A "free" program that helps people who live or work under the flight path of San Diego’s downtown airport just announced its largest-ever financial boost. Last month, the FAA granted San Diego International Airport nearly $26 million to spend soundproofing homes and buildings that struggle with the constant roar of planes flying overhead.
But as the airport expands this service to more San Diegans, dozens of homeowners are raising complaints, saying the free installation is now costing them expensive repairs.
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Since it started 20 years ago, the airport’s Quieter Home Program has retrofitted around 250-400 homes every year at no cost to homeowners, nearly 4,600 homes in total.
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Dozens of homeowners who went through the program years ago, however, are warning those thinking about signing up to think twice.
Sheila Connor bought her house in Point Loma back in 2003. Planes departing from San Diego International Airport fly right over her backyard, so she was thrilled when she qualified for the Quieter Home program, with work being done on her home in 2007.
“We felt like we won the lottery,” Connor said.
That’s not how Connor feels today, though. Just a couple of years after the work was done, she said, problems started popping up. For example, her dual-paned windows, which are so fogged she can’t see clearly through them, can’t be opened without a crank handle, which are things she worries could be a major safety problem in the event of an emergency.
The windows aren’t the only issue, either. Connor said the furnace wasn’t installed properly, and the AC unit outside broke within three years.
The program often installs fans and/or AC units to allow homeowners to keep all windows and doors closed, sealing out outdoor sounds. Other typical installation features include thicker glass installed near entryways, thicker doors and thick, dual-pane windows.
The Quieter Home Program offers homeowners a one-year warranty. Unfortunately for Connor, none of these problems surfaced within that first year. She said the Airport Authority told her to reach out to the contractor, but he refused to fix any of the work that was done.
“I basically stopped trying because I wasn’t getting anywhere,” Connor said.
Sjohna Knack runs the Quieter Home Program for the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.
“People in Point Loma that experience the Point Loma Pause [waiting for planes to pass overhead] have told us that they had to get an alarm clock because the 6:30 departures don’t wake them up anymore,” said Knack.
That doesn’t mean every home is a good fit. Because the program is funded with federal dollars, Knack said, construction choices are very limited. For example, contractors can only install American-made products.
“Our specifications are nearly 2,000 pages long,” Knack said, “and in great detail, it describes the type of products and the types of installation methods that the contractor must do for this program.”
So what can homeowners like Connor do if they run into issues with installations after the warranty expires?
“What we would encourage the owner to do is to contact the manufacturer anyway and ask for suggestions from them,” Knack said.
Point Loma resident Deborah Padua said that, growing up, you just expected to miss chunks of live television due to plane noise.
“Oh, you couldn’t hear your TV,” Padua said. “And now you can. It just goes over and you can barely hear them.”
Padua's mother underwent a Quieter Home installation roughly 10 years ago, and she couldn’t be happier.
“To us, it really made a difference,” Padua said. “It brings you a lot of peace in your home.”
So Padua was shocked when she read dozens of complaints on Nextdoor about installation complications.
“I was stunned!” Padua said, “because people on there were saying that their windows were failing. And I was thinking, 'How can they fail?' ”
Knack said Padua’s experience falls in line with the majority.
“We survey all the homeowners after we’re done with them, and 97% of the homeowners are satisfied with the program and happy with the treatments,” Knack said, “and I think that’s really telling.”
Connor warns homeowners considering the program, though: Any problems that arise after that one-year warranty ends come out of your pocket.
“It’s a pretty lengthy contract,” Connor said, “and so my advice is make sure you know what you’re signing.”
To be eligible for the program, the aircraft sound inside your home must register at least 45 decibels. Knack said the program aims to decrease that noise by 5 decibels. You can find more information on program eligibility here.
If you’re curious about the program, here is copy of the Quieter Home contract:
Participants must also sign an avigation easement form: