A new map, launched publicly in May, is designed to make neighborhood noise a little easier to quantify and compare, at least if you happen to be house-hunting in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
HowLoud is like Walk Score for noise. It assigns a value to the noise level of a property on a numerical scale, taking into account factors such as vehicle and airplane traffic. The Soundscores are based on a model, not measurement points. On Tuesday, HowLoud launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to expand this prototype to the rest of the United States and Canada. As of today, the campaign had raised more than 40 percent of its $38,000 goal. HowLoud founder Brendan Farrell explains how the model works in a video posted on the Kickstarter page:
"We don't plant millions of microphones throughout a city. We build a 3D model of a city with typography, 3D buildings and roads, and model the traffic on those roads. We determine the sound profile that a certain volume of traffic has at a certain speed, and then use physics to propagate that sound through a neighborhood, as it gets blocked and reflected by buildings. This allows us to determine the noise level for each side and story of a building at any hour of the day. We add to this noise from airplane traffic, and unique local sources, like gas stations, 24-hour supermarkets, bars and restaurants. All of this is then presented in a one-page report that includes a local contour map, and a graph displaying Soundscores for the entire neighborhood, the short summaries presented on our map online."
The application to the residential market is obvious. Such a map could reveal that planes frequently pass overhead—something that a prospective buyer might overlook if no planes happened to pass during the house tour. From a seller's perspective, a property's Soundscore could become a tout-able stat, like Walk Score, which real estate websites like Trulia and Zillow use to describe listings. "They are our real target," Farrell says. "We would like to see the Soundscore appear next to an apartment or home."
HowLoud also plans to offer detailed reports on individual properties, on request and for a fee. "That’s kind of the real product that we would like to sell," Farrell says. The Kickstarter campaign offers these reports as a reward for donating. These reports can also be generated for unbuilt projects, using a 3D model such as a CAD file, according to Farrell.
Farrell says HowLoud is working on including tractor-trailer traffic, as well as traffic lights. "In our model currently, traffic just flows. There is no such thing as stoplights," he says. Helicopter traffic, bus routes, and smaller airports are other noise-sources that Farrell wants to include.
When and if the project is fully funded, Farrell says that they will expand geographically, starting with the rest of Southern California and then the whole state. Then, Massachusetts, because of the state's availability of geographic information system data.
"There are handful of companies that have noise modeling software," Farrell says. "[But there is] nobody else out there that we know of that has a consumer-oriented product."