap holds the cone in place. So, thank you very much for the input and ideas!
posted by daisyace at 7:40 AM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Actually what you might try is putting the cone outside, pointing to the brook, with the small end coming through a gap in the window. Could seal up all the rest of the window opening with tape or something stuffed into the gap. The thing would act like one of those old-time funnel hearing aids, projecting sound from a wide area (the big end of the cone) through the hole into the house. I'd use a sheet-metal cone.

A cone opening up toward your bed is not going to magnify the sound, although it might direct it a little bit better. But a cone outside as described above would catch all the sound in a large area and direct a lot of it through the small hole.
posted by beagle at 2:01 PM on December 5, 2019

Also, if you build a little waterfall into the brook, you can make it louder.
posted by clew at 6:08 PM on December 5, 2019

You can tube the sound in with a garden hose or PVC.
posted by metasarah at 11:09 AM on December 12, 2019

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