Noise in Strata Buildings

Introduction

 

This material has been prepared partly funded from the NSW Office of Fair Trading

 

Noise problems are not just the bane of apartment living. Noise is the fastest growing area of complaint and disputes in urban Australia. Most detached housing neighbourly complaints are in about unwanted noise. However, apartment living can exacerbate the impact and intrusiveness of any neighbourly. As well there maybe noise from the common property aspects of the building itself, pipe, water, or buildings services.  So what can you do other than wear earplugs? (which is not such a silly solution in some circumstances).

This article will firstly look at common noise problems in a strata complex. Then explain the basics of noise and its transf. From there we will cover testing, compliance, solving and enforcement options.

1 Why is strata noise such an issue?

“Of all the problems that beset apartment owners and take first-time high-rise dwellers by surprise, noise is the most common and varied complaint. Noise is accepted to be the fastest growing type of pollution in modern cities, and its effect on our mental and emotional health has a direct influence on our physical well-being, through everything from lack of sleep to increased stress. But when that noise comes from people who live under the same roof as you, what can you do? Plenty!........... Australia has one of the lowest noise reduction standards in the developed world, running about 10 to 20 percent behind most of Europe.” [Apartment Living (2004) Sue Williams pp 171]

Exposure to noise has been linked to sleep deprivation, annoyance and health issues such as hypertension and heart disease. Apartment or unit living is difficult enough and with excessive noise penetrating through windows, floors, ceiling, walls, doors and even through water pipes the experience can be extremely unpleasant.

What you think of as unbearable noise, your neighbour may find soothing, entertaining or comforting. The timing of the noise could also have a large impact on its acceptability. The next door buildings air-conditioning fans may be OK during working hours, but when they kick on at 7pm till midnight you may have a problem.

Different apartments are built to different standards, so check both the insulation between apartments before you buy and the minutes of the owners corporation to make sure none of your neighbours have been the subject of complaints.

1.1 Types of noise in a strata building

Most of today’s units built are built under the old Building Coad of Australia requirements. Noise transfer between units will most likely be a problem as people have greater expectations for noise mitigation today.

The various regulations and rules for apartment building construction provide a minimum level of noise control within apartment buildings. However, a minimum level is not an ideal level. And even with adequate noise control mechanisms you will find noise issues in apartment living may still arise. Noise irritation is not just from people in an adjoining apartment. The building and external environment can be a rich source of noises. The types of noise that can drive you batty can basically be categorized under four headings;

Neighbourly noise– from general living activities, TV, music, showering, toilet flushing, extra loud talking or music, crying babies or children, pets or late night parties. They may not realise that you can hear their or their daughter’s violin practice sessions, the new TV installed on the common wall of their master bedroom or the wind chimes on their balcony.

The master bedroom of our apartment was connected to o the master bedroom of our neighbours by a long common wall. One evening after just getting into bed we noticed a low persistent murmur. We ignored it for a few days hoping it would go away. When it didn’t we walked around the apartment listening through windows and with our ears up against walls. We tracked it down to the master bedroom common wall and to noise of TV programmes.  All sorts of negative, unhappy thoughts immediately flooded in. “how could they bring a TV into their bedroom – don’t they realise it is a common wall and we might be wanting to sleep?”, “How do we solve it?”, “What of they don’t care that we can hear it?”, “What if we have to wear earplugs forever”. You get the picture. Assuming the worst and to heated up to consider knocking on their door it I wrote a note saying we could hear it and asking them if they would move the TV out of the bedroom or not watch it after 10pm? Well, a day or so later the wife knocked on our door and apologised for the noise and said they’d moved the TV out of the bedroom. Moral of the story: Sometimes asking nicely will get a considerate response.

Whatever the noise is do everything in your power to sort it out amicably as you have to live next to them afterwards. A quiet and polite request in writing or verbally can often result in a genuine effort to fix the problem, but if you start off accusingly and aggressively then expect an aggressive response. A simple rule of thumb about your right to make a noise that disturbs your neighbours – you don’t have one. If you want to have constant late night parties with loud rock and roll music you shouldn’t be living in an apartment.

Flooring– Noise generated from hard floors is one of the greatest sources of complaint within residential apartments, with many people installing timber and tiles as cheaply as possible, creating headaches for others. Poorly installed and noise insulated flooring can  mean  downstairs neighbours hearing residents walking around in heels, the scraping of chairs and tables over hard floors, children playing with balls, marbles, running, remote controlled cars etc.

When looking for an inner city apartment to rent many years ago there was one where there was suspicious looking plant machinery 20 meters away on the roof of the next door building. Luckily the current tenant was home at the time of the viewing and I asked what they were. He replied that they went on over-night and were extremely loud!

Building noises– A whole range of noises can be generated by a strata building including water pipes, midnight intercom buzzing, fire alarm drills, strange, unexplainable things that go bump in the night. Find out where the buildings services rooms and machinery are located, central air conditioning plant the rubbish bin removals and recycling, the gym, the pool, the lift and lift plant room.

External disturbances– Generated from outside the strata complex include, local celebrations, fireworks, the pub down the road, traffic, air conditioning or machinery from the building next door. Look out the window and one of your windows look over next buildings air-conditioning plant or rubbish pick up area.

1.2 Sound transfer in buildings

There are two basic mechanisms where by sound can transfer. Noise can pass from one room to another either through the surrounding air (airborne noise) or the building structure itself (structure-borne noise).

1.      Airborne noiseor sound that is transmitted via the air e.g. voices, TV, Radio, music instruments, DVDs, home theatre.

2.      Structure borne noise: where a structure is directly vibrated and the vibration is transmitted through the structure in all directions where this energy vibrates a surface in a space. The surface radiates the vibration as audible noise in the same way that a loudspeaker cone converts movement of the cone to audible sound. Examples: railway vibration, plant vibration, demolition activities, impact noise, including foot fall on tiles and timber floors, movement of furniture, dropping of cutlery, hydraulics/pipe noise

A third mechanism is a combination of the above two

3.      Airborne through structure:Sound generated in one room reaches the wall or floor, vibrates that surface and then is reradiated by the surface on the other side of the wall or floor to the adjacent room.

Airborne noise is the more common and occurs, for example, when a TV turned up too loud disturbs people sleeping in bedrooms. It can pass from one room to another along a variety of paths such as open doors and windows, openings in walls separating the rooms, stairwells, or heating and air-conditioning ducts.  Airborne noise can be generated and pass through flimsy structures such as thin walls or even floors or ceilings into other rooms and close apartments.

Structure-borne noise occurs when the building structure itself is made to vibrate; for example, a washing machine in contact with a wooden floor, a saucepan falling to the kitchen floor, and the impact of footsteps on hard floors. 

2 Measuring sound and noise?

2.1 What is hearing?

Of the five senses, hearing is one of the most important. The hearing of audible sounds cannot be easily shut down or avoided unlike the other senses.  Audible sounds also have a significant effect on how we feel. The human ear is an organ of complex design and function.

The hearing mechanism in the ear is sensitive enough to detect even small pressure waves. A healthy, young person can hear sounds with frequencies from roughly 20 to 20,000 Hz. The sound of human speech is mainly in the range 300 to 3,000 Hz. Movements of the ear drum as small as the diameter of a hydrogen atom can be audible! 

2.2 What is sound?

Sound is produced by vibrating objects causes slight changes in air pressure. These air pressure changes travel as sound waves through the air and produce sound. The vibrations reach the listener's ears through air, liquids or solids as waves or vibrations of cyclical pressure fluctuations, similar to a stone dropped in a pool of water.

2.3 What is noise?

Sound is what we hear. Noise is unwanted sound. Noise is an important form of pollution caused by unwanted sound.  The difference between sound and noise depends upon the listener and the circumstances. Rock music can be pleasurable sound to one person and an annoying noise to another. In either case, it can be hazardous to a person's hearing if the sound is loud and if he or she is exposed long and often enough.

