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A Blueprint for Living with Construction Noise

Monday August 27th, 2018

Toronto is getting noisier. Noise complaints have been trending upward for the last several years, and the city’s current noise bylaws don’t do enough to protect the residents of Toronto.

Our municipal code does state that construction noise is only allowed between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday. Construction noise is prohibited on Sundays. However, there are multiple exemptions built in to the bylaws. For instance, major transit projects are allowed to continue all night in order to meet project deadlines. Other exceptions include the continuous pouring of concrete, large crane work, necessary municipal work, and emergency work that cannot be performed during regular business hours.

Furthermore, Mayor John Tory pushed through a new rule in May that forces utility companies and their subcontractors to do planned roadwork between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. on streets bounded by Dundas St. to the north, Lake Shore Blvd./Harbour St. to the south, Bathurst St. to the west and Jarvis St. to the east.

Even projects that do not fall within the outlined exemptions may get a free pass for noise. Any person may apply for a permit for an exemption from a noise prohibition or noise limitation. This permit allows the recipient to produce noise up to a maximum sound level of 85 dBA when measured 20 metres from the source over a five-minute period. In fact, the project can actually exceed 85 dBA as long as the applicant complies with any request made by an officer of the Toronto Police Service or a municipal standards officer of the Municipal Licensing and Standards Division with respect to the volume of sound.

How Loud is 85 dBA?

  • A diesel truck traveling at 40 mph, heard from 50 ft away
  • A milling machine
  • A diesel train traveling at 45 mph, heard from 100 ft away

More than 8 hours of exposure to 85 dBA of sound could cause hearing damage. For every 3 dB above 85 dBA, the maximum exposure time is cut in half.

The result of all these exceptions? A recent Toronto Public Health (TPH) study on the state of noise in the city found that 62 per cent of the time, the average noise level in Toronto was above provincial guidelines. In fact, Torontonians are exposed to noise above exposure guidelines established by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.

The health effects of noise that could occur at levels commonly experienced in urban environments include cognitive impacts, sleep disturbance, mental health and cardiovascular effects. Therefore, prolonged exposure to construction noise can certainly have a negative impact on your mental and physical well-being.

The problem is that Toronto is constantly developing. Construction projects and infrastructure improvements are a necessary part of our thriving urban centre. Certainly, any world-class city must constantly strive to better itself, investing in new developments and ensuring that public spaces are updated, clean and safe. But if we want to call ourselves a “world-class city”, then we should handle construction noise like other world-class cities.

New York City provides the perfect blueprint for how to manage noise in a bustling metropolis. New York City has an extensive noise code, which places the onus on construction contractors to mitigate noise on their job sites.

For instance, their noise code requires contractors to develop a noise mitigation plan prior to the start of work. Every construction site must have their noise mitigation plan available on location. If noise complaints are filed against the project, an inspector will check in to ensure the contractor has posted the plan and that it is being followed.

Furthermore, if the construction activity is planned near locations such as schools, hospitals and places of worship, the party responsible for construction is expected to design their noise mitigation plan to be sensitive to its neighbors. The New York City Noise Code prohibits noise that exceeds the ambient sounds level by more than 10 decibels as measured from 15 feet from the source. The noise code notes that “A reduction of only five decibels usually makes a noticeable difference to most complainants”.

There are temporary noise control solutions on the market that are intended to help mitigate sounds produced by construction. However, the bylaws and standards need to change in order to drive adoption of these solutions. If you believe that Toronto needs to update its noise bylaws to align itself with other world-class cities, you can write to your local city councillor and let them know. Find contact information for your local city councillor here.

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