Reduce the rumble
It comes high on the list of ‘must not haves’ for many Londoners in search of a rural idyll, but how big a problem is road noise and what, if anything, can be done about it? Arabella Youens investigates
ANYONE living in a village main street will know this to be true: Britain’s rural roads are getting busier. According to the Department for Transport, traffic on rural A roads is at an all-time high. After the economic downturn in 2007, the number of goods vehicles criss-crossing the country levelled out, but, since 2013, they have risen rapidly. The increasing use of satnav by lorry drivers has, in no small way, contributed to the issue. For someone in the market for a country house, how big a problem is noise?
For Jonathan Bramwell of The Buying Solution, it’s a growing one (07825 609001). ‘Fifteen years ago, villages off the A40 were unaffected by the rumble of traffic, but it’s now so busy that this is no longer the case. Tranquillity now comes with a premium in the countryside: one house could be 25% more expensive than another because it’s not blighted by road noise.’
The problem is also likely to stop people from looking at a house in the first stages of their search as they armchair-browse from home, says James Mackenzie, head of the countryhouse department at Strutt & Parker (020–7318 5190). ‘This is becoming more of an issue due to Google Earth—buyers make a decision before realising there are undulations, hills and cuttings that stop road noise, even if the house looks close to the main road,’ he says.
Of course, nothing will completely silence the problem, but there are measures to mask it. Landscape designer Marcus Barnett (020–7736 9761) has been commissioned to intervene in various ways, from serious landscaping projects, including earth banks, to a mixture of fencing and fast-growing evergreens. ‘We’ve done everything from water features in London gardens—the ear prefers the sound of water and chooses to listen to that over other noises—to larger projects involving bunds and thick copses of native deciduous and evergreen trees,’ he explains. ‘The latter provide a visual and a sound-reducing barrier—but it’s not going to totally remove the disturbance.’
Psychology plays a strong role in how bothersome road noise is, so the first solution should always be to address the visual aspect; once you can no longer see headlights through a laurel bush or a good willow fence, irritation is diminished. ‘It’s something that people will decide to compromise on,’ says Jonathan. ‘If you live in the house full-time, it’s likely you’ll get used to it eventually, but weekenders coming out of London for peace and quiet won’t be there long enough to do that.’
Recent clients of Lucy Winfield from Private Property Search (07961 405325) went so far as to commission noise-abatement professionals to examine a house they were interested in buying on the Surrey/hampshire border. ‘They conducted sound tests at different times of day and the conclusion was that, if they constructed a bund and did some tree planting with fencing, they could bring the level down by 25%,’ she says. ‘My clients went ahead and bought the house. I doubt they’ll ever do the landscaping, but knowing that the option was there gave them comfort.’
Even if the full benefits of hard landscaping or planting won’t be realised for several years, the investment is always wise in terms of resale value, believes James. ‘Road noise is probably one of the most off-putting things and anything that can be done to reduce it is worth it,’ he says. ‘I’m aware of many clients who’ve spent hundreds of thousands of pounds building bunds; in every example, they added value.’
Sounds of silence: laurel hedges (above) are highly effective at screening noise and the leaves of Populus tremela (above right) mask unwanted disturbance by evoking the trickle of water when the wind blows