NOISE IS LIKE BEAUTY – IT IS IN THE EAR OF THE BEHOLDER

Noise can be continuous, variable, intermittent or impulsive depending on how it changes over time. At low levels noise can be a nuisance, but exposure to sustained high levels, for example in a noisy workplace, can cause hearing loss. Impulsive noise, such as the sound of a pneumatic tool, or tonal noise, such as the whine of a machine, can be particularly irritating. But what some people consider as noise, others can tolerate, or may even like, and so the study of noise has to recognize these different subjective responses.

Sound is what we hear. Noise is unwanted sound. Noise is an important form of pollution caused by unwanted sound.  The difference between sound and noise depends upon the listener and the circumstances. Rock music can be pleasurable sound to one person and an annoying noise to another. In either case, it can be hazardous to a person's hearing if the sound is loud and if he or she is exposed long and often enough. 

 

2.4 How is sound measured?

There are a large number of complex interrelated factors that determine the transfer and perceived loudness of a sound. There are many technical terms and measurements that are relevant in determining the type and intrusiveness of a sound.  A very brief list of terms and definitions is provided below.

2.4.1 Amplitude and frequency

The properties of noise which are important in the home are:

  • Amplitude (loudness measured in decibels)
  • Frequency (pitch measured in hertz)

The amount (amplitude) the pressure fluctuates determines the loudness (decibels) of the sound. The frequency of the pressure fluctuations determines the pitch (hertz).

2.4.2 Sound pressure (Pa)

Sound pressure is the amount of air pressure fluctuation a noise source creates. We "hear" or perceive sound pressure as loudness.

Even very loud sounds produce pressure fluctuations which are extremely small (1 in 10,000) compared to ambient air pressure (i.e. atmospheric pressure).

The measurement of sound determines how loud something is, whether it is too noisy, or even whether it is safe to be near. A sound level meter is the principal instrument for general noise measurement. The indication on a sound level meter (aside from weighting considerations) indicates the sound pressure, p, as a level referenced to 0.00002 Pa.

Sound pressure also depends on the environment in which the source is located and the listener's distance from the source. The way sound decays with distance from the source is dependent on the size and shape of the source and also the surrounding environment and prevailing air currents. It is relatively simple to calculate provided the source is small and outdoors, but indoor calculations (in a reverberant field) are rather more complex. 

2.4.3 Decibels (dB)

The ear has the remarkable ability to handle an enormous range of sound levels. In order to express levels of sound meaningfully in numbers that are more manageable, a logarithmic scale is used, rather than a linear one. This scale is the decibel scale.  Zero decibels (0 dB) is the quietest sound audible to a healthy human ear. From there, every increase of 3 dB represents a doubling of sound intensity, or acoustic power.

Sound pressure converted to the decibel scale is called sound pressure level (Lp).

The decibel scale is a logarithmic scale used to make quantities with a wide range of values more manageable. The range of acoustic pressures that the human ear can detect is very wide - from the lower limit of hearing at around 20 micro Pa (2 x 10-5 Pa)  to the threshold of pain at around 20 Pa.

Converting pressure to decibels creates a more manageable measuring and comparison yardstick. Converting the very wide range of values into a logarithmic scale changes the range of values to the more manageable range of 0 dB to 140 dB where 0 dB is roughly the lowest level a normal person can hear.

As you can see from the diagram decibels is a log function of pressure. Which means small increases in decibels map to larger and larger increases in pressure. The human ear is designed to hear very soft sounds with very little pressure to be able to cope with very high pressure noise. The spread of pressure in micropascals ranges from 20 Mpa to 100 million Mpa. 

2.4.4 A-weighting (dBA) and C-weighting (dBC)

Loudness is the human impression of the strength of a sound. The loudness of a noise does not necessarily correlate with its sound level.

Decibels (dB) are a measurement of sound intensity over the standard threshold of hearing. However, you will often see noise levels given in dBA (A-weighted sound levels) instead of dB.  dBA is sound intensity with an "A" contour filter. The filter adjusts the measurement to account for the way in which the ear responds to different frequencies of sound. Measurements in dBA, or dB(A) as it is sometimes written, are decibel scale readings that have been adjusted to attempt to take into account the varying sensitivity of the human ear to different frequencies of sound. The sensitivity of the human ear to sound depends on the frequency or pitch of the sound. People hear some frequencies better than others. The main effect of the adjustment is that low and very high frequencies are given less weight than on the standard decibel scale.

Many regulatory noise limits are specified in terms of dBA, based on the belief that dBA is better correlated with the relative risk of noise-induced hearing loss.

Another system of adjustment is C-weighting, the dBC scale. dBC is sometimes used for specifying peak or impact noise levels, such as gunfire. Unweighted dB readings are also used for this purpose; there is usually not much difference between the two.

Various noises and their sound level measurements

Noise Source

Sound Pressure,Pa

Weighted, dB(A)

pneumatic chipper at 1 metre

10

115

textile room

5

103

newspaper press

1

95

power lawn mower at 1 metre

0.8

92

diesel truck 50 km per hour at 20 metres

0.5

85

passenger car 60 km per hour at 20 metres

0.05

65

conversation at 1 metre

0.02

55

quiet room

0.002

40

baseline

0.00002

55

Sound pressure levels in decibels (dB) or A-weighted decibels [dB(A)] cannot be added or subtracted in the usual arithmetical way.

If there are two sound sources in a room - for example a lively discussion producing an average sound level of 62.0 dB, and a television producing a sound level of 73.0 dB - then the total combined sound level is a logarithmic sum = 10 x lg ( 10^(62/10) + 10^(73/10) ) = 73.3 dB.

2.4.5 Loudness and sound intensity (power)

The sound intensity/power is the sound energy transferred per second in a specified direction from the noise source to the air. The relative loudness that we perceive is a subjective psychological phenomenon, not something that can be objectively measured. Most of us perceive one sound to be twice as loud as another one when they are about 10 dB apart; for instance, a 60-dB air conditioner will sound twice as loud as a 50-dB refrigerator. Yet that 10-dB difference represents a tenfold increase in intensity. A 70-dB dishwasher will sound about four times as loud as the 50-dB refrigerator, but in terms of acoustic intensity, the sound it makes is 100 times as powerful.

The potential for a sound to damage our hearing is proportional to its intensity, not its loudness level. That's why it's misleading to rely on our subjective perception of loudness as an indication of the risk to our hearing.

Percieved loudness mapped to decibels

Decibel Level

Sound Intensity (Power)

Perceived Loudness

50

1x

1x

60

10x

2x

70

100x

4x

 

2.4.6 Rw

Rw is the weighted sound reduction index in dB (decibels) and it describes the airborne sound insulating power of a building element. It is a laboratory-measured value as defined in ISO717 Part 1. It can apply to walls, ceiling/ floors, ceiling/roofs, doors, or windows. The higher the number, the greater the sound insulating power of the building element. It is measured over the frequency range 100 to 3150Hz

An increase in the Rw of a wall by 6 points will reduce the perceived loudness of sound passing through the wall by about half. Detailed below is how the sound insulating effectiveness of walls depends on their Rw (or Rw + Ctr values).

2.4.7 Rw +Ctr

Rw + Ctr are Rw with the addition of a low frequency sound correction factor Ctr. (a negative number). The use of Rw + Ctr has become more relevant due to the increase in low frequency sound sources such as surround sound systems, traffic and aircraft noise, drums and bass guitars and home entertainment equipment. Two walls can have the same Rw rating, but have different resistance to low frequency sound, thus a different Rw + Ctr.

2.4.8 DnTw

DnTw is the equivalent of Rw, but measured onsite. Rw is the value measured in an acoustic laboratory, while DnTw is measured on-site. An on-site measured value of DnTw + Ctr is permitted to be 5 points lower than the Rw + Ctr value. Where the BCA may call for an Rw + Ctr > 50, the same requirement may be satisfied by measuring DnTw + Ctr > 45 on-site.

