There are many things a homebuyer considers before making a choice to put most, if not all, of their life savings into a forever home. The visual aesthetics of a neighborhood often give the first impression, after which buyers begin to look at their potential new property within the boundaries of space and time: How far is it from my job? How close is it to a subway station? Is there space to park my car? Can my children safely walk to school? Where’s the nearest grocery store? How far is the park? How often will I have to leave the neighborhood? Today, most real estate listings – at least in Europe and the USA – try and cover these questions as standard. Even the once-niche urbanist term ‘walkability’ has been adopted by realtors, and Walkscore has achieved internet fame by integrating their data with real estate sites. And it was the very ubiquity of Walkscore that inspired Brendan Farrell, founder of HowLoud, to create a smart scoring system for a dimension we don’t often think of when stacking up pros and cons of a new property: the Soundscore.
A CalTech mathematician, Farrell’s expertise helped him create HowLoud.net using Los Angeles – where he was looking to buy a house – as a prototype for the first street-by-street, block-by-block tool to measure and map urban environmental noise. While the importance of noise (and lack thereof) might not occur to most homebuyers in the offset of their search for a new place, loudness – whether from a nearby rail station or airport, a steady stream of traffic or commercial venues – certainly impacts day-to-day life, with many scientific studies attributing a higher risk of heart attacks and blood pressure to noise pollution. Even critically yet, chronic noise can impair a child’s development and may have a lifelong effect on educational attainment and overall health. The aha! moment for Farrell seemed to be when he realized that there’s no way of knowing how loud or quiet a neighborhood is if you, like 90% of homebuyers, search online during the process.
So, Farrell, ever the mathematician, set about number crunching: sound maps already exist in many big cities and the USA’s Federal Highway Administration measures traffic noise. Integrating these data sources with other indicators – including air traffic noise, bar and club density, retail activity, proximity of schools and areas of outdoor activity – HowLoud goes on to apply this to a 3D model of each city which adds crucial variables before computing a Soundscore: how sound echoes, reverberates and ricochets around the built environment is taken into consideration. The final result ranges between 50 (the loudest) and 100 (the quietest). “What is most striking is how much variation there exists within the same neighborhood, and that being a block or two from the busy streets makes a tremendous difference,” Farrell tells Gizmodo. Now working full-time on HowLoud, the founder hopes to create partnerships with more brokerages and real estate listing sites, and disrupt the industry by adding a new element to how we look at (or listen to) liveability.