Quieter, please: New products keep it down a bit


By Kim Cook

Homeowner Christine got knows one thing for sure. “I will not have a fridge in my kitchen ever again,” she said firmly.

In the new house she’s building, in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, the 51-year-old is putting the refrigerator in a pantry off the kitchen and will double insulate the walls. Why? All that noise, noise, noise.

Her present house has an open plan, and the sound of the fridge drives her crazy. “I tried to get used to it. I had an appliance man come to see if it was running properly.” It was — it just emitted a high-pitched whine.

Roxanne Went uses her car as “a cone of silence” to escape the noise of leaf blowers outside her suburban West Chester, Pa., home, and of family members’ blaring music inside.

For baby boomers, noise matters.

“Decreased tolerance for loud sounds is a fairly common symptom of age-related hearing loss, as the range of comfortable listening levels seems to shrink,” said Ted Madison, an audiologist in St. Paul, Minn., and a representative of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Beyond creating stress and annoyance, loud noises can cause hearing loss, according to experts. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reckons that noise over 85 decibels may cause hearing loss.

So what are the loud products we live with at home? According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, based in Rockville, Md., the “very loud” range includes blenders, blow dryers, vacuum cleaners and alarm clocks, all in the 80 to 90 decibel range. “Extremely loud” — in the 100 to 110 decibel range — are snow blowers, gas lawnmowers and some MP3 players.

In Brighton, England, a Noise Abatement Society fields complaints from citizens about annoyances ranging from neighbors’ power tools to barking dogs to wind chimes. Managing director Poppy Elliot said her team decided to channel the collective angst over unwanted noise into “Quiet Mark,” a seal of approval they give to products designed to be quieter. So far more than 35 products have received the designation, from hair dryers to commercial tools, and Eliot said the organization is expanding globally.

“The ultimate aim is to encourage industry across the board to put a high priority on factoring in low noise at the design stage. Investment in acoustic design and sound quality of a product should be just as important as energy efficiency or visual design,” Elliot said.

Manufacturers are responding to concerns about noise with new, quieter products.

LG has several — including the TrueSteam dishwasher — that use a Direct Drive motor, an alternative to the noisier belt-and-pulley system of traditional motors.

Swiss-based Liebherr uses low-sound dual air compressors and cooling circuits in their high-end fridges. And Samsung’s dishwasher has extra insulation, which cuts the sound.

Range hood fans can often by noisy. Italian firm Falmec makes a line that uses a perimeter extraction method rather than one single vacuum vent; the air is drawn evenly into the hood’s edges more quietly than being sucked straight up.

Jerek Bowman, a chef in Toronto, recommends sous vide cooking, using a thermal circulator and heating the food in water, as a quieter way to go. “There’s simply no noise. You can use it the same way you would for roasting, stewing or braising,” he said. A side benefit? With the equivalent of only a light bulb to heat the water, there’s some energy savings as well.

Food processing pioneer Magimix has a new multi-tasking mixer that chops, slices, whisks, grates, kneads and mixes all in one machine, and does it quietly with an induction motor. Induction motors, which don’t use stiff brushes to transfer electricity, mean a weightier but quieter appliance.

Rowenta’s noise-reducing inventions include the Turbo Silence home fan and the Silence Form Extreme vacuum cleaner, which emits a decidedly timid 65 decibels. Electrolux’s Ultra Silencer canister vacuum comes in at 68 decibels.

As for hair dryers, the Centrix Q Zone and Biolonic IDry Whisper Light are two low-noise options; the latter was one of the first products to receive the Quiet Mark designation.

And Stihl has a line of lithium-ion battery yard gear — including a leaf blower, mower and trimmer — that are much quieter than gas-powered equipment.