2.4.9 Ln,w +Ci

Ln,w + Ci describes how easily impact sound travels through a wall or floor. Impact sound is generated by sources such as dryers, washing machines and heeled shoes on a wooden or tiled floor.

Unlike Rw values, better performing walls or floors have lower values. Therefore when specified, Ln,w + Ci values are maximums while Rw values are minimums. For example, the BCA requires some floors to have Ln,w + Ci < 62.

2.4.10 Impact sound isolation and walls

Walls that have an Impact Sound Insulation requirement are defined in the BCA as walls that do not have any rigid mechanical connection between two separate leaves except at the perimeter. Discontinuous Construction is defined in the BCA as walls that have a gap of at least 20mm between two separate leaves. Double stud plasterboard walls connected only at the perimeter are classed as ‘discontinuous’.

2.4.11 Sound transmission class

The Sound Transmission Class (STC) is a single-number rating of a material’s or assembly’s barrier effect. Higher STC values are more efficient for reducing sound transmission. For example, loud speech can be understood fairly well through an STC 30 wall but should not be audible through an STC 60 wall. Even with a high STC rating, any penetration, air-gap, or “flanking” path can seriously degrade the isolation quality of a wall. Flanking paths are the means for sound to transfer from one space to another other than through the wall. Sound can flank over, under, or around a wall. Sound can also travel through common ductwork, plumbing or corridors.

2.4.12 NRC

A materials ability to absorb sound is measured by its sound absorption coefficient and is often expressed in terms of a Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC) The NRC is the arithmetic average of the product’s sound absorption coefficients at 250, 500, 1000 and 2000Hz. The sound absorption coefficients of products are measured according to ISO140-3. An NRC of 0.4 means 40 % of sound is absorbed by the material. Typical building materials such as plasterboard have an NRC of approximately 0.04 which means only 4% sound will be absorbed. The NRC gives no information as to how absorptive a material is in the low and high frequencies, nor does it have anything to do with the material’s barrier effect (STC).

2.4.13 Sound insulation and absorption

What is the difference between insulation and absorption? There is often confusion between sound insulation and sound absorption. Sound insulation is required in order to eliminate the sound path from a source to a receiver such as between apartments in a building, or to reduce unwanted external noise inside a concert hall. Heavy materials like concrete tend to be the best materials for sound insulation - doubling the mass per unit area of a wall will improve its insulation by about 6dB. It is possible to achieve good insulation with much less mass by instead using a double leaf partition (two separated independent walls).

Sound absorption occurs when some or all of the incident sound energy is either converted into heat or passes through the absorber. For this reason good sound absorbers do not of themselves make good sound insulators. Although insulation and absorption are different concepts, there are many instances where the use of sound absorbers will improve insulation. However absorption should not be the primary means of achieving good sound insulation. 

2.4.14 Impact Insulation Class

Impact Insulation Class (or IIC) is an integer-number rating of how well a building floor attenuates impact sounds, such as footsteps. A larger number means more attenuation. The scale, like the decibel scale for sound, is logarithmic.

The IIC number is derived from sound attenuation values tested at sixteen standard frequencies from 100 to 3150 Hz. Unfortunately, "real world" footstep noise is also generated at frequencies below 100 Hz, so the IIC value may not accurately describe the complete noise attenuation profile of a floor.

IIC In a multi-level home or business, when a floor covering in one of the upper rooms is impacted, by dropping an object or moving furniture for example, the impact creates a vibration that travels through the floor, subfloor, and through the ceiling to the room below. These vibrations result in unwanted and annoying sounds in those rooms. This is called impact sound transmission. Floor coverings with a high IIC rating help to reduce impact sound transmissions to lower levels, thus reducing or eliminating those bothersome noises. The lowest IIC rated floors/ceiling assemblies come in at around 25 and the highest rated systems can come in at 85 and up.

2.4.15 Vibration

When something oscillates about a static position it can be said to vibrate. The vibration of a speaker diaphragm produces sound, but usually vibration is undesirable. Common examples of unwanted vibration are the movement of a building near a railway line when a train passes, or the vibration of the floor caused by a washing machine or spin dryer. Floor vibration can be reduced with vibration isolators.

Vibration is monitored with an accelerometer. This is a device that is securely attached by some means to the surface under investigation. The accelerometer produces a tiny electrical charge output, proportional to the surface acceleration, which is then amplified by a charge amplifier and recorded or observed with a meter. The frequencies of interest are generally lower than sound, and range from below 1 Hz to about 1 kHz. 

2.4.16 Reverberation and reflection

In an enclosed space, when a sound source stops emitting energy, it takes some time for the sound to become inaudible. This prolongation of the sound in the room caused by continued multiple reflections is called reverberation. Reflective corners or peaked ceilings can create a “megaphone” effect potentially causing annoying reflections and loud spaces. Reflective parallel surfaces lend themselves to a unique acoustical problem called standing waves, creating a “fluttering” of sound between the two surfaces. Reflections can be attributed to the shape of the space as well as the material on the surfaces.

Domes and concave surfaces cause reflections to be focused rather than dispersed which can cause annoying sound reflections. Absorptive surface treatments can help to eliminate both reverberation and reflection problems.

2.5 Testing sound levels

2.5.1 What do Acoustic Consultants do?

There are a large number of diverse companies that deal with noise reduction.

For example, The Owners Corporation of Australia has had a number of these present at to our members.

  • Soundblock Solutions offers a complete range of insulation and noise control products for domestic use.
  • Soundbarrier Systems provides sound insulation and soundproofing for the home or office.
  • Magnetite, which produces an ingenious secondary glazing window system.

An accredited acoustical engineer can be assessed and the right acoustic treatment can be recommended:

  • Engineering design advice relating to the control of sound and vibration
  • Behaviour of sound within rooms e.g. concert halls, theatres, etc
  • Transfer of sound between one place and another e.g. between apartments

An approximate guide of the cost for on-site testing and a written report is between $3,000 and $4,000 dollars.

2.5.2 Testing ambient noise transmission

A sound level meter is the instrument normally used to measure noise levels on the decibel scale. Several factors affect the noise level reading:

  • The distance between the meter and the source of the sound
  • The direction the noise source is facing, relative to the meter
  • Whether the measurement is taken outdoors (where noise can dissipate) or indoors (where noise can reverberate)

For a reported sound level value to be most useful, it is necessary to specify the conditions under which the reading was taken, especially the distance from the source. Acoustic measurements in relation to noise are usually only measured vertically, and not horizontally.

2.5.3 Testing walls and floors for sound transmission

Each building is different and therefore any acoustic treatment of floors in any building needs to be considered in relation to the structure, age and existing acoustic properties of the building.

Testing the sound levels involves determining the Impact Insulation Class (IIC) rating and  is usually done via ‘Tapping Testing’ Noise is generated by placing a standardised “tapping machine” on the floor and measuring the sound pressure levels are measured in the room under at several different frequencies.

A standard tapping machine with five–steel faced hammers strikes a test floor material, generating sounds between 125 Hz – 4000 Hz. The impact creates vibrations that travel through the flooring and produce sounds on the other side. Depending on the amount of impact sound that is lost during the transmission, the results from each tap are plotted on a graph. Depending where those points fall on the graph, they are compared to a reference and the IIC rating is determined. The sound levels are corrected to account for the acoustical properties of the receiving room.

The IIC rating can be tested in one of two different environments: Each floor covering product can be tested individually and given an IIC product rating based on that test, or can be tested as part of an entire floor/ceiling assembly. The latter can include not only the floor covering (carpet, hardwood, tile, etc.), but also the subfloor, underlayment, flooring joists, ceiling below, as well as adhesives and sealants that may be needed for installation. In addition, there are plenty of other sound–deadening materials that are used in floor/ceiling assemblies. For example, fiberglass insulation and resilient channels can be used to increase an IIC rating. In these tests, the entire floor/ceiling assembly works together to result in the structure's overall IIC rating.

