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Living near Long Island's trains, planes and automobiles

Celeste, Brenden and Celestina Burns outside their Holtsville

Celeste, Brenden and Celestina Burns outside their Holtsville home. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Many think of their homes as a refuge from an otherwise harried existence, a sanctuary of peace and quiet. For some Long Islanders who live near train tracks, major roadways and airports, that is simply not the case.

'It bothers us'

"If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t buy [the house], with the noise," says Regina Ruscillo, 73, an auto glass business owner who has lived in a Franklin Square home with her husband next to the Southern State Parkway since 1970.

The couple purchased the house in wintertime, unaware of how disturbed they would be by the traffic sounds, she says. “It bothers us in the warm weather, because we sit outside,” says Ruscillo.

Years ago, the Ruscillos installed an 8-foot-high wood fence atop a cinder block retaining wall that was already there to muffle the sounds of cars whirring by. “It helps to a slight degree, a little bit," says Ruscillo. "But, still, you can definitely hear it,” she says.

Noise 'a living nightmare'

Though her Malverne home is six miles from Kennedy Airport and a 15-minute drive from LaGuardia, Elaine Miller says she’s affected by plane departures from both airports.                                    

“The other day, I had 141 flights over my house, between 1,600 and 1,900 feet,” says Miller, a teacher who tracks such information online.

Miller co-founded a citizens' group that advocates for reducing air traffic noise and pollution. She says that planes seem to be flying over her home at lower altitudes since 2012. She blames a Federal Aviation Administration program that launched that year to begin to modernize air traffic control. “Our lives have become a living nightmare,” she says.

Miller, who has lived in what she describes as her "dream home" for 23 years, says she is now looking for another house.

In the meantime, she has taken some measures to avoid the sound.

“I have great Andersen double-pane windows. I have an insulated house," she says, adding that when she is home she stays inside as much as she can.

'A little rumble' outside

Fourteen years ago, when he first saw his Holtsville home, Brenden Burns says he was not concerned about noise from nearby Nicolls Road, the train tracks across the street and MacArthur Airport, which is 10 miles away. He says he was not concerned “because it was a perfect house for me and my family.”

The house was built with steel beams, which resist shaking from passing trains, says Burns, 39, a real estate agent. The bushes outside his house serve as a sound buffer, he says.

Burns says he usually notices sound when the house is quiet, around 11 at night. He hears trains running on the nearby Ronkonkoma line. Then he might hear “a little rumble when a truck goes by on Nicolls Road," he says.

"Other than that, I don’t really hear beeping. It’s just cars constantly going by," says Burns, explaining that the family does not notice it anymore.

'It's the vibration'

After moving into his Garden City home about six years ago, John Crish says he found that the noise from the bordering Long Island Rail Road tracks became "disruptive."

“It’s not just the sound, it’s the vibration, being so close to the tracks," says Crish, 51, an accountant.

So he hired an acoustic consulting, noise reduction and sound design firm to soundproof the exterior walls. All told, he spent $40,000, says acoustic engineer Bonnie Schnitta at SoundSense in Wainscott, the company he used.

Crishs says the work included gutting the first-floor exterior walls, installing heavy-duty insulation, putting up two layers of Sheetrock and adding silicone seals to radiators, outlets and electrical boxes, he says. He also installed special double-paned windows.

“It completely mitigated any concerns I had from sounds as soon as they finished it," Crish says. "We don’t feel it, and we don’t hear it like we used to. So it’s a nonissue now."

'I got used to it'

For most of the 23 years she has lived in her St. James home, Donna Molinaro, 59, a former house cleaner, says she has paid little heed to the wails from the rails.

“We sit between three railroad tracks and at 3 o’clock in the morning, the guy goes by and he blows his horn," she says.

“When I first moved in, it took a couple of months before I got used to it,” she adds.

Bamboo on the Molinaros' property helps filter out some of the diesel fumes and, to some degree, the sound, she says.

Molinaro lived for many years across the street from the Babylon train station, which, she says, might have prepared her for living with the noise in St. James.

NOISY HOME? WHAT YOU CAN DO

There are several solutions to soundproofing your home, many of which can be rather costly.

If you're near a busy road:

For airborne noise such as in beeping horns, acoustic engineer Bonnie Schnitta  of SoundSense in Wainscott recommends installing a fence with an acoustic barrier — any solid material designed to stop sound. Cost estimates for acoustic material and installation are $10 to $12 per square foot.

For noise that comes from ground vibration, such as from trucks going over speed bumps, Schnitta recommends the treatment for homes near airports and trains (see below).

If you're near railroad tracks or a heavy flight paths:

An effective measure to reduce air noise is treating the outside walls facing the noise source and, if necessary, the perpendicular walls with special vibration and soundproofing materials, says Schnitta. Prices range from $10 to $20 per square foot. Schnitta also recommends using acoustic shades or shutters over a home's windows.

For structural noise, such as when a passing train causes the floor to vibrate, Schnitta suggests inserting vibration pads into an outdoor trench.

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