When Brendan Farrell moved from one apartment to another in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, the Caltech applied mathematician was dismayed to find that his new home was a lot noisier than he expected due to a 24-hour car wash down the street.
His apartment faced the front of the building, and it was much noisier than those that faced the back of the apartment complex. His landlord didn’t think to tell him — but he found out the first night he moved in.
Although Farrell ended up living in the apartment, he realized that he could do every city dweller a favor if he put his math skills to work and created an interactive sound map of North America, starting with his hometown of Los Angeles.
“Noise is a huge issue, and when we started there was no good way for anyone to know exactly how loud a place actually was,” Farrell explains. Before Farrell, now the founder and CEO of sound mapping company HowLoud, started charting the universe of noise, the best someone could do was go to a place and listen for themselves. Although some sound studies existed about freeway and street noise, they were accessible only to professionals.
No simple tool existed to measure exactly how loud a place actually is — which, as Farrell explains, is not an easy thing to objectively measure.
Noise Isn’t Objective
“Noise isn’t just measured in decibels,” Farrell says. “Humans perceive noise based on intensity, time of day, proximity and even pleasure. That’s why birds chirping, even if they’re very loud, can be a whole lot more pleasant than a car repair shop down the street. Or a jet taking off is worse than a low thrum of a distant freeway.”
Farrell wanted to solve the problem of noise measurement by using physics to propagate noise models across the environment. For example, restaurants, auto repair shops, freeways, car washes, street traffic and flight patterns all influence the urban sound profile. His 3-D noise model rolls all of those sounds into something called a SoundScore, which gives a numeric rating to a specific location. A lower score is louder; a higher score is more peaceful.
It’s a lot like a WalkScore® for noise, and Farrell says it’s so accurate that he can faithfully predict which units of a building will be quieter based on their orientation to the street, or floor. He filed a patent application for the HowLoud system in March, 2015.
Farrell started in his hometown, Los Angeles, and has also mapped Orange County. To date, he’s mapped over four million buildings between the two counties. To see how it works, go to HowLoud.net and enter this address: 3209 Descanso Dr., Los Angeles, CA, 9039
Popular Kickstarter Campaign
He’s also mid-way through a popular Kickstarter campaign (having raised about half of the $38,000 project goal). The project has become a staff pick of the Kickstarter team, giving it additional exposure. He intends to use the proceeds to map the rest of the United States and Canada, and has 31 days to go until August 12, when the project closes.
If you become a Kickstarter backer at $300 or more, you can get a custom widget for your site as Farrell rolls out HowLoud’s mapping across the country. He plans to map Massachusetts next. He’ll also throw in 20 single property detailed noise reports, or a large building report, for a year, starting in September, 2015.
For now, searches on HowLoud.net are free for Los Angeles and Orange County. Farrell plans to introduce a widget that agents, brokers and MLSs can use on their sites that will provide a SoundScore to each listing. Although Farrell hasn’t set pricing yet, he says that it will be competitive to other lifestyle tools in real estate.
Farrell also plans to sell more in-depth property noise reports to homebuyers and developers that provide a list of noise sources and decibel measurements along with a heatmap of the neighbhorhood.
For REALTORS and brokers, HowLoud could help mitigate client complaints about noisy neighborhoods before they arise. Yet the downside is that not all noisy neighborhoods are bad; for some, the crush and noise of a congested city block is part of the attraction. And, HowLoud’s technology is still evolving; not every neighborhood is fully mapped, and Farrell’s team is constantly adding new sound parameters to improve the accuracy of the SoundScore.
Yet if HowLoud can become the de facto standard for noise measurement in residential real estate, Farrell will have achieved his mission.
“No one wants to find themselves living in a really noisy area, especially by accident,” Farrell concludes. “If we can help people live where they want because they know about the area in advance, HowLoud will be a success.”