The most appropriate and accurate way to measure the IIC of a home or building is to do so after installation. This way, all materials are taken into account for and given a total IIC value. Also, any air vents or other obstacles that sound can travel through are also accounted for with this method. This method is also known as the Field Impact Insulation Class (FIIC).

2.5.4 Flooring Joists and concrete subfloors

There is no easy way to accurately determine the projected IIC rating or a floor covering until it is installed and tested in the field. A large reason for this is the different types of subfloors – concrete or wood joist, which can have a large effect on the IIC rating of the floor covering. In addition, other sound deadening materials (an underlayment for example) can add to the IIC rating. To give you a better idea of the difference these factors make, the tables below show estimates of the excepted IIC ratings that you may achieve with the type of floor system shown. The first table shows floor coverings tested over concrete subfloors and the second table shows floor coverings rated over a basic floor joist system.

Approximate IIC ratings for a 150–mm–thick concrete slab with various kinds of toppings.

Diagram

Topping

IIC Rating

None, or ceramic or marble tile

28

Vinyl flooring

35–40

Hardwood flooring

30–35

9–mm–thick hardwood on 5–mm–thick resilient layer

45–50

16–mm plywood or OSB on 40– x 90–mm wood strapping on 25–mm mineral fibra board

50–55

35–mm concrete on 25–mm mineral fibra board

60–85

Carpet and underlay

75–85

 

3 Noise level regulations and requirements

You've got to expect to hear your neighbours sometimes but if the noise is excessive there are numerous ways to deal with it via building management or regulations with bylaws, strata law and state law.

There are many layers of noise regulations and protections for apartment dwellers. There is no single government authority in Australia with overall responsibility for controlling or reducing noise pollution. There are a number of different regulations governing noise in a strata building. The Commonwealth government takes responsibility in areas such as aircraft noise and emission standards for new motor vehicles, while an environment protection agency regulates environmental noise in each State. The National Occupational Health and Safety Commission has a national code of practice that provides advice on management of noise in the workplace. Neighbourhood and recreational noise issues are usually the domain of the police and local councils.

For example, a range of impotant legislation and by-laws require all areas within an apartment, other than the kitchen, laundry, toilet and bathroom, to have adequate floor coverings or treatment to prevent the impact of noise, such as footsteps, furniture being moved and children running, from carrying to another apartment. This stray noise has the potential to disturb the peace and tranquillity of neighbouring residents.

3.1 The Strata Schemes Management Act (1996) NSW

The first layer of protection comes from the relevant Act in your state. In NSW Section 117 of the Strata Schemes Management Act (1996) specifies some guiding principles that can be applied to unwanted noise. 

Relevant NSW Legislation: Strata Schemes Management Act (1996)

117 Owners, occupiers and other persons not to create nuisance

(1) An owner, mortgagee or covenant chargee in possession (whether in person or not), lessee or occupier of a lot must not:

(a) use or enjoy the lot, or permit the lot to be used or enjoyed, in such a manner or for such a purpose as to cause a nuisance or hazard to the occupier of any other lot (whether that person is an owner or not), or

(b) use or enjoy the common property in such a manner or for such a purpose as to interfere unreasonably with the use or enjoyment of the common property by the occupier of any other lot (whether that person is an owner or not) or by any other person entitled to the use and enjoyment of the common property, or

(c) use or enjoy the common property in such a manner or for such a purpose as to interfere unreasonably with the use or enjoyment of any other lot by the occupier of the lot (whether that person is an owner or not) or by any other person entitled to the use and enjoyment of the lot.

 

The legal definition of ‘nuisance’ is very different from the everyday meaning. For a noise to be construed as a nuisance’ it needs to be:

  • frequent or persistent
  • something a reasonable person with no particular sensitivity would be affected by.
  • out of context or unanticipated (e.g. neighbours walking past your front door talking loudly may not count – even though it may be loud and intrusive)
  • documented with substantial evidence of some sort

3.2 Your strata scheme’s by-laws

The next most obvious thing to do is to understand your building by-laws. When you buy or rent an apartment, you effectively sign a contract that binds you to the by-laws of your building. Some schemes may have adopted the standard by-laws or Model By-Laws, and some schemes may have by-laws which differ from these Model By-Laws, so it 's important to firstly check what applies to your building before proceeding.

By-laws tend to be more prescriptive than other general laws as they are designed to reflect the lifestyle choices of the majority of your strata neighbours. There are a number of things that owners can do to create noise in an strata building. Things such as a pet, a renovation, changing your flooring, TV or music, washing machines, water hammering, parties and loud talking. Most buildings’ rules prohibits any resident of a building from interfering with the ‘peaceful enjoyment’ of anyone else’s property.

So if you are intending on introducing a potential noise change then:

  • Find out what your by-laws say
  • Talk to your executive committee
  • Talk to your neighbours.
  • Talk to your strata manager
  • Go and see the people who live below you, above you and beside you – this is particularly important if you intend to install hard flooring or change the existing flooring in some way 

3.2.1 Model by-laws

The Model by-laws as laid down in the NSW Strata Schemes Management Regulations (2010) relevant to noise are: 

Relevant NSW Legislation: The Strata Schemes Management Regulation (2010)

1 Noise

An owner or occupier of a lot must not create any noise on a lot or the common property likely to interfere with the peaceful enjoyment of the owner or occupier of another lot or of any person lawfully using common property.

7 Children playing on common property in building

An owner or occupier of a lot must not permit any child of whom the owner or occupier has control to play on common property within the building or, unless accompanied by an adult exercising effective control, to be or to remain on common property comprising a laundry, car parking area or other area of possible danger or hazard to children.

8 Behaviour of invitees

An owner or occupier of a lot must take all reasonable steps to ensure that invitees of the owner or occupier do not behave in a manner likely to interfere with the peaceful enjoyment of the owner or occupier of another lot or any person lawfully using common property.

14 Changes to floor coverings and surfaces

(1) An owner or occupier of a lot must notify the owners corporation at least 21 days before changing any of the floor coverings or surfaces of the lot if the change is likely to result in an increase in noise transmitted from that lot to any other lot. The notice must specify the type of the proposed floor covering or surface.

(2) This by-law does not affect any requirement under any law to obtain a consent to, approval for or any other authorisation for the changing of the floor covering or surface concerned.

15 Floor coverings

(1) An owner of a lot must ensure that all floor space within the lot is covered or otherwise treated to an extent sufficient to prevent the transmission from the floor space of noise likely to disturb the peaceful enjoyment of the owner or occupier of another lot.

(2) This by-law does not apply to floor space comprising a kitchen, laundry, lavatory or bathroom.

17 Keeping of animals

Select option A, B or C. If no option is selected, option A will apply.

Option A

(1) Subject to section 49 (4) of the Act, an owner or occupier of a lot must not, without the prior written approval of the owners corporation, keep any animal (except fish kept in a secure aquarium on the lot) on the lot or the common property.

(2) The owners corporation must not unreasonably withhold its approval of the keeping of an animal on a lot or the common property.

Option B

(1) Subject to section 49 (4) of the Act, an owner or occupier of a lot must not, without the prior written approval of the owners corporation, keep any animal (except a cat, a small dog or a small caged bird, or fish kept in a secure aquarium on the lot) on the lot or the common property.

(2) The owners corporation must not unreasonably withhold its approval of the keeping of an animal on a lot or the common property.

(3) If an owner or occupier of a lot keeps a cat, small dog or small caged bird on the lot then the owner or occupier must:

(a) notify the owners corporation that the animal is being kept on the lot, and

(b) keep the animal within the lot, and

(c) carry the animal when it is on the common property, and

(d) take such action as may be necessary to clean all areas of the lot or the common property that are soiled by the animal.

Option C

Subject to section 49 (4) of the Act, an owner or occupier of a residential lot must not keep any animal on the lot or the common property.

21 Compliance with planning and other requirements

(1) The owner or occupier of a lot must ensure that the lot is not used for any purpose that is prohibited by law.

(2) The owner or occupier of a lot must ensure that the lot is not occupied by more persons than are allowed by law to occupy the lot.

