The State of Construction Noise in TorontoJuly 29, 2022
Toronto is getting noisier. Noise complaints have been trending upward for the last several years. To combat this trend, the city is planning an extensive review of current noise bylaws with the aim of better protecting Torontonians from excessive noise.
From 2020 to 2021, total annual noise complaints in Toronto rose by 31%. In the same period, complaints related to construction noise in Toronto increased by 24%. This may be due in part to the provincial government’s April 2020 decision to temporarily extend construction hours for essential projects. From April 2020 until October 2021, work on essential projects – like hospital builds and expansions – was allowed to continue 24 hours a day.
Still, construction-related noise complaints this year are on track to exceed 2021 numbers. A City of Toronto report indicates that the Municipal Standards and Licencing (MSL) office received 1,272 complaints about construction noise in the first four months of 2022. That’s more than 45% of the total number of construction-related noise complaints in 2021. Furthermore, construction-related noise complaints are the second most-common, accounting for 26% of all noise complaints from January to April 2022.
Construction Noise Bylaws in Toronto
According to the municipal code, construction noise in Toronto is only allowed between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday. The code prohibits construction noise on Sundays. Furthermore, the city recently approved a change to the noise bylaw which would prevent the use of “power devices” such as lawnmowers between the hours of 7:00 pm and 8:00 am Monday to Friday.
However, there are multiple exemptions built in to the bylaws. For instance, major transit work can 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.
Even those projects that do not fall within the outlined exemptions may get a free pass for noise. Any person can 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 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 Impact of Noise Pollution
The result of all these exceptions? A recent Toronto Public Health (TPH) study on the state of noise found that the average 24-hour equivalent noise levels across the city were 62.9 dBA. Average daily levels at each test site ranged from a low of 50.4 to a high of 78.3 dBA. The study concluded 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).
The health effects of noise pollution – especially 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.
A Blueprint for Managing Noise
New York City provides the perfect blueprint for how to manage noise in a bustling metropolis. In fact, their noise code is award-winning, having received accolades from multiple occupational health and safety organizations and non-profits. New York City’s extensive noise code places the onus on construction contractors to mitigate noise on their job sites.
While anyone applying for a noise exemption in Toronto may be asked to provide a noise mitigation plan, it’s unclear how often this is required. Meanwhile, in New York, the 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 construction work is planned near certain locations, the party responsible for construction is expected to design their noise mitigation plan to be sensitive to its neighbors. These include noise-sensitive locations such as schools, hospitals and places of worship. 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”.
Construction Noise in Toronto: What’s to Come
Thankfully, Toronto is taking steps to improve noise levels for city residents. In light of the high level of complaints, the city’s “Noise Team” is focusing on proactive measures, such as making noise mitigation plans a condition of more noise exemption permits. The MSL office is also employing random noise enforcement blitzes in areas that have a higher volume of noise complaints. The city’s planned review of existing noise bylaws is likely to bring about additional requirements. While the focus seems to be on reducing vehicular noise, construction noise bylaws may be equally affected.
Will construction stakeholders be ready for this increased scrutiny? It’s time to start exploring noise mitigation strategies for Toronto-area construction projects. There are temporary noise control solutions on the market that can help dampen sounds produced by construction equipment. We believe that the changing bylaws and standards will drive or even force adoption of these solutions in the future. However, taking a proactive approach now can help construction work stay on schedule while minimizing disruptions to area residents.
Contact us for more information about our noise management solutions.
We’re here to answer any questions you may have.