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Noise: Keeping It Down at Home

Every day, we hear a variety of sounds in our homes. These sounds range from the gentle hum of a refrigerator to a blaring fire engine passing by. Most household sounds are at safe noise levels. Sometimes, however, we operate several noisy devices at the same time or raise the volume on the television so that we can hear it over the vacuum cleaner. When we take these actions, we raise the overall noise level in our homes without even realizing it.

Noises in our homes can reach a level that is uncomfortable or even harmful to our hearing. In addition, some common devices around or outside the house, such as lawnmowers, are noisy enough that hearing protectors are recommended for even short exposures. Too much noise can cause stress, headaches, and fatigue as well as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Make your home a peaceful place. The result will be good for your hearing and your health!

Typical household noise levels

The intensity, or loudness, of sound is measured in decibels. The softest sound that healthy ears can hear is 0 decibels—near total silence. By comparison, a whisper measures 30 decibels, and normal conversation measures 60 decibels. The chart lists decibel levels for common objects in and around our homes.


Average Decibel Levels of Sounds In and Around the Home
Sound Decibel Level
Refrigerator 45
Clothes dryer 60
Washing machine 65
Vacuum cleaner 70
Blowdryer 80–90
Electric shaver 85
Passing motorcycle 90
Table saw 95
Circular saw 100
Hand drill 100
Diesel truck 100
Gas engine mower 105
Chain saw 110
Car horn 120
Siren 120


Kids playing video gameNoises that are 85 decibels and above can damage tiny sensory cells in our inner ear, causing NIHL. These cells, called hair cells, convert sound energy into electrical signals that travel to the brain. Once damaged, our hair cells cannot grow back. Don't be concerned, though, that using the washing machine (65 decibels) and the dryer (60 decibels) at the same time might damage hearing. Decibel levels do not simply add up, but combine according to a logarithmic scale. In this example, the combined decibel level is only a few units higher than 65 decibels.

NIHL occurs when our hearing is exposed for too long to sounds that are too loud. The higher the decibel level, the shorter the time before damage may occur. How close we are to the sound also matters. Sounds get louder as we move closer to the source and softer as we move away. Limiting the number of noise sources in operation at any one time, particularly when you and family members are nearby, will help maintain a safe and comfortable noise level.

Tips for creating a quiet home

You can create a quiet home in three ways:

  1. Reduce noises at the source.
  2. Avoid competing noises in the same area.
  3. Make your family aware of noise sources, noise levels, and how to avoid unsafe noise levels.


Here are some practical tips for creating a quiet home:

  • Set your television, video games, and music to the lowest volume at which they can be heard clearly. Use only one item at a time within one room. If possible, listen only to a television or stereo that is in the same room with you, rather than turning up the volume so you can hear from another room.
  • If someone in the room has trouble hearing, turn on your television captioning rather than turning up the volume.
  • Create ways to muffle the noise of chores. An example is to close the door between family members and appliances in use, such as those in a workshop or laundry room.
  • Buy quiet toys. If you buy electronic toys, choose those with volume controls, and use only the lowest volume setting. This will both lower your household noise levels and help protect your child from NIHL.
  • When buying a new appliance, such as a dishwasher, bathroom fan, or stove vent, ask about its noise rating. Ratings are given in "sones": the lower the sone number, the quieter the unit.
  • If your home is in a particularly noisy location, work to keep outdoor noises outdoors. Caulk cracks around windows and doors. Insert putty or expanding foam around pipes and wires where they enter the house.
  • Close windows and doors against potentially harmful sounds, such as leafblowers, lawnmowers, power tools, and sirens.
  • Use soft furnishings to soften noise indoors. The more cushions, curtains, and wall coverings you have, the more noise will be absorbed. Curtains on the windows also help to block outdoor noises.
  • Place carpets and area rugs over hard flooring to help soak up sound. Thicker rugs are more effective at reducing noises that bounce off of hard surfaces.

By taking just a few simple steps, you can achieve a home that is filled with only safe, peaceful sounds.