As you can see the basics are covered when it comes to controlling noise from parties, pets, flooring renovations and general behaviour. Model by-law 1, Noise, covers a multitude of potential situations and specifies that noise should not interfere with “the peaceful enjoyment” of another occupier. 

3.2.2 Custom by-laws

Your strata scheme may have amended the Model by-laws or have added some of their own.  Custom by-laws can be much more rigorous and restrictive than Model by-laws when it comes to noise control and can reflect the level of quiet that owners expect.

The types of things a custom by-law can prescribe include:

  • Building works times of the day. Will specify the time and days between which banging hammering, rubbish removal or heavy lift use can be done.
  • Flooring materials and quality. A by-law can specify a particular level of sound transfer be achieved. Note: Anything higher that IIC of 55 for timber or tiled floors is generally impractical to implement in buildings with a basic concrete slab as the sound proofing underlay would have to be too high. Because installing a hard floor in lieu of carpet, even with acoustic underlay, will not result is a similar performance to carpet Some buildings By-Laws explicitly indicate that replacing carpet floors with a hard floor finish is not possible. The by-law may go on to state the carpet must be good quality carpet laid over heavy duty underlay.
  • Facilities open/close times. Restricting the times of use of some facilities such as the pool or gym may alleviate noise at unhospitable hours in some buildings.
  • Permissions for works.Permission to be sought from the Owners Corporation before altering or changing a floor finish. Application for consent must include a report from a qualified acoustic engineer that analyses the acoustic properties of the proposed floor finish. non-specific terms, such as you can’t remove carpet or change the floor covering without Owners Corporation permission and that such permission will only be given provided there is a written undertaking to provide noise insulation to the same level and to remedy any failings immediately if downstairs neighbours are adversely affected.
  • Testing required before and / or after works completion. Acoustic performance standard measured in situ for the flooring finish must meet certain criteria. Some buildings By?Laws will require an acoustic report prior to installation and/or testing on completion of the hard floor
  • Prescriptive resolutions required for filing to meet noise benchmarks. If an installed floor finish fails the provisions of the by-law, then a Notice may be issued to the lot owner concerned requiring that lot owner to place carpet laid over heavy duty underlay over the installed floor finish

The three areas that custom by-laws are often created to control noise are:

  1. Pets
  2. Building works
  3. Flooring
IT IS WISE TO ALWAYS REQUIRE AN APPROVAL PROCESS THAT MUST BE UNDERGONE WITH THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OR OWNERS CORPORATION

As well, by-laws can refer to ‘guidelines’ or an appropriate process for approval.

 

 

1. Pets

The model by-laws can be amended to reflect the owners corporations desires around the keeping of pets. Take note however, in NSW the Consumer Trade and Tenancy Tribunal takes seriously the requirement for ‘reasonable’ approval of the owners corporation this is part of your by-law.

An actual amendment of the animal model by-law is as follows:

By-law– Keeping of Animals

15.1       An owner or occupier of a Lot must not, without the prior written consent of the Owners Corporation, keep any animal on the Lot or the Common Property. That approval is to be issued for the specific animal the subject of the application.

15.2       The Owners Corporation may not unreasonable withhold its approval of the keeping of one small animal on a Lot or the Common Property.

15.3       An Owner or occupier of a Lot who has been permitted by the Owners Corporation to keep an animal on the Lot or Common Property must;

(a)   keep the animal leashed and under control at all times when on Common Property; and

(b)   Ensure that all excrement and other soiling, whether on the Lot or the Common Property is immediately removed and disposed of appropriately; and

(c)   Ensure that the animal does not disturb other owners or occupiers of a Lot; and

(d)   Acknowledge that the Owners Corporation may withdraw its consent to keep an animal in the event of a breach of By-Law 15.

Similarly, if a visitor wishes to bring a dog into the complex, then an application must also be made to the owners corporation by the resident owner/occupier prior to this happening. All conditions which apply to a resident owning a dog then also applies to visitors who wish to bring a dog into the complex.

In Queensland, they have weight of the pet as a measure - i.e. dogs over 10 kilos

Always keep in mind the owners corporation’s consent 'not to be unreasonably withheld'.

2. Building works

By-laws or ‘works’ guidelines can include some considerations to manage noise. For example actual works guidelines and by-law clauses are as follows:

Work Hours

Building work is permitted from 8.00am to 4.00pm Monday to Friday and from 9.00am to 1.00pm Saturday. No work is allowed on Sundays or public holidays. Silent works (eg. painting) may take place at any time if there is no impact on neighbouring apartments.

Noisy works (eg. concrete drilling, constant hammering etc) must not start before 9.OOam and are not permitted at all on weekends. You must give the Building Manager 48 hours written notice of such noisy works so your neighbours can be warned.

Extremely noisy equipment such as jackhammers, rotary hammer drills and similar may only be used for A SINGLE FOUR-HOUR PERIOD IN ANY GIVEN WEEK. It is your responsibility to ensure that your builder provides enough labour and equipment to carry out the required task within this four hour period.

During Installation

Whilst the Works are in progress the Owner of the Lot at the relevant time must:

a)      use duly licensed employees, contractors or agents to conduct the Works;

b)      use reasonable endeavours to cause as little disruption as possible;

c)      perform the Works during times reasonably approved by the Owners Corporation;

d)      perform the Works within a period of 3 month from their commencement or such other period as reasonably approved by the Owners Corporation;

e)      transport all construction materials, equipment and debris in the manner reasonably directed by the Owners Corporation;

3. Hard flooring

Since people have to walk around their own apartments, you should be able to demand that their floors are insulated so that you don’t have unwelcome noise every time they do.

Protecting the residents’ enjoyment of their lot should mean that no timber or hard surface flooring is to be installed without proper consideration by the owner's corporation. All proposed hard surface flooring installations must receive written approval prior to commencement of the works; including any conditions imposed by the owners corporation.

You can find great variation in guidelines and by-laws. It is recommended that the owners corporation get an acoustic test to determine the noise characteristics of the floor/ceilings in the building. This is so that potential renovators have an understanding as to what they may need to do to meet requirements.

“And finally, I attach a table from our original successful anti-timber litigant which shows that NO timber floor provides the same sound insulation as carpet on a quality underlay. That could be the basis for justifying any by-law you may plan to propose. By the way, the higher the figure the worse the noise transmission and it’s worth noting that a polished concrete slab doesn’t even meet the minimum BSA standards.”Jimmy Thomson, Flat chat

 

Common Guidelines to use when selecting the proper IIC rating for your space:

IIC 50 – The least amount of impact sound transmission reduction considered effective. Some occupants would be dissatisfied with this level of sound transmission.
IIC 60 – Considered a medium level of impact sound transmission reduction.
IIC 65 – Considered a high level of impact sound transmission reduction that would satisfy most occupants

Depending upon the construction of the building, the use of floating floors and acoustic underlays may provide the necessary insulation. Be aware however, that the documentation of the performance of various underlay may assume a dropped ceiling. If your building ceilings are not dropped (i.e. they are a basic concrete slab) you will not get anywhere near the proposed performance.

If a by-law is required to regulate what kind of flooring can be installed on the floors of lots, get advice very early on. It is much more difficult to fix a problem once it has arisen than to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place. Remember, that even if a by-law as to flooring is complied with, there may still be noise. 

Works Guidelines

All apartments in Example Tower were originally designed and built with carpet as the standard floor covering. There is a concrete slab with no suspended ceiling above and below apartments. This design means that under By-Law 14 carpet is the preferred floor covering for all rooms except kitchens, bathrooms and toilets to ensure the ‘peaceful enjoyment of the owner or occupier of another lot’. Hard floor covering (tiles, floating wooden floors, parquet etc) are only permitted in the lounge/living areas of your apartment as long as they do not interfere with the ‘peaceful enjoyment of the owner or occupier of another lot’ (see By-Law 14). Hard floors will not be approved for bedroom areas due to noise transmission at night. The Executive Committee has assembled a number of installation methods for hard flooring that may meet this requirement. Copies are available from the Building Manager.

