A little hearing protection goes a long way. The noise from equipment such as power tools and chainsaws, even boat engines, can permanently damage hearing, and that damage is cumulative over time. While there are three important noise factors—how loud, how long, and how close—you can gauge your risk of hearing loss with the shout rule: If you have to yell to be heard from a metre away, what you’re doing is too loud. The best way to protect your hearing is equally general: Anything is better than nothing, and the best protection is the one that you’ll reliably wear. There are three main styles of protection, typically offering a lab-tested noise-reduction rating of 20 decibels. You won’t get quite as much noise reduction in the real world, but it will be enough to muffle most cottage tools.
1. Earplugs: Usually cone-shaped pieces of foam. Roll them up and insert them into your ear canals.
• Fit many different ear canals
• When used properly, usually give better protection than muffs or bands
• Small and portable
• Difficult to insert properly, especially with gloves on
• Must be kept clean to avoid ear infection
• Easy to lose
Best for: Hot weather and long jobs, where you won’t need to take them out until you’re finished.
2. Earmuffs: Large, padded muffs cover the entire ear. For the best fit, look for ones with an adjustable band.
• Easy to wear and use correctly
• Visible; others know that you can’t hear them
• Keep your ears warm in winter
• Hot and sweaty
• Safety glasses, hard hats, even big hair can break the seal and reduce protection
• Need more storage space
Best for: Intermittent noise (they’re easy to put on and take off) and jobs that require gloves or getting your hands dirty.
3. Band-style: earplugs Reusable rubber earplugs attached to each other by a string or solid band. Find a pair that fits snugly and comfortably in your ear canals.
• Simpler to insert than foam earplugs
• Easy to keep track of
• May not fit all ear canals; poor fit reduces the level of protection
• Must be kept clean
Best for: Most situations—if they fit your ear canals well.