How Loud is a Decibel? Why Quiet Appliances Make a Difference

The secret to buying appliances that aren't too loud for your home

The question really isn’t how loud is a decibel, but how loud is too loud?

A decibel (dB) is simply a unit used to measure the intensity of sounds. On the decibel scale, near total silence is 0 dB. A sound 10 times as intense would be measured as 10 dB. A noise 100 times as intense would be registered as 20 dB. Decibels can add up quickly and make a lot of noise.

Why does this matter to you as a homeowner?

Decibels come into play when you’re choosing appliances and household items that make noise. Ideally, you want appliances that are silent. At the very least, you should have ones that won’t drown out a conversation or your favorite TV show.

To better understand the power of decibels in your home, check out this list:

Common sounds and decibel ratings

Near total silence 0 dB
Whisper 15 dB
Typical conversation 60 dB
Lawnmower 90 dB
Jet engine 120 dB
Firecracker 140 dB

How does this impact your appliance choices?

The important number to remember is 60 dB, the level of an average conversation between two people. You don’t want to buy any appliances that run louder than that. Otherwise you’ll be competing with your dishwasher for the last word during dinner.

That said, appliances with a dBA rating of 38-40 dBA are considered to be silent. Which means you won’t hear it over your conversation and other background noise. Many common appliances do creep above the conversation range — garbage disposals and blenders usually run in the 80s. But they don’t bother most people, since they’re only running for a short burst of time.

You run into trouble when appliances that run for extended periods are too loud. Like your dishwasher, washing machine, dryer or air conditioner. When you shop for appliances that are located inside your home, shoot for a rating between 40-50 dB. Equipment that’s outside of your home, like an HVAC system, can go a little higher to 70 or 80 dB, since you won’t be exposed to the sound all the time.

To make it easy on shoppers, most product websites will display their decibel ratings. For example, Trane does this for its air conditioners and other systems. Consumer Reports is also a great resource for appliance comparison shopping.

Remember, purchasing quieter appliances won’t only make the sound levels in your current home more bearable, but it’s a smart upgrade to look for in a new home or make when you’re selling your house.

KEY TAKEAWAY: When shopping for appliances, remember that the average conversation is 60 dB. With this number in mind, also consider how long the appliances will be running during its normal cycle, if it’s located indoors or outdoors and how close you’ll be to the appliance during your day-to-day routine. Those factors will help you decide if it has a decibel rating you can live with.