You may only install hard flooring in such areas if you agree:

i)     after installation is complete, to allow the Owners Corporation to conduct an acoustic isolation test between your apartment and the one directly beneath you;

ii)   to pay all costs associated with the test which is to be conducted by an accredited member of the Association of Australian Acoustical Consultants;

iii)should the test indicate an acoustic isolation worse that the standard (6 star rating) to pay for the complete removal of the hard floor and installation of carpet or a satisfactorily insulated hard floor;

iv)  should it become apparent that the hard flooring interferes in any other way with the 'peaceful enjoyment of any other lot', to pay for the complete removal of the hard floor and installation of carpet or a satisfactorily insulated hard floor.

Tiles and other hard flooring materials may be laid in kitchens and bathroom. However, in the case of bathrooms, due to the possible compromise of water proofing membranes, details the replacement material and the manner of replacement must first be assessed by the Executive Committee.

I the undersigned hereby warrant that I have read the GUIDELINES FOR BUILDING WORKS (February 2009) and agree to comply with all of the conditions and limitations imposed thereby.

OWNER’S SIGNATURE                                                                                                        DATE                          

ADDITIONAL WARRANTS (IF APPLICABLE)

HARDFLOORING IN DESIGNATED PLACES

As the work applied for entails installing hard flooring surfaces other than in a kitchen, bathroom or toilet, I hereby warrant that, after the new floor is installed, I shall pay for acoustic testing and will remove the hard floor and re-install carpet if it is found to provide inadequate acoustic installation.

OWNER’S SIGNATURE                                                                                                        DATE                          

3.3 Your building manager or caretaker

One option for dealing with neighbours making a noise is to ask your building manager to deal with it if you have one. The building manager can tell the resident that there has been a complaint and ask them to sort it out before any formal warning is issued. 

3.4 Local council development regulations

Each council will have a range of planning development regulations that guide the design, approval and building of strata buildings, minor and major renovations. However, it is within a council’s power to approve developments and renovations that do not comply with the guidelines.

Most councils will have a hotline for environmental noise complaints. You can ring 24/7 and ask for a noise control officer to come and investigate unacceptable noise. Taking Sydney City Council as an example, their noise control officers don’t have a limit by which they measure whether or not a noise is acceptable. The fact that it can be heard in another dwelling is their primary concern; they then decide whether it constitutes a nuisance. However, they will definitely act if the noise is 10Db louder than the ambient noise in your apartment.

3.5 The Police

Late at night, however, if council cannot assist, the police are your best bet. They can issue a `Noise Abatement Direction’ and you should ask for a police incident number so you can ensure your complaint is recorded, just in case you need to show this is a regular occurrence. An on-the-spot fine can be imposed on anyone who continues to make a noise after being directed to stop by an Environmental Protection Authority officer, the police or a local council official. NB” You should insist that your complaint is attended to right away – they have to witness the problem themselves and can’t be expected just to take your word for it.

3.6 Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation 2008

This regulation means is that, regardless of any by-laws that your building might have, noise between midnight and before 8 am is a no-no and could cost you a maximum fine of $5,500. It does NOT, however, give you permission to make noise the rest of the time, regardless of the by-laws of your building. It also regulates the environmental noise impact to surrounding neighbours from operation of building services, air-conditioners and the like.

Relevant NSW Legislation: Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation (2008)

51 Musical instruments and sound equipment

(1) A person must not cause or permit any musical instrument or electrically amplified sound equipment to be used on residential premises in such a manner that it emits noise that can be heard within a habitable room in any other residential premises (regardless of whether any door or window to that room is open):

 (a) before 8 am and after midnight on any Friday, Saturday or day immediately before a public holiday, or

 (b) before 8 am and after 10 pm on any other day.

 

3.7 The Australian Association of Acoustic Consultants

The Association of Australian Acoustical Consultants (AAAC) has published an excellent star rating guideline that provides information on appropriate acceptability standards for buildings of different quality. For example, if you consider your building to be a five star building then the acceptability standard is for impact noise transmission not greater than (L’nT,w = 45dB).

“Many noises contain pronounced tonal or impulsive characteristics, which increase their annoyance. Such noises need to have a penalty adjustment (adj) to account for the annoying characteristics. If these characteristics are clearly audible a 5dB(A) penalty shall be applied. If the characteristics are just audible then a 2dB(A) penalty shall be applied”

Association of Australian Acoustical Consultants Guideline for Apartment and Townhouse Acoustic Rating (September 2010), pg 9.

They are a much better guide to what it tolerable and what isn’t. It is imprtant to understand that the level of noise is the only factor. A dripping tap is not particularly noisy but it will drive you mad if you don’t stop it. A child playing with marbles on the floor above your lounge will have you going mad in no time.

Intertenancy Activities

2 Star

3 Star

4 Star

5 Star

6 Star

(a) Airborne Sound Insulation For Walls & Floors

35

40

45

50

55

Between Separate Tenancies DnT,w+ Ctr >

30

40

40

45

50

Between A Lobby/Corridor & Bedroom DnT,w + Ctr >

25

40

40

40

45

Between A Lobby/Corridor & Living Area DnT,w + Ctr >

20

25

30

35

40

(b) Corridor, Foyer To Living Space Via Door(s) DnT,w >

65

55

50

45

40

(c) Impact Isolation Of Floors

 

 

 

 

 

Between Tenancies LnT,w <

65

55

50

45

40

Between All Other Spaces & Tenancies LnT,w <

65

55

50

45

40

(d) Impact Isolation Of Walls

 

 

 

 

 

Between Tenancies

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Between Common Areas & Tenancies

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Source: Association of Australian Acoustical Consultants Guideline for Apartment and Townhouse Acoustic Rating (September 2010), pg 9.

3.8 Australian Standards

Compliance to these standards is not mandatory – but is good design practice to provide a ‘fit-for-purpose’ facility. However it may be required by planning authorities prior to granting permits.

AS 2107-2000 Recommended Sound Levels is the Standard most commonly referred to in Building Acoustics, and AS 3671-1989 Road traffic noise intrusions applies to residential developments adjacent to road traffic routes

AS2107-2000 Recommended Design Sound Levels for different areas of occupancy in buildings

 

LAeq,dBA

7 RESIDENTIAL BUILDINGS

Satisfactory

Maximum

Apartment common areas (e.g. foyer, lift lobby) near major roads

45

55

Apartment common areas (e.g. foyer, lift lobby) near minor roads

45

55

Living areas near major roads

35

45

Living areas near minor roads

30

40

Sleeping areas in areas with negligible transportation

25

30

Sleeping areas near major roads

30

40

Sleeping areas near minor roads

30

35

Note: Reverberation time should be minimized as far as practicable for noise control

3.9 Building Code of Australia

The Building Code of Australia’s (BCA) general objective is to safeguard occupants from illness or loss of amenity as a result of undue sound being transmitted. They comprise a uniform set of technical provisions for the design and construction of buildings – structure, fire, health and amenity etc. The relevant sections refer to Class 2 – a building containing 2 or more dwelling units (eg: flats, apartments). Guidelines for the sound insulation and acoustic properties of walls between adjoining units in multi-residential buildings are set out in Building Code of Australia - Volume 1. Class 2 - 9 dwellings, Section F - Health and Amenity, Part F5 Sound Transmission & Insulation.  

“If you have a by-law in your building which forbids or restricts flooring that doesn’t properly insulate noise transmission, you are halfway there. If it specifies the Australian Building Standard for noise transmission, you may have a problem and have to depend on Strata Law (see below). Australian Building Standards are a joke when comes to apartments and those that apply to flooring seem to have been designed for people whose feet never actually touch the ground.”Jimmy Thomson, Flat Chat

The BCA was changed in 2005 to increase airborne sound insulation requirements for walls and floors and introduced impact sound insulation requirement for floors. It also allowed on-site testing as an option for verifying performance. Why it changed?

