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The Noise Guide: What Decibel Rating is Right for Your Home?

girl plugging ears

In 1999, the World Health Organization determined that "120 million people worldwide have disabling hearing difficulties." Noise pollution is caused by population growth, increased urbanization, lack of noise regulations, the rising number of electronics used on a regular basis, and the noise of different means of transportation. 30 million American workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels on the job.

One of the aspects of living in crowded, urban environments is that you are surrounded with noise. Noise levels in a big city can not only be irritating, but can do great harm to your health, so more and more people wish for a quiet place where they can rest peacefully. If your home doesn't provide you this peace of mind, it can become a huge problem.

Most people don't pay attention to the noise level of home appliances when they make the purchase. They would probably say that they've never had a problem with the noise those appliances produce when they are plugged in. Perhaps they never had a fridge that was so loud that it's impossible to talk near it, and which can be heard in every part of the house. Maybe they didn't have a fan which sounds like a plane propeller, or a vacuum cleaner that sound like a sports car. But, if you don't pay attention to what you're buying, you could easily find out what it's like.

Imagine finding yourself in this situation: you want to update your old, crammed fridge with a glossy, modern appliance, and you found a perfect one - roomy, in a nice metallic color, fitting in perfectly with the rest of your kitchen decor. Then you plug it in, and - surprise, it sounds like an elephant's stomach growling! You would probably complain to the company that sold it to you, and they would probably say that this level of noise is normal for that kind of fridge. If you don't want to regret your next carefully planned home purchase, you should also research the noise level the appliance reaches in the product description.

"Loudness" is measured with the decibel scale. The table below provides a basis for understanding the decibal scale, relating it to everyday noises and their impact on your hearing.

Hearing IntensityDecibelsCommon SoundsAppliance Sounds
Very Light0Almost Total Quiet 
 10Pin Dropping 
 20Rustling Leaves 
 40Light TrafficBeverage Cooler, Computer
Medium Loud50Normal Office NoiseAir Conditioner
 55Office ConversationRefrigerator
 60Conversation speechAir Conditioner, Portable Fan
Loud70Normal Street NoiseDishwasher, Ceiling Fan
 80Alarm ClockVacuum Cleaner
Extremely Loud90High School Marching BandHair Dryer
 120Thunder and Lightning 
Ear Drum Shattering194Space Shuttle Engine 

(Appliance decibel ratings are based on averages. Some appliances vary from these ratings)

Everything above 90 decibels is considered to be very loud, and noise above 100 decibels can cause ear damage. But, even sounds somewhere in the span of around 50 decibels, if they are continuously produced, can irritate and cause your stress levels to rise, affect the quality and duration of your sleep, and indirectly cause health problems. That's why you have to pay attention to the noise levels that appliances produce when you decide to buy a new device for your home.

It is interesting that computers are, in general, the quietest appliance you can find in a house, but even that sound can make us very annoyed, because all of us spend several hours a day in front of our personal or work computers. One of the first questions you'll ask your trader when you want to buy a new personal computer is how loud it will be. We should give the same attention to the other noise-producing appliances in our homes.

Other Factors Affecting the Noise

The noise of a working device depends largely on the size of the room and the sound isolation in your home. If you walk or talk in an empty room you will receive a lot of echo. The same principle applies to appliances in the home. The manufacturer's provided noise rating must be considered in the context of your home and how much noise reverberates in your home.

Also, personal perceptions of sounds are not the same, so the same sound could be very loud for one person, and fairly quiet for another one, depending on your overall tolerance and how good your hearing is.

So, when you buy a new appliance, you should always figure out where to position it in your house first, so that you can control all the variables and make the most accurate guess. Additionally, you can follow some simple, logical steps in reducing the level of noise that appliances produce. A refrigerator, for example, is a very loud appliance, but its noise could be absorbed in a decent measure if you put a rubber mat underneath it, since the most of the noise a refrigerator produces originates from it vibrations against the hard floor.

If you aren't planning massive redecorations, you will probably install new appliances in the same place in which the old ones once were. If you have the noise rating for your old appliance (in decibels), you can compare it to your prospective purchase. A lower decibel rating in the new appliance will guarantee quieter operation overall because it will be placed in the same conditions as your old device.

An appliance's noise rating is becoming one of the most important attributes of all home devices. When you buy a new machine for your home, you can't always find the quietest solution, so it is important for you to know when you should really place it as a top priority. For example, your loudest appliance will probably be your vacuum cleaner. If you can find a device which has a noise level below average for a vacuum cleaner, it would be nice, but it is hardly an important feature to consider in this case. Why? Vacuum cleaners are only run a few minutes out of every week. Therefore, you can afford to have a higher noise rating because it's not a constant occurrence. It is much more important that the noise levels are minimal on the devices that are constantly plugged in. Lower noise ratings are an important factor when looking to purchase a refrigerator, a dishwasher, an air conditioner, a ceiling fan, and other household staples that are for daily, continual use.

Tips for Reducing the Noise of Appliances

  • Place a rubber mat underneath to absorb the vibrations and prevent them from reverberating against the hard floors.
  • Replace any parts that are worn out because those will probably be the biggest noise-producers on the device.
  • Consider soundproofing the walls of your home. This won't improve the appliances, but it will keep the noise isolated to that room.
  • Use carpeting and rugs in rooms that echo to absorb some of the reverberating noise.
  • Only run particularly noisy appliances when you are out of the house, or out of that room. It doesn't improve the noise, but it limits your exposure to it.
  • Wall hangings can reduce noise by absorbing sound waves

A House of Quiet Appliances Isn't Just a Luxury, It's Good for Your Health!

A quiet home allows you to rest properly and reduces your stress level, so appliances are just as important as getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and exercising.

The National Institute of Health found that noise exposure causes:

  • Hearing Loss
  • Loss of sleep
  • Cardiovascular constriction
  • Changes in brain chemistry
  • Increased risk of damage during pregnancy
  • Elevated stress levels
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Labored breathing
  • Stomach contractions
  • Negative impact to growth and development of babies
  • Reduced learning abilities

So, even if it costs a few dollars more, quieter appliances are investments in a happier and healthier future.

Which Room Should Have the Quietest Appliances?

boy plugging earsThe kitchen and bathroom are typically the noisiest rooms of the house. The kitchen and bathroom also have the most appliances of any of the rooms in the house, so the accumulation of noise from these devices contributes to the overall atmosphere of the room. Therefore, reducing the noise is a better option than trying to replace all your appliances with quieter models. However, the dishwasher could be a good place to improve noise levels. A traditional dishwasher produces around 70 db, making it the loudest appliance in the home below the vacuum cleaner. Today's models produce only about 55 db, which would be a significant reduction and would go a long way towards improving the noise of your kitchen. This is especially effective in reducing noise levels for apartment living, because typically these appliances can be heard from all parts of the apartment.

The living room and bedroom are two of the most used rooms of your house and they also are meant to be relaxing atmospheres, so these are good places to start looking for quieter appliances. A quieter air conditioner in the bedroom can provide the coolness you need to sleep, but also the quiet you need to get deeper sleep too.

Making your home a quieter place is an investment in the future. Consider the noise ratings of appliances the next time your make a purchase???Your health and happiness depend on it!

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