What Makes a Good Sound Barrier Fence?

Block Out Unwanted Road Sounds

What makes a good sound barrier fence in the yard

The Spruce / Jacob Fox

If you live on a street with heavy traffic or near a busy highway, you may love your property but still crave peace and quiet. The good news is that you don't need to rebuild your home with soundproof walls (though wouldn't that be nice?). Luckily, there are types of fences, plus a few other strategies, that work best for blocking or bouncing sounds away from the house.

Sound Barrier Fences: Factors to Consider

A fence intended to serve as a noise barrier or "sound barrier" will typically use thick tongue-and-groove boards to form an impervious barrier. These boards are nailed to heavy rails, which, in turn, are supported by heavy posts. The operative word for noise barriers is obviously "heavy." That is because, as a rule of thumb, mass dampens sound best—so fencing meant to block road sounds needs to be heavier than most other fencing.

For the same reason, masonry walls are more effective at blocking road sounds than even the best wooden fences. Walls of earth (called "berms") also make for great noise barriers if you can build them so that they are high enough, which can take a lot of soil.

But if you are committed to using wood, aim for a fence that is high and solid (that is, no gaps between the boards). Whichever material you use, first submit a detailed plan (with precise installation location on your property, exact measurements, etc.) to the powers that be to ensure that you will not be violating any city ordinances. A tall fence situated close to the road will often put you on City Hall's hit list, especially if it is on a street corner (where it could reduce drivers' visibility). This is unfortunate since height is a key element in blocking road sounds. Sound waves can travel right over a short fence, thereby defeating its purpose.

Wooden fence enclosing trees
Cultura/Kristian Thacker / Getty Images

Mass-Loaded Vinyl: A Step Beyond the Typical Noise-Barrier Fence

One way to improve the effectiveness of a wooden noise-barrier fence is to add a soundproofing material called "mass-loaded vinyl" to it. The product is sold in rolls. Make sure it is listed for outdoor use.

It is easiest to apply mass-loaded vinyl when a fence is in the process of being built, rather than after it's erected. The latter is certainly possible, but it means removing fence panels and then reattaching them later.

Installing mass-loaded vinyl is simple enough once you understand the basic components of a wooden fence. The posts and the rails form the frame of the structure. The mass-loaded vinyl is then stapled onto the frame. Overlap the sheets to compose as solid a barrier as possible, and then caulk any seams with acoustical caulk. Lastly, attach the wooden panels to each side of the fence (the mass-loaded vinyl is sandwiched between panels).

Utilize Plants and White Noise

Whichever material you choose, your noise-barrier fence will bear the brunt of the load in keeping your home quieter. But other things can work along with your fence. Two examples are:

  1. Plant material
  2. Water fountains

To further block out road sounds, make sure your property is landscaped with plants that have substantial mass, such as trees and shrubs. By themselves, plants will not be sufficient to solve the problem, but they can absorb enough sound to merit their use as additional noise-barrier elements. The plants can be grown in front of the fence, in back of it, or both. Evergreen shrubs and trees are best since they can help reduce noise year-round.

Also, consider "white noise" noise-blocking components. Some noise-blocking elements fight sound with sound rather than reducing the noise levels in your yard. For example, the natural gurgling sounds of a fountain's cascading water, indoors or outdoors, can mask some of the less desirable noises of traffic or a neighbor's children playing loudly.

Tips to Block Road Sounds

Everyone has different sensitivities to various sounds. Try the following noise-masking tricks to see if one works best to divert your attention away from outdoor street noise:

  • Placing white noise machines or fans indoors
  • Streaming pink noise in your home (such as sounds of nature)
  • Hanging wind chimes outdoors
  • Wearing noise-canceling headphones or earplugs
  • Installing noise-reducing window curtains and shades