  • Increase in apartment living in recent years – corresponding increase in complaints. Occupant expectations were not being achieved. The number of complaints from owners indicate that the recommended amount of sound insulation required for internal walls is too lenient.
  • The new code would also need to recommend a minimum requirement for 'impact sound insulation' of floors. Currently there is no requirement, because the code assumes that carpet will be used as a general floor covering, ignoring the fact that homeowners are turning to hard floor coverings such as polished boards and ceramic tiles.
  • In some cases resulting from specific construction / workmanship issues. The code only applies to so-called airborne sounds, not structure-borne or impact sounds.
  • BCA minimum standards – NOT appropriate for higher quality developments
  • BCA changed to reflect modern lifestyle and appliances. The code only applies to internal walls, not the external walls of a house. This means there are no controls over loud street noises entering a house or loud party noises leaking to the outside. The code assumes that the noisiest areas in a house are the kitchen, laundry and bathroom. Today it is the living room, with powerful entertainment systemsand hard floor surfaces, and is probably the noisiest in the house.

However, if your building was built prior to the 2005 changes, you will be stuck with the pre-2005 standards. This does not mean that any new flooring also needs to be at this standard, Your strata is quite entitled to specify much higher standards than the current or 2005 BCA.

3.9.1 BCA compliance objectives and specifications

The objective of insulating to limit sound transmission in a Class 2 Building is to prevent loss of amenity due to undue sound being transmitted between units, or to a unit, from other parts of the building, such as plant rooms, lift shaft, common corridors, or from a different classification in the same building for example, car park, shops, commercial premises.

Walls and floors separating a sole occupancy unit from other units must be insulated against the transmission of airborne sound, as well as impact sound. Accordingly the insulation value of these elements of construction must not be compromised by openings, such as doors or services.

To achieve these objectives the walls and floors bounding a class 2 unit must be constructed so as to satisfy the requirements of

  • Part F5 of the Building Code of Australia (BCA)
  • Specification F5.2 of the BCA
  • Manufacturer’s Specification to ensure that the product performs as tested.

3.9.2 Ensuring new flooring compliance

How does one adequately assess whether the hard floor surface you intend to lay will not cause a disturbance?

The Building Code of Australia (BCA) sets a standard for impact noise transmission not greater than (Ln,w + CI = 62dB). This is a measure of the noise produced by the hard floor surface. Therefore, the first thing you should do is to request written confirmation from your supplier (together with a copy of a laboratory certificate) confirming that your hard floor surface will meet that standard.

Even if the hard floor surface meets that standard, this does not automatically mean that you will comply with a by-law because there is a minimum standard that may not be sufficient for your class of building. The BCA acoustic standard is recognised as the minimum standard however noise at that level may prove unacceptable for adjacent residents and therefore unsatisfactory for use by your strata plan as a baseline for installations.

3.9.3 How is BCA compliance tested?

  1. Use one of the deemed-to-satisfy provisions or laboratory test.
  2. Have an Expert judgement (by appropriately qualified and experienced person0 that the systems meet deemed-to satisfy values
  3. Provision for on-site testing

Deemed to Satisfy Requirements: Sound Insulation Rating of Floors

A floor in a Class 2 or 3 building must have an Rw + Ctr (airborne) of not less than 50 and an L’n,w + Cl (impact) not more than 62 if it separates

I.            sole-occupancy units; or

II.            a sole-occupancy unit from a plant room, lift shafts, stairway, public corridor, public lobby or

III.            the like, or part of a different classification.

3.9.4 Not considered by the BCA

External Noise Sources (road traffic, rail traffic, aircraft, industry, adjacent building services, music)

Internal Noise Sources (air conditioning or ventilation systems, garbage chutes, wind noise, lift noise)

3.10 Consumer Trade and Tenancy Tribunal

In NSW there are several steps to the dispute resolution procedure set out in the Strata Schemes Management Act (2006). If it gets to this stage it is vital to know your which way round the Office of Fair Trading and Consumer Trade and Tenancy Tribunal (CTTT) to get to a satisfactory result.

There is no ‘simple statement’ from the Office of Fair Trading about what you and can’t do with your floor, and what steps you can take if the noise from someone else’s flooring is disturbing you. Every situation and building is different and needs to be considered against the specific building structure, relevant Acts, regulations, by-laws, approvals and noise generated. There are two ways you can approach resolving a dispute at the CTTT – through your by-laws (which can vary from building to building) and through strata law which applies to everyone.

A new owner was excited about renovating her apartment before moving in. She went through all the appropriate applications and submissions to the building’s executive committee and was assured by the timer flooring company that their product met the 6 star standard required. She had ordered the flooring and asked for a final approval from the executive committee so it could be installed the following week. However, she had to cancel the installation on discovering that the 6 star rating assumed that the building had dropped ceilings rather than just the concrete slabs.

However, it’s an incredibly complex issue and it’s not just for people who suffer from the unwanted noise. Owners often don’t realise there is a problem till they get a letter from their owners corporation ordering them to pull out their floorboards or put properly insulated carpets down again Sometimes people who have tried to do the right thing have been given bad advice or paid for an inferior installation and end up having to replace their expensive wooden floor with expensive insulated carpet. Timber floor sales people will often encourage this notion if it means making a sale. 

3.10.1 Preparation

Overwhelmingly, the “rule of thumb” should be to seek appropriate advice, and seek it early and then follow that advice.

If you do decide to take an upstairs neighbour to the CTTT on the basis of strata law, you would be well advised to consult a specialist strata lawyer, especially one with a track record in these disputes, to run your case for you. It’s not essential, it may be expensive and you won’t recover costs even if you win but it will probably increase your chances of success.

3.10.2 Process

 

(a) Applying for Mediation;

(b) An application for Strata Schemes Adjudicator’s orders to comply with the by-laws (different from a Notice to Comply) – if mediation does not result in a binding agreement;

(c) An application to enforce the orders if they are granted in favour of the applicant

(d) If the noise and disturbance continues the maximum fine achievable in relation to the successful pursuit of an occupant or owner for transgressions of floor covering by-laws or the noise by-law, or Section 117 of the Act is $550.00. However, that level of fine is virtually never levied and the monies usually go the Office of Fair Trading.

(d) If an application for Strata Schemes Adjudicator’s orders is not successful, then there is the possibility of lodging an appeal against the decision made by the Strata Schemes Adjudicator. The conference reiterated the fact that there is a huge diversity of views and experiences among executive committees, Owners Corporations and lot owners about how occupants of strata schemes (whether owners or otherwise) are affected by noise issues, and particularly noise issues that may be related to hard surface flooring.

3.10.3 Evidence

Be as organised and methodical as you can be and try to keep personality clashes, past and present, out of the picture.

Experts:In order to assist an Owners Corporation wanting to bring Section 117 into operation in relation to a noise problem in a strata scheme, it would be useful to obtain independent acoustic tests. If you are taking this to the CTTT supported by an acoustical engineer’s findings, make sure your expert’s qualifications and experience are stated as part of the submission.  Owners Corporations need expert advice to understand the acoustic properties and the noise impact of a hard surface flooring as installed in their building. This is a different test from laboratory testing of the product to be installed in an environment other than the proposed building into which that product is to be installed.

Witnesseswho are there to support your case by testifying that they can hear noise from the timber-floored unit will be asked if the noise is disturbing. If they say “not really” (as in one example attached) the adjudicator is likely to rule that some noise is acceptable in apartment buildings and only “nuisance” noise is a breach and throw the case out. If Owners Corporations wish to gather evidence regarding the effect on noise disturbing the enjoyment or amenity of a lot, then the lot owners or occupants most affected should prudently keep a diary noting the times and dates when they were disturbed by noise and describe the nature of the noise heard. In assessing the evidence provided to the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal, clearly the evidence needs to be reliable. There is little point calling a party to give evidence in relation to a noise dispute when the witness called to support the applicant complaining about the noise, has a hearing loss, or whose hearing differs from the norm.

