Picture by: Yopa

I don’t like the tone of your strata investigation: How to make noise about noise

When we think of noise so bothersome it inspires formal complaints, we’re likely to think in terms of its level, AKA volume or loudness. Your neighbour cranks on her music loudly enough to impress DJs, for example, and its sound transmits through your floors, walls, or ceiling, causing disturbance.

You put up with it for a while in the hopes she won’t do it often, but she does. Sure, you may quite enjoy Beyoncé’s edgy new album, but not so much at 3 a.m. on a weeknight when her mezzo soprano range registers more as high-pitch than sublime. So you explain the situation to your neighbour and she graciously turns down her tunes. How easy was that? You didn’t even have to approach your strata about it!

Would that all noise complaints were so easily addressed and resolved!

When the offending noise transmits to a residential unit from common property—to use the parlance of strata living—unexpected layers of complexity can develop. In early 2014, a Lower Mainland strata council hired BAP to conduct noise assessments based on an owner’s complaints about noise entering her suite from the building’s hot tub mechanical room directly below. The hot tub requires two pumps to function.

The jet pump activates when someone is using the hot tub, in this case off and on daily during the hot tub’s operation hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The circulation pump, causing noise that the owner describes as “like a refrigerator, except louder” is on constantly.

Our measurements and analysis indicated the presence of low level (but clearly audible) tonal noise in the affected unit. Of course “noise” is a very subjective term; not the least of that subjectivity stems from its components and how they’re measured:

  • Decibels are units of loudness measurement, with approximately 10dB being the quietest our ears pick up, and 130dB considered painful.
  • A “weighted decibel scale”, or dB(A), entails adjusting meters to more sensitively reflect how the human ear perceives noise.  Normal conversation falls within the 50–60 dB(A) range.
  • Pitch, or tone, relate to frequency, or how many times a second particles vibrate. Frequency is measured in hertz (Hz).

Although published guidance on the impact of tonal noise, especially at low levels, is scarce, we believe that HVAC-related background noise should be free from audible tones such as the hum of a refrigerator … or, say, a hot tub pump.

Following our initial measurements based on the more problematic circulation pump, we recommended replacing cold water supply lines with flexible braided hoses. Our recommendations were implemented, resulting in significant noise reduction. As noted in the Civil Resolution Tribunal’s publicly accessible ruling, “Repeat noise measurements were taken, with the circulation Pump noise having reduced by 8dB at 350Hz. The resulting noise ‘would be perceived as being nearly half as loud’ as before the introduction of the flexible hoses.”

Alas, “significant” isn’t synonymous with “problem solved”, and we were asked to conduct further measurements a few months later. Stories such as this one often continue to unfold long after our initial involvement in them. When common property use results in common noise complaints, expert advice—both legal and technical—can play a critical role in eventual resolution. We encourage you to contact us with questions or concerns about residential noise disturbance or any other acoustic issue.

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