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The top sources of noise pollution at the cottage

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When you climb out of the car once you get to the cottage, you can feel your shoulders relax straightaway, right? After all, leaving the chaos of city traffic, the roar of the highway, and the constant din of construction for the peace and quiet of cottage country is all you need to start feeling refreshed. That is, until your neighbour’s kids haul out the jet skis and start doing doughnuts just off your dock.

And then your other neighbour fires up her riding mower, complete with a blaring stereo, so she can hear the music.

And the local motorcycle club decides to hold a jamboree down the road.

And then you remember that you have to get out the chainsaw and cut up that fallen tree.

Yup, noise is a problem everywhere, even at the cottage. In fact, because noise carries across water, it can seem even worse if you’re on a lake or river.

Sound is measured in decibels, on a scale where the smallest audible sound is measured at 0 dB. And, just for comparison, conversational speech tends to be around 60 dB, background office noise clocks in at about 50 dB, and continuous exposure to sounds over 85 dB can cause hearing loss. Anything above 130 passes the threshold of pain.

Here are some of cottage country’s biggest noise offenders, along with some advice on what you can do to avoid becoming a noise nuisance yourself.

Stereo (70 dB, unless the volume is cranked up)

Everyone likes music, but not necessarily all the time, and when a Mozart enthusiast and a Metallica lover have side-by-side cottages, there may not be much common ground. Your neighbours shouldn’t be able to hear your music, period. If you’re not sure how loud it is, leave it on, stop by their place and have a listen—if you can hear it, it’s probably too loud. If you like to have music on while you’re sitting on your deck, at the very least, turn your speakers away from your neighbours’ cottage. If you’re planning a party, warn your neighbours in advance (better yet, invite them along) and make sure the music stops by at a reasonable hour—including singalongs.

Jet skis (80 dB)

In passby tests, jet skis are often quieter than motor boats, but because jet skis tend to consistently go at full throttle and stay in a limited space, they seem louder and, by extension, more annoying. If you enjoy bombing around your lake on a jet ski, keep well away from shore, stick to the local speed limit, and try not to stay in one spot for long periods of time. Also, allowing your jet ski to warm up a little first can help reduce noise.

Motor boats (70-100 dB, depending on speed)

Motor boats get louder the faster they go, which means, unlike jet skis, they tend to be the noisiest out on open water. For both noise issues and safety purposes, make sure you’re not going full-throttle close to shore. Also, keep your exhaust system in good repair, and make sure your engine is running at the right RPM—anything higher than 4,800 RPM and you should get a prop with a higher pitch. Finally, if your boat is made of fibreglass, it’s going to be noisier than if it’s made of sound-absorbing wood.

Power lawnmower (90 dB), weed whacker (92 dB), snowblower (106 dB) chainsaw (110 dB)  

Work needs to get done, even at the cottage, but it goes without saying that early-morning engine revving isn’t appreciated by anyone. Of course, “early” is relative, so have a conversation with your neighbours about when your work would bug them least. Consider working for an hour, then taking some time off so the cottages around you don’t get eight straight hours of noise. For your own good, wear hearing protection while you’re working—most power tools operate at a noise threshold that can cause hearing loss with continued exposure.

Most noise complaints can be nipped in the bud with a little consideration and a whole lot of communication. After all, we’re all at the cottage to enjoy ourselves.

What techniques have you used to deal with noise at your cottage?