Noise issuesThe following is submitted by Alex Macdonald & Bev Ross regarding next door infill development and their experience. Given their work on this, Belgravia residents with adjacent or nearby infill development should be aware of issues such as this and ask questions as infill development proceeds. Thanks to Alex and Bev for this work. You can download a pdf of this article here.
SETTING: The photo above (taken in May, 2012) shows the side of a 2-storey infill home built in Belgravia on 77 Avenue. The two white PVC piping arrangements on the siding are exhaust units for a high efficiency furnace (now apparently required by Building Codes) and a hot water heater. Note the blank side wall (there is one tiny bathroom window on the 2nd floor). We are told this is required by the new fire code, which dictates very low maximum window exposure on side walls.
PROBLEM: The furnace exhaust emitted 82 decibels of a highly penetrating, mechanical whine whenever the furnace was running. The exhaust was directly under our upstairs bedroom (we live in an older semi-bungalow), where we have slept with the window open for 25 years. We heard the exhaust noise in our bedroom (32 decibels with the window closed, 46 with it open), in both west main floor rooms and in our basement, as well in the back yard and on our deck. This is not a noise you can ignore or simply “get used to”.
THIS WOULD NOT BE A PROBLEM IF the home was built in a subdivision of new homes, each with relatively blank side walls. The noise generated by each adjoining home’s furnace exhaust and/or air conditioner would simply dump into the canyon between the homes, and dissipate upwards. Residents in both homes would not hear their own noise pollution.
BUT IN INFILL NEIGHBOURHOODs like Belgravia/McKernan, homes like these are a HUGE potential noise pollution threat to people living in homes with side windows and whose insulation is not as sound-deadening as that in newly-built homes. Unless their exhausts and air conditioning are located in the rear, these new homes dump noise pollution into neighbours’ homes and yards. The noise takes over their lives.
A GROWING ISSUE: This issue will affect many dozens, if not hundreds, of older-neighbourhood families as more and more infill housing is built.
THE BUILDER and the purchaser of the new home both claimed for several months that the unit was working as designed, and that it is “to Code”. Only after we launched a formal noise complaint – and convinced the builder (a large, well-known company taking its first steps into infill housing) that their good name would suffer amongst infill-neighbourhoods if they refused to reposition the outlets – did they agree to reposition the furnace outlet to the rear of the home.
- A homebuilder has told us that there are high efficiency furnaces on the market that emit very little noise (their emission sounds more like a gentle hiss of air than a mechanical whine). We have seen/heard such quieter units in a few newer homes in our neighbourhood.
- A homebuilder’s supervising foreman has told us that a high efficiency furnace’s exhaust ducting can be easily re-routed to exhaust to the rear of a home, provided the basement is unfinished (distance to the outside is apparently not a great factor). So even if the outlets have been installed, if affected neighbours act quickly, there is still time.
- Many cities have regulations and/or strong design guidelines regarding this kind of installation. The following is quoted from the City of Duneidin, New Zealand:
Before installing a heat pump, you should consider the effects on…your neighbours. They should be as far away from…your neighbours’ bedrooms as possible. The unit should face the boundary of the property furthest away from adjoining residences, not towards windows or outdoor living areas of neighbouring residences.
- The City of Edmonton’s Noise Bylaw is crafted to focus on annoyance, rather than specific decibel levels (though it does also include specific decibel levels, which our neighbours’ home exceeded when operating between 10 pm and 7 am):
A Person shall not cause or permit any noise that disturbs the peace of another individual. A person may be found guilty of a contravention of this section whether or not the decibel level:
- a. is measured, or
- b. if measured, exceeds any limit prescribed by this bylaw
- Inner City Community Leagues (possibly through the EFCL) should lobby for City regulations preventing side-discharge of noise from furnaces, hot water heaters and air conditioners installed in infill housing.
- Community Leagues should also approach the Edmonton Homebuilders Association with a request to adopt similar guidelines for its members.
- Residents should NEVER sign a neighbour’s request for a planning variance until they have received a written commitment that side-discharge of noise will not occur. Even if the variance is not for a next-door home, we need to establish the principle and sensitize the homebuilding industry to the issue. Don’t sign ANY variances without assurances about noise!