Home Improvement Information


Reduce Noise to Reduce Stress: Sound Advice From the Rug Doctor


Maybe getting the silent treatment at home isn't a bad thing after all.

With the constant barrage of leaf blowers, lawn mowers and loud appliances swirling around us, it's no wonder "I need some peace and quiet!" has become such a popular plea. If your neighbor decides to fire up the chainsaw Sunday morning while you're sipping coffee and enjoying the newspaper, chalk up another frazzled nerve. And scientists and health officials aren't just dismissing noise at home as a nuisance; they're taking the issue seriously.

The noise inside your home will never rival that of the outside world. However, it should be a sanctuary from the clatter and commotion of our environment. With simple solutions to reducing indoor noise, you can turn a hurly-burly home into a healthy, happy one.

Volumes of Information on Noise and Health

Sure, we have all heard there's too much fat in our diet. Well, maybe there's too much noise in our diets, too. Now, you can't eat noise like pint of Haagen-Daz, but you sure can feel it, and the end result can be more stress and frustration.

A 2004 study that appeared in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, concluded that women were more vulnerable to snacking and overeating than men when exposed to loud noise. Researchers found that women exposed to loud noise were more likely than men to indulge in common junk foods like popcorn, potato chips and chocolate.

The study took three groups of men and women, asking them to complete common math problems while exposing them to alternating levels of noise. The third control group wasn't exposed to any noise during their problem-solving tasks.

Between sessions, the study participants were left alone in a room with several types of bland, high-fat food. The study showed that women who gave up and were discouraged by the assigned tasks ate significantly more than the women who were not frustrated.

While men's performance was also altered during the study, the research showed that the affects from noise lingered longer in women. The researchers concluded that the impact from a noisy environment and lack of control over that environment can manifest itself as stress in women and may lead them to overindulging in fatty foods.

Not surprisingly, the issue of noise not only leads to stress in adults, but can leave a significant imprint on a child's ability to learn.

A recent German study showed that children exposed to loud noises learned to read more slowly. It also concluded that being subjected to loud surroundings had an impact on motivation, long-term memory and speech acquisition.

"This study ...nails down that it is almost certain that noise is causing the difference in children's ability to learn and read," says environmental stress researcher Gary Evans, a PhD from Cornell University and the lead researcher on the study. Evans has also discovered that blood pressure and levels of stress hormones were higher in children subjected to a noisy environment.

Silence can also be golden during the golden years.

For seniors, constant exposure to noise may increase the risk of heart attack. Studies have shown that, much like women's eating habits were altered by stress-inducing noise, that consistent exposure to noise leads to increased blood pressure. This change, along with changes in cholesterol, can lead to heart disease.

Some Sound Decorating Decisions

Certainly, noise-related health issues shouldn't lead you to hide out in a soundproof room the rest of your life, but having peace, and piece of mind at home can go a long way in reducing stress.

More homes are looking like the local audio-video store, with high-definition TVs, surround-sound systems and booming video games. This is in addition to the old standbys: barking dogs and screaming kids.

Basically, sound needs someplace to go. The way to quiet things down may seem strange, but it's a solution that is pure science. Absorbing sound is one way to turn down the volume in your house, and the best place to start is your floors.

Area rugs and carpet serve as sound insulators. With builders reshaping homes to combine big spaces, like the popular great room, noise levels have gone up. Rugs and carpet reduce the sound that bounces off walls and floors. Homes with hard surfaces like tile and wood floors - where carpeting isn't used - really benefit from the use of area rugs. Not only do area rugs help soak up noise, they also provide a form of insulation when used beneath tables and chairs. Because hardwood floors tend to amplify sound the most, using a pad under an area rug is also beneficial.

Most flooring bounces sound around like a rubber ball, but cork flooring is actually a noise-reducing product. The material can also be used as an "underlayment" for laminate and hardwood floors.

Other noise-reducing household tricks include using slipcovers, pillows and drapes instead of blinds. Small spaces around doors and windows can also let unwanted sound in. Close them up with weather stripping.

Shelves with books, valances and even potted plants can help. And sound machines can add a bit of tranquility throughout the house while helping drown out the police helicopter or the takeoff of that Gulfstream jet.

The kitchen can benefit as well, with throw rugs, wood cabinets and stone tables, all sound absorbers.

Noise is something we all have to live with. But it doesn't mean we have to like it or are powerless to do anything. A theologian once said: "There is a close connection between tranquility and sanity." And what better way to practice that philosophy then by starting at home.

Based in Los Angeles, Ron Neal is a free-lance writer, editor and owner of Writemind Media. With more than 20 years of experience, including six at the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Neal has produced and edited hundreds of articles on a variety of subjects, including flooring, home improvement and area rugs of all kinds, including Oriental rugs.


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