The Crozet Hum: Mysterious noise traced to Yancey Lumber

A noise that plagued Crozet residents for a couple of months was traced to Yancey Lumber Company, which will be installing a muffler on a recently refurbished boiler.
staff photo A noise that plagued Crozet residents for a couple of months was traced to Yancey Lumber Company, which will be installing a muffler on a recently refurbished boiler. staff photo

By Jonathan Haynes

After hundreds of complaints, the R.A. Yancey Lumber Corporation has confirmed that it is, in fact, the source of the mysterious humming noise that has been pestering Crozet residents since September. The family-owned company, which has operated in Crozet since 1949, had initially denied its mill was causing the noise.

Crozet resident Alice Faintich says she first heard the “very loud humming noise” in early September and has subsequently heard it in varying durations and frequencies. “Not everyone is hearing it,” Faintich says, “but the people who do are really bothered.”

Around the same time, Faintich found dozens of posts describing a similar nuisance in her area on Nextdoor, a message board for neighborhood reviews. “The noise was loudest in the areas facing Route 250,” says Faintich.

The noise was first reported by the Crozet Gazette on October 5.

As complaints continued to pile on, residents started to contact local officials and report the noise to police. Albemarle Supervisor Ann Mallek briefly addressed the noise at the end of the October 17 Crozet Community Advisory Council meeting, noting that county officials were doing everything in their power to resolve the issue.

For its part, Yancey said it hadn’t added new machinery and that its overnight kilns do not produce the level of noise described in the complaints. But when people continued to blame the saw mill, Yancey contracted Accentech, an acoustics consulting firm that specializes in noise and vibration control, to prove its wasn’t responsible.  

Bill Yoder, a sound engineer from Accentech, had Yancey turn its equipment on and off while he took measurements from the property line, nearly 100 yards from the mill. He found that the mill was generally operating at 67 decibels (technically measured as dBa), 12 decibels higher than the county maximum for property-line noise. For comparison, the roar of a vacuum cleaner from 10 feet away is 75 decibels.

On October 21, Yancey released a statement apologizing for its original denial and explaining that the exhaust stack of its newly refurbished sawdust-fired boiler — a furnace that dries wood by burning sawdust into steam and feeding it into the wood room — has been emitting the din.

“We had originally denied it was us because we had used the same boiler since 1992 without generating much sound,” says Yancey president Donnie Rose. “The noise complaints began after we installed the refurbished part.”

The following weekend, Yancey scrambled to adjust the boiler’s fan speed and other technical components to attenuate the sound. Test runs continuously failed, with one on October 22 temporarily making it worse.

Yancey successfully reduced the noise on October 23, and invited Mallek and three members of Albemarle zoning, which enforces the county’s noise ordinances, to observe a late-night test-run.

“The reading at the mill showed the change was successful,” says Mallek. “Afterwards, we went to houses in Crozet to check the monitor and we could not hear the sound on the front porches.”

Yancey has ordered a custom-built industrial silencer to reduce the boiler’s volume, and until it arrives in early November, the company will lower the boiler’s fan speed at night to meet county regulations.

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