We get this question a lot from clients when they begin their window replacement project: “Can new windows help reduce noise from outside?”
The answer: Yes, newer windows will most likely help reduce noise from the outside. Depending on the materials that the window is made of and the age of the older windows, a significant reduction in noise can be achieved by upgrading to newer replacement windows. Noise-reduction qualities are always worth knowing about when making a replacement window purchase. However, in most cases, if your windows are fairly new or in good condition, it wouldn’t make financial sense for you to replace your windows just for a reduction in outside noise. Just as well, a high-performance window can let in noise if improperly installed and sealed.
The Science of Sound Transmission
Sound is a waveform that propagates from objects that vibrate (move back and forth quickly) through any medium - liquid, gas, or solid - except vacuum. The strength of sound depends on the amplitude of the wave - the higher the amplitude, the louder the sound and the more energy its waves carry. When you hear noise from outside through your windows, you’re actually listening to energy making a journey. It sets off from somewhere outside, either on a car or a person, travels through the air, through your windows, and arrives some time later in your ears.
Windows: The road blocks for sound
As sound travels its intensity diminishes. The combination of pieces that make up a window system are essentially roadblocks in the way of a travelling soundwave, reflecting part of it, detouring and dampening the rest. The fewer paths that the sound can take to get into your home, the less noise you will hear from the outside.
The glazing of your windows are the first barrier in stopping noise from entering your house. Double and triple pane windows provide additional dampening and dissipation of noise, decreasing the amount of noise experienced indoors. Some window manufacturers offer the option of laminated glass, which can reduce noise even further, especially useful near highways or other loud sources of noise. A glass upgrade during your window replacement can help to reduce outside noise, more than with regular glass.
Spacers and frame
Sound moves faster through denser materials like metals or even water, and slower through air. Some of the earlier insulated glass units used metal spacers between the panes, allowing for a direct sound transmission from the outer pane to the inner through the spacer. The high-efficiency cellular spacers used nowadays are much better at dampening sound. These are made by various manufacturers, known as Ener-Edge, SuperSpacer, etc. Just as well, an old metal window frame will stop virtually no sound, while a multi-chambered PVC frame will dampen most of it - and closed-cell materials like microcellular PVC and insulating foam will work best.
Because noise travels through air quite easily, ensuring your windows are properly sealed and caulked can make a noticeable difference when you’re looking to reduce noise. If your windows are older, in poor condition, with failing weatherstripping, a window replacement might be the best option to seal those air gaps. With properly installed replacement windows, those air gaps allowing sound transmission could be sealed. You can also opt for windows that use compression weatherstripping as they are better at sealing against air leaks and sound - casements and awnings being better than sliding or hung sash units. If your windows simply need new caulking, you can head over to the hardware store and pick up a tube of exterior caulking to treat your windows.
Replacement windows are expensive. Are there any other options?
Of course. There are always other options. We understand that the time may not be right to invest in new windows for your home. Replacement windows are a fairly significant investment. There are some other more cost effective options that might help you:
Noise barriers in landscaping: Trees and hedges are great at dissipating and absorbing sound, especially in the higher pitch ranges. Any large and dense foliage placed strategically between your windows and a source of noise will make your home quieter.
Sound-proof curtains: Sound-proof curtains are exactly what they are advertised as. These curtains look and feel like regular curtains, but are more dense, and are made up of various layers of sound absorbing fabrics. The idea is that any sound passing through the windows reach another layer of energy dissipating material before it reaches your ears. While they may block out some sound, sound-proof curtains will also block out light.
Noise Cancelling Headphones: While not ideal, you could walk around your house with active noise cancelling headphones. You could play some music while you walk around.
Move to a new place: As sound travels its intensity diminishes. You could always pack all of your belongings and move far away from the hustle and bustle of the city to find your perfect, zen and peaceful, place :)
If moving away to eliminate the source of the noise is not a solution, and you’ve tried applying caulking to seal air gaps with no success, it might be time to have a professional come out and look at the issue. Feel free to get in touch, and schedule your free, no-obligation, in-home consultation.