I downloaded a free NIOSH Sound Level Reader app, but with great reluctance. For this blog, I wanted to objectively assess whether certain noise mitigation efforts, such as our tall fence, were successful. But, I also know that our perception of noise is deeply rooted in psychology. I didn’t want objective reality — such as unwelcome data from the decibel reader — to destroy any illusion that my noise mitigation efforts were successful, when they weren’t.
This is an important lesson: the definition of noise and perception of sound level is very subjective. An 90 decibel car alarm will be less desirable than a 90 decibel waterfall but equally as loud. If your garden feels quieter even though the decibel reader says otherwise, who cares, right? So in seeking a quieter garden, your time will mostly be wasted seeking decibel data when in the end, it is the perception that matters.
But, here is one useful way, and I hope harmless way, to use the decibel reader: to find the quantifiably quietest spots on your garden to build an escape from noise. Without subjective data, your brain might lead you astray as it did for me and have you working in the wrong location. I was surprised to learn that one of the quietest spots in my yard was not the lovely woodsy spot in the far corner but the ugly place behind the house near the propane tanks.
Traffic noise easily blasted through the trees, although it felt quieter in the woods, while the house blocked traffic noise, even though this space felt quite exposed. Armed with data, I set out to take advantage of this new information and create a peaceful oasis in my quietest spot, with the propane tanks. I’ll leave the woodsy spot for the wildlife.
So, download a decibel reader, but use it wisely. Remember, that when it comes to creating a peaceful quieter garden, perception is everything. It doesn’t much matter in the end what the decibel reader says!