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Poised for noise: What is your condo’s decibel quotient?


construction area

It’s 4.02 a.m. and there’s still another two hours of blissful sleep before the Monday morning routine begins. You begin to drift back to sleep, only to be jolted awake, yet again, by the sound of fire trucks heading to a false alarm.

You just moved into your fantastic, new condo and love your newly chosen lifestyle. The urban location provides excitement and stimulation and energizes you as you now actually walk everywhere. But, at 4:02 a.m., your stress level is off the charts. You are wondering why you didn’t do your homework before choosing your dream condo.

Given that most condos are located in urban settings, buyers should not be surprised if there is no down time from noise pollution. Actually, it’s sound pollution — the noise part is quite subjective on the part of the listener. But no matter, a condo located in the urban core, for example, will be bombarded by sound 24 hours a day. And given that many new condo dwellers have relocated from single-family homes on large lots in relatively quiet suburbs, they are more likely to view this as noise than are longtime core dwellers. At least until they get used to it.

These new urban dwellers are expecting a quality building that offers “quiet enjoyment”, a term we hear a lot when the noise pollution is off the charts. Noise issues are the No. 1 complaint of Canadian condo owners. If sound is bombarding your condo around the clock, you have to rely on your building’s location, design and construction to protect you from noise.

Location still key

Regardless of where you are positioned in a building — low, high, front or back — there will always be many factors to consider before signing on the dotted line. The first is still location.

With so many fantastic new developments to choose from, the best way to start is to walk through the neighbourhood both during the day and at night to get a sense of the decibel quotient of the area. Remember, you will have to live with the noise with only your building (and maybe a set of earplugs) to protect you. See if the street traffic changes from day to night. It’s a good sign if it’s quieter at night since that is when you will likely want to sleep. Does the commercial ambience change at night? Some areas get extremely noisy during the late hours as patrons spill from restaurants and music blares from late-night clubs; others are quiet. Late-night crowds, early morning deliveries or garbage collection and sirens from emergency vehicles all interfere with “quiet enjoyment”.

Once you have decided that the area sounds are acceptable, you need to think ahead. This is especially true if the development is the first of possibly many in a hot new area of town. If that’s the case, you can anticipate several years of construction noise, added traffic and personal aggravation from the inconvenience.

Inside out

The next consideration is the location of your condo in the building. While it’s the job of the building to protect you from ambient noise, the building also generates its own noise. Elevators, trash chutes, party rooms, spas and fitness rooms, swimming pools, parking areas and outdoor common areas such as tennis courts, parkland and terraced gardens are all sources of noise. The location of your unit in the complex goes a long way toward minimizing the extent to which they will affect you.

Try to stay away from elevators and trash chutes. Although gardens are beautiful and tranquil, will this be where people congregate late or early and would that noise cramp your lifestyle? Lighted tennis courts are a bad sign, suggesting late-night games. Try to find units that face away from such areas. If you are buying a condo from building plans, remember that those plans may be subject to last-minute design changes. Consider including a condition in your contract that your condo will not be located adjacent to such potential sources of noise or you may find yourself in an acoustical bind.

Making waves

Sound waves travel outward in all directions in straight lines. They continue until they are deflected or blocked by something. Ideally, that something is your building, not your eardrums. Internal noises are also created by day-to-day living activities within the condo units. These noises tend to escape through entry doors, entering the corridors. Doors facing each other across a hall invite noise transmission; staggered interior door placement attenuates this kind of problem.

John Bassi, president of Bassi Construction, a luxury home and condo builder, says noise is always a concern.

“A sound attenuation engineer is hired to manage sound transmission,” Bassi says. “He ensures that the proper materials are used to minimize noise such as underpads for flooring, wall and ceiling coverings, door construction, window quality and many other considerations.” According to Bassi, when this has all been taken into consideration, noise is truly not an issue.

But while most developers are cognizant of noise pollution, don’t assume that your specific needs are going to be met in every building. An educated buyer will do his or her best to ensure that the condo being considered has been constructed with due care and consideration. When choosing the finishes for your new condo, you may want to enlist the services of an interior designer who has experience with condos. Floor coverings, window treatments, plant placement and furniture style can all be useful in fine tuning your noise attenuation.

Penthouse please

The floor on which your unit is located will also affect the noise equation. In general, higher units are quieter. But there are exceptions. The location of party rooms, traffic humming across an adjacent bridge and aircraft flight patterns may all have the opposite effect. Wind noise also tends to be greater on higher levels. If outdoor living is important to you, assess the noise on the terrace. You may be able to reduce these sources of noise with internal water features, glass windbreaks and carefully placed large plants.

Finally, you will want to determine the “noise reputation” of the building. Who lives there? What pets are allowed? Are there lots of children in the building? Are many units investor-owned with a high turnover of unpredictable tenants? This works two ways: You don’t want to be out of sync — the resident noise polluter in an extremely quiet building, nor do you want to be the noise complainer in a more dynamic development.

Whatever condo developments you are considering, put your condo sense to work and you will be poised for noise.

Marilyn Wilson has been selling real estate for more than 23 years and owns Marilyn Wilson Dream Properties Inc. Brokerage, an Exclusive Affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate. She can be reached through

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