Be a Good Neighbor: Avoid Noise Complaints from Woodworking

If you have just moved into a new house or gotten some new neighbors it’s likely that you might be concerned about the noise levels you coming from the saws and machines in your shop. Obviously using any type of power tools or saws is going to create a significant amount of noise.

Fortunately, there are several ways to go about avoiding complaints from neighbors so you can continue your woodworking hobby.

1 – Check out your local ordinances

The first thing that you should do if you are worried about the noise levels coming from your shop is to read up on your local noise laws. Almost every city is going to have some type of ordinance that outlines when you can operate your tools and how loud they can be.

Many larger cities and towns keep their ordinances online, so it’s just a quick and easy Google search to get a description of the noise limitations. I was able to find my city’s noise ordinance by searching “MY CITY’S NAME noise ordinance” and it popped right up.

If you city doesn’t keep theirs online, you should be able to call your town’s city hall to find out who you can talk to.

Generally, noise ordinances in residential areas for the use of power tools, saws and any other woodworking equipment are written in one of three ways:

  1. Noise limits based on time of day – Many places will limit the times that you are able to operate loud equipment, even if you are doing so in your garage or shop. For instance, the city of Sacramento has restrictions on the noise levels that can be heard between the times of 10pm and 7am in residential zones.
  2. Noise Levels – Another approach to control the amount of noise within a residential area is to limit the amount of noise being created by measuring the amount of decibels being created. Ordinances written in this manner can be more difficult to decipher. It’s not uncommon to see restrictions such as the following:
    1. Noises can not exceed 50 decibels when  standing at the nearest property line to a neighbor. Boston has written their ordinances in this way.
    2. The average decibel reading over the course of an hour can no exceed a specified level. San Diego is an example of a city that has their ordinances written in this manner.
    3. The final and most confusing noise level restrictions are similar to those found in Sacramento. Here, homeowners are restricted from using equipment that emits a noise greater than a set amount for a specified period of time.  For example, you are not allowed to operate equipment with noise levels over 65 decibels for more than 5 minutes with a one hour period.
  3. Combination – The most common noise ordinances that you will find are written to combine the noise level and time of day. You’ll be allowed to have louder noises coming from your shop between 8am and 7pm  than you would during the other times.

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to local noise ordinances is that the regulations for construction equipment is different from those that would impact a woodworker. Construction noises can typically start earlier and go later than the requirements for a homeowner. They are also allowed to be louder.

Unfortunately, you can not take the mindset of “Well, they were using power tools while building the house behind me at 6am, so I should be able to use my equipment at that time as well.”

2 – Check HOA rules

After you understand the ordinances in your area, you’ll want to look over the rules that have been put into place by your Homeowner’s Association (HOA), if you have one. The rules laid out by an HOA  can vary significantly from one to another. It’s not uncommon for HOA’s to have rules that are very vague when it comes to noise and only state that a resident can not cause “obnoxious noises that disturb other residents.” Obviously this can be interpreted in a number of ways.

If woodworking hobby begins to grow into more than a hobby, and you start selling items that need to be picked up from your home, you’ll need to make sure there are no HOA rules against this as well. Many HOA’s have rules that state a person can not operate a business out of their home.

3 – Check Rental Agreement

If you are renting a house, you need to check your rental agreement to see if there are restrictions in place preventing you from operating power tools or anything else that generates loud noises. It’s not uncommon for landlords to put terms into the agreement to avoid noise complaints from neighbors.

Clauses in rental agreements are generally vague so that they can be applied to a wide variety of noise complaints. A common noise clause written into a rental agreement is as follows:

“Tenant agrees to maintain a reasonable level of noise at all times of the day and night, so as not to disturb or disrupt neighboring houses”

4- Talk to your neighbor

This may sound obvious, but simply talking to your neighbor is a great way to avoid any possible issues with the noise coming from your woodworking tools. The conversation doesn’t have to be formal or anything.

