I’m selling a house in a medium-sized Michigan city on a busy road. Forty mile per hour traffic is a stone’s throw away and it never lets up. If there happens to be a lull, say around 2 AM, the background roar of the nearby six lane interstate comes to fore. Then there are sirens, airplanes overhead and lawnmowers. When I got back home to Maine the first thing I noticed was the silence. Actually, it’s not silent, just a heckuva lot quieter. A gentle rustling of leaves, chirping of songbirds, gull cries and crow shouts. Bar Harbor’s noon horn from 8 miles away. A distant fog horn. The crack of a mussel dropped by a gull on the rocky shore. In midsummer, the twin poofs of a surfacing porpoise pair. One time long ago, a distant bagpipe solo over the water.
Some potential guests ask about the noise from the airport nearby in their inquiries, but it’s really a different experience when a single point of noise rises, falls and then disappears for a long time. BHB is a small airport with infrequent flights. Contrast this with the relentless hum of most urban areas and you get the picture.
The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies four negative health effects of noise:
- cardiovascular effects;
- damage to work and school performance;
- hearing impairment including tinnitus.
- sleep disturbance
How is noise defined? Is there a decibel threshold or is noise a measure of relentlessness? A study was conducted in Europe in schools which were near busy roads and/or airports. The noise levels were categorized in four ranges, under about 50 dB, 50-55, 55-60 and over 60. Given the fact that these were “busy” roads and airports, we can assume the noise was fairly constant. The results on children pointed to reduced reading abilities; a loss of 1-2 months of development for every 5 decibels in the tested ranges. There was also an increase of “annoyance”, which the study defined as “a stress response to noise exposure implying reduced well-being and quality of life”. So it looks like negative health effects start to occur over 50 dB, but damage to hearing happens only over 90 dB.
You can measure your noise environment easily if you have an iPhone and are willing to part with a buck. Follow this link and you will get to this image:
The decibel scale is logarithmic, so a reading of 6o is 10 times as powerful as 50 decibels, and so on. I tested this ap and found that I could not find any place quieter than 40 dB. That is, stone dead silence to me was still reading 40 dB. Normal indoor noises were in the 40-50 range. Outdoors, our 20 mph wind gusts and surf at the shore pushed the scale up to the low 50s, right at mid-afternoon, when the wind is the strongest.
To me, the annoyance factor of noise, coupled with relentlessness is what sets me on edge. A motorcycle with a “performance” muffler, a hip-hop bass vibration, a semi using jake brakes, honking horns, all laid over a constant hum of traffic. None of that exists at SeaCat’s Rest! I’ll take wind, surf and birds any time. Anybody want to buy a house in Michigan?