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The Canadian Building Code and Noise in Multi-Family Buildings

Troubled condo-owners often ask me “does the noise I can hear in my apartment exceed the limits allowed under the Building Code?”

..the intention of the National Building Code of Canada (which is the model for all provincial codes) is to provide the minimum provisions acceptable to maintain the safety of buildings.

Before I answer this question, it is important for the reader to first understand that the intention of the National Building Code of Canada (which is the model for all provincial codes) is to provide the minimum provisions acceptable to maintain the safety of buildings. There is little to no risk of immediate injury or death resulting from the experience of noise in a building. As such, the acoustic requirements of the Building Code are much less onerous than those related to the structural, mechanical and electrical integrity of a building.

The NBCC does not provide any requirement to control the level of noise in buildings. Instead, it provides a minimum specification for the separating partitions ability to block sound transmission between dwellings. The general public typically calls this soundproofing. Acoustic engineers call it airborne sound insulation.  By specifying a minimum sound insulation standard, the Building Code helps to control “airborne” noise transmission between suites. Noise sources that are airborne in nature include human voices, babies crying, dogs barking, televisions and audio systems.

..the developer has not necessarily provided a “good” or “high” level of sound insulation between dwellings..

It is important for condo owners to be aware that by building a separating wall or floor that meets the Building Code minimum requirement, the developer has not necessarily provided a “good” or “high” level of sound insulation between dwellings. Consequently, the level of sound insulation experienced by owners may not be commensurate with their expectations, especially if they bought their condominiums in the belief that they were buying into a high-end or luxury development. Neither will building a separating wall or floor that meets the Building Code minimum requirement protect an owner from noise transmission resulting from a floor layout that positions a noisy room of one suite (i.e. living room) next to a quiet room of the adjacent suite (bedroom).

The Building Code relates only to the control of airborne sound transmission. However, noise disturbance can also be experienced through the process of “structure-borne” noise transmission. This occurs where the fabric of the building is struck by an impact, such as a plate dropped on hardwood floor or furniture dragged across a floor, or where mechanical or electrical equipment such as pumps, air-handling equipment, transformers or elevators impart continuous vibration into the structure.

The Building Code contains no provision for controlling structure-borne noise.

The Building Code contains no provision for controlling structure-borne noise. It does, however, recommend a minimum level of impact sound insulation for the floor assembly. Complying with this recommendation will help reduce structure-borne noise transmission from footsteps, dropped objects and dragged furniture, but will do little to reduce the impact of building services equipment. Although these issues are not addressed by the Building Code, noise control measures can be included during the design phase of the development. However, many developers do not address these issues quite simply because there is no regulative requirement to do so. Having said this, some developers do go the extra mile by specifying that noisy equipment be vibration isolated, and by selecting separating partition assemblies in excess of the Building Code requirement, particularly where the condominiums are marketed as “high-end” or “luxury”. BAP Acoustics has worked with clients seeking to provide a higher quality product in terms of the level of sound insulation achieved between suites. We have worked with other clients to develop uprated separating floor assemblies designed to provide a high standard of impact sound insulation, although there is no requirement to do so under the Building Code. Before buying an apartment, do your homework and evaluate your expectations. Do you want the apartment to just look nice, or do you want it sound just as good as it looks? Ask your realtor or developer about the acoustic design standard of the building and confirm that they go beyond minimum requirements.

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Denny Ng, M.A.Sc. P.Eng.

Senior Acoustic Consultant

Denny is a locally trained and licensed Professional Engineer specializing in environmental noise modelling, architectural acoustics and mechanical noise control. His career as a consultant began with an internship at BAP Acoustics in 2016 while completing his graduate studies in acoustics at the University of British Columbia. Working closely with Eric and Mark, Denny has had the privilege of working on numerous post-secondary education and infrastructure projects including Emily Carr University of Art and Design, UBC Gateway and Brock Commons Phase 2, Stuart Lake Hospital Replacement Project and Nanaimo Correctional Center. His approach to consulting is communicating acoustical concerns as they arise in order to reach cost effective solutions. 

 

Qualifications

B.A.Sc. Mechanical Engineering – Thermofluids Option (with distinction), University of British Columbia, 2014

M.A.Sc. Mechanical Engineering – Acoustics Group, University of British Columbia, 2019

P.Eng. BC

Leanne Farmer, B.Eng.

Acoustic Consultant

Leanne Farmer began her career in Adelaide, where she gained four years of experience providing acoustic design advice across Australia. She possesses extensive technical knowledge in both building acoustics and complex environmental noise assessments. Demonstrating her capabilities in multi-disciplinary coordination and project management, Leanne effectively managed large-scale measurement campaigns and contributed to major infrastructure projects. After re-locating back to Victoria, BC in 2023, Leanne joined BAP Acoustics. She is excited to be working on local projects, applying the experiences and insights gained from her diverse international work.

 

Qualifications

B.Eng. Mechanical Engineering, University of Victoria, 2018

EIT, BC

Alex Mendes, B.Eng. EIT

Acoustic Engineer

A graduate of the University of Victoria, Alex has contributed to an array of computerized acoustic modelling projects during his tenure with BAP Acoustics. His passion for music lends itself to a particular focus in room acoustics modelling, where he has applied creative approaches to navigate the unique challenges posed by varied architectural designs. His expertise extends to outdoor sound modelling, where he has lent his skillset to initiatives ranging from shooting noise control studies to public alert system performance evaluations. Alex’s ardent curiosity and his analytical, pragmatic approach to consultation have served him well in providing sensible, practical solutions to a host of acoustic challenges.

 

Qualifications

B.Eng. Mechanical Engineering, University of Victoria, 2018

EIT, BC

Kathryn Gulewich, B.Eng. EIT

Acoustic Engineer

Kathryn is a Mechanical Engineer who graduated from the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) with a Bachelor of Engineering degree. She pivoted to the field of acoustical consulting upon joining BAP Acoustics in 2022, embracing a transition marked by rapid expertise accrual—particularly in outdoor noise monitoring and HVAC noise control. Kathryn’s solid engineering background supports her technical approach to acoustic challenges, blending mechanical engineering principles with the specialized demands of acoustic consultancy.

 

Qualifications

B.Eng. Mechanical Engineering, BCIT, 2011

Nicole Yeung, M.Eng. EIT.

Acoustic Engineer

An Honours graduate, Nicole earned her M.Eng. degree in Acoustical Engineering at the globally renowned Institute of Sound and Vibration Research founded 60 years ago by the UK-based University of Southampton. Nicole’s project experience encompasses acoustic design, implementation and testing at all stages of work. Her project contributions include examining and optimizing: sound insulation between spaces; room reverberation time; and mechanical noise emissions. She is also experienced in outdoor noise propagation simulation and environmental noise study for: new residential developments; fitness facilities; office buildings; and industrial developments. Nicole has a strong foundation in outdoor noise propagation software Cadna/A. In addition, she is experienced in using programs such as Insul for sound insulation prediction and ODEON for room acoustics. 

 

Qualifications

M.Eng. Acoustical Engineering (Honours), Institute of Sound & Vibration Research, University of Southampton, UK.

EIT, BC