I had a new neighbor move in a couple years ago. Previous owners had no issues with my woodworking. I met the new neighbors one day while we were both working out in the yard. I didn’t bring it up the fact that I ran my saws from time to time on this chat. Instead, I waited a month or so until I saw them outside again.

We were chatting about them getting adjusted to the area and how they were liking the house. I then just casually mentioned to them that if the noise from my saws were ever an issue to let me know. They thanked me for mentioning that to them, but said they had once heard them once or twice and that’s while they were outside. We then got into a conversation about the various things I build.

If nothing else, this showed them that I was being considerate and didn’t want to cause and issues. It also gave me a piece of mind, and was one less thing I had to worry about.

5 – Make gifts for your neighbor

One of the best ways to head off potential problems before they start is to make a gift for your neighbor. I’ve taken this approach before. I was fairly confident my neighbor was never bothered by the noise from my shop, but one year for Christmas I made a nice cutting board for them and had it engraved. It was a few bucks out of my pocket and took some time, but they were very appreciative and I never heard a complaint from them.

Another thing you can do is be helpful to your neighbors, especially those that are closest to your shop. Volunteer to help them with wood projects around the house if you see them working on them. It makes it much more difficult to complain about someone who is helpful. I think building good relationships with your neighbors is a very important step to ensuring noise complaints don’t occur.

6 – Be courteous

Simply being courteous and thinking of your neighbors can help stay on good terms with them. If you know your neighbor works the night shift, it may be beneficial to try and not turn on your power tools until later in the day so you don’t disturb them.

Even though local laws may state that you can begin using them as early as 8am, it may be better to wait a couple hours if you can. If you are planning to get an early start, try planning ahead the day before and get some of your cuts completed so you can work without cutting early the next morning.

There’s been a couple times when I was working on an outdoor project, that I talked to my neighbor ahead of time to let them know that I would be doing some work outside on a particular day. It’s not something I had to do, but they were appreciative of it.

7 – Build some soundproofing

The final step to avoid noise complaints from your neighbors to is build some soundproofing into your workshop setup. There are several ways you can go about doing this. Some methods are relatively quick and easy installs while others can be much more difficult and expensive. I’ll give a few of the more popular examples.

Before jumping into a soundproofing project, I recommend determining which of your power tools generate the most noise. You can do this by downloading any number of free apps onto any smart phone. Find out which tools make the most noise and then look into sound proofing options for the tools you use most often.

  • Soundproof Boxes – One of the easiest soundproofing steps that you can take is to build a box around tools such as a shop vac to help muffle the sound being emitted. Here’s a great video on Youtube that I used to design my particular setup. You can pick up the foam that he uses inside his cabinet, here on Amazon.
  • Garage Door Insulation – If your garage door is not insulate, I highly recommend adding some insulation to it. This not only control the amount of noise that escapes your shop, but also help make it easier to control the temperature. I installed this particular kit on my door and it was very surprised at how much of a difference it made to both the noise and temperature levels.
  • Noise Blocking Curtains – One of the more inexpensive things you can do to help with noise is to hang soundproof curtains over the windows, like these. Windows are an area where noise can easily escape. Adding curtains that are specifically made for noise suppression will help tremendously.
  • Insulation – If your garage is not insulated, doing so will help significantly. Hanging insulation is not a quick or cheap project, but it will certainly reduce the noise coming from your shop.
  • Sheetrock – Adding drywall to your garage if it doesn’t already have it, will help considerably. If you shop already has drywall, adding another layer can also help. Obviously this isn’t easy, but even adding an additional layer on the wall closest to your neighbor will help.
Conclusion

As you can see, there are several things that you can do to ensure you are being a good neighbor while continuing to do your woodworking. Being proactive with your closest neighbors is the best approach.

If you happen to live next to someone that is impossible to please, incorporating some soundproofing into your shop should help the situation.

Feel free to comment below if you have additional tips on how to help avoid noise complaints!