Building a Solid, Sound-Dampening Gate

Our front fence and gate collapsing in a storm presented a fabulous opportunity to erect a new sound-abating one. The old set-up — just wire rabbit fencing — had none of those qualities.

Dampening traffic noise was the goal so I knew a tall, solid fence was required. To block noise, you want a barrier that is tall, dense in mass and completely without holes or gaps. If I had the means, I would have built a rammed earth or stone wall, but I was more in the solid cedar price-range. We tinkered with the pattern of the fence so it was both solid and attractive, but we also put windows in the fence to make it look less like a medieval fortress and created interesting microclimates.

I wanted to create that particular feeling of leaving behind the road and its noise and dust and entering a new world — the garden with the soundscape of birds, leaves and water. As soon as the solid, heavy gate closed and latched behind me, I wanted a marked change in acoustics. The traffic noise inside the tall fence isn’t exactly silenced. NIOSH Sound Level meter apps told us that inside the fence was 10 decibels lower than outside, which, we experience as half as loud. But, that difference in sound level, plus the tactile experience of closing a heavy door, is still quite effective. I experience this every time the gate thuds and the latch snaps shut behind me.

These illusions are important. Our perception of sound is highly subjective. I encourage you to think of fences and gates not just as sound mufflers but as devices that allow you tinker with the illusions of quiet.

A bit more about this gate: it’s constructed with two layers of cedar fence boards and is almost 7 tall. That’s the height I needed to block traffic noise. General rule-of-thumb is that if you can see the source of noise, you can hear it. Our garden is on top of a slight incline so the fence needed to be extra tall.

Choosing excellent gate hardware is more important than you can imagine, especially if you want a gate to feel solid. This Boerboel gate hinge plus matching gate stop and latch by the same company worked perfectly; it’s sturdy, strong, smooth and three-point adjustable, which you really need to keep your gate operating well over time, as the gate and supports shift and sag.

Tempting was the idea of including sound-dampening insulation to the fence, but my budget didn’t allow it. These are rubber and vinyl panels sold in sheets and rolls that you attach to your fencing. But, that will be a project for later!

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