3.10.4 Considerations

Adjudicators seem to be at least as concerned with whether or not the noise is disturbing (which is where the by-law breach occurs) as they are about whether or not the floor meets BSA or acoustical engineering standards.

There seems to be an acceptance that the BSA standards are not an acceptable guide as to whether or not the floor is properly insulated against disturbing noise so anyone relying on that as a defence is skating on thin ice. Failure to meet Acoustical Engineers standards for carpeted floors (and few if any wooden or tiled floors can) may be a more significant consideration. A recent CTTT Appeal Decision states that while the floor meets BSA standards, it is still 25 percent less effective than carpeted floors and that’s why the upstairs neighbours lost their appeal.

3.10.5 CTTT Solutions

Even of an application is granted in favour of the applicant Adjudicators will often not specify a remedy. The adjudicator may rule that there is a noise problem and it must be rectified but then leave it up to the unit owner to decide how to rectify it. Throwing down a few rugs is unlikely to be accepted as solving a noise problem with a timber floor. A couple of these cases are appeals or penalty hearings because the offending owners have wrongly assumed that putting rugs down meant they had met the terms of a previous adjudication. It may be worth asking for a pre-emptive adjudication on the use of rugs. The simple test, again, is whether or not the disturbance continues.

Many cases are only resolved after several trips to the CTTT. For example in one case, the upstairs owner thought that she didn’t need to do anything, in another, the upstairs owner laid carpet with little or no insulating underlay. In both cases they were subject to further orders to insulate the floor properly.

3.11 Local Court, Supreme Court, High Court

Some matters or legislation are not covered by the CTTT, or can be lodged or appealed in a different court for resolution. These courts can take into account wider laws and legislation and precedents than the CTTT and there are different processes and penalties apply.

3.11.1 A recent local court landmark case

A recent local court ruling clarifies that owners are responsible for ensuring that their tenants comply with noise requirements.

NSW case Jean Whittlam v Sara Hannah & John Hannah [2011] Downing Centre Local Court 63913/11.)

 

Date: 5 May 2011

Owners Beware of Noisy Tenants!

A landmark case has the potential to change the way owners conduct business and select their tenants.

In the case of JEAN WHITTLAM v SARAH HANNAH & JOHN HANNAH the applicant was successful in obtaining orders for noise abatement pursuant to s 268.4 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act of 1997.

The Magistrate first had to determine who the respondents were; and secondly if there was a case of offensive noise. The results have serious implications for owners who lease their properties.

Let’s summarise the key points of the case:

1. Who are the respondents – the owners or the tenants?

The Hannah’s, who are the owners of the apartment where the alleged offensive noise was coming from, were not living in the apartment at the time. They had sub-let the apartment to short term backpackers, advertising the apartment on the internet. Normally the court case is against the offenders of the noise, not the owners. So in the first instance, the Magistrate had to ascertain who the repondents were – the Hannahs as owners, or the noisy backpacker tenants.

“I am satisfied that pursuant to the fairly wide definition in the Act the Hannahs are property respondents. The Hannahs are able to control who they lease to and for how long. They can terminate leases if breaches occur. They can vet tenants, and if necessary, make physical changes to the property to decrease noise” (Magistrate Grahame)

2. The main issue was: Is the noise complained of offensive pursuant to the definition in the Act?

Mrs Whittlam's evidence disclosed intrusive noise over a long period, seemingly perpetrated by tenants of Mr and Mrs Hannah, or their invitees. Specifically, there was shouting and singing at night; banging and slamming of doors; playing soccer at 2am; swearing; intrusive music late at night and early in the morning; and party noise late at night and early in the morning.

“It is suggested by the applicants that too many people have been crowded into a small space, generally, that the Hannahs have made certain commercial decisions for the profitability of their investment, where they have created an environment where noise has been ongoing and inevitable. They have been unresponsive to complaints and thus their contribution to the noise.

After hearing all the evidence, I accept Mrs Whittlam's evidence that there has been significant noise emanating from the premises on a regular basis since 2006. The noise she described, particularly the timing and level, indicate the noise is offensive.” (Magistrate Grahame)

The Magistrate made the following orders: an order in relation to a hydraulic door closer on the front door of the Hannah’s apartment; an order in relation to the musical instruments and electrically amplified music be confined to 8am-12 midnight Friday and Saturday, and 8am–10pm other days.

The Magistrate also ordered that costs should be paid to the applicant, because of the way the respondent ran the case – at all times the respondent denied noise and denied that it was offensive, this was the main issue that took up time on the case.

Implications of the case

The implication of the outcome of this case is that property owners must change their business practice and ensure that they find suitable tenants who will not disturb others with offensive noise.

In this case, if future tenants breach the orders regarding noise and the Police are called in by neighbours, significant on the spot fines will be issued to the Hannah’s as owners of the offending apartment. Suddenly choosing the right people to lease your property is more important than ever.

4 How do I reduce noise levels in my apartment

4.1 Main factors affecting impacting noise

A number of factors affect the transfer of noise into and within a strata building. These include:

  • The external and internal walls materials. Heavy, dense materials such as masonry or brick walls are better for sound reduction, but there are also lightweight solutions. For example, interior walls that have layers of plasterboard with sound-control material in the cavity can be very effective in reducing noise.
  • Windows and doorsare often the weakest link in sound insulation. Double glazing is particularly effective for windows, especially if the airspace between the two panes is as wide as possible. Solid-core doors are best, particularly for those that open on to external areas. All gaps and openings around both doors and windows should be well sealed – even the smallest openings can leak significant amounts of noise.  Thick curtains are more sound absorbing than blinds.
  • Construction of the floor.Concrete slab and its thickness or lightweight timber frame (this may be an issue for older buildings). The thickness of the drop ceiling in the apartment below (if installed).
  • Type of flooring cover. Basically tiles, floor boards carpet with a range of other finishes that perform in a similar way to one or the other of these.
  • Type of flooring underlay.Generally the softer the underlay the better the performance but this is limited by effect of entrained air and the need to maintain a solid substrate for tiles. Carpet ages, and so does underlay. While there may be a strict compliance, for example, with a by-law that stipulates in a proscriptive sense that a floor (apart from a wet area) is to be covered by carpet and underlay, there may be technical compliance with the strict letter of the by-law at the time of installation, but there may still be noise disturbance directly related to the type of flooring installed, despite it being carpeted with appropriate underlay. There is a huge difference in the acoustic properties of underlays and similarly there is a wide variety in the range of types of carpet and their weight.
  • Hard surface flooringwhich abuts skirting boards with no separation between the two elements aids in the transmission of noise laterally as well as vertically.
  • Flooring installation errorssuch as nails through underlay, bridging of the perimeter gap, incorrect underlay etc.
  • Internal furnishingssuch as curtains, lounges and chairs with cushions all assist to absorb sound in a lot. Remember the noisy restaurant with polished concrete floors, no soft furnishing, but hard chairs and no curtains.

4.2 How do I improve the noise insulation of my apartment?

In buildings, acoustic treatments can be added to reduce the impact of sound emanating, entering or being received into specific areas. Sound is controlled by three means:

·         Firstly treatment of the source (e.g. building an enclosure around the source such as around compressors, or adding acoustic treatment to the area where the sound is coming from to absorb the energy of the sound waves)

  • Secondly treatment of the path of the noise (e.g. erection of barriers such as building walls on freeways)
  • And finally treatment at the receiver end. (e.g. noise blocking or absorption techniques such as installing curtains, furniture or wearing earplugs)

Some acoustic treatment options include:

Screening:When the noise is from an external source such as a main road it may be possible, if planning authorities permit, to screen with a noise barrier. These can be effective providing that the direct line of sight between traffic and house is concealed by the barrier.

Double glazing:The weak point for sound transmission to and from a building is most often via the windows. Traffic noise, people noise and general environmental noise can be very annoying. The glass is often only thin 3 mm thickness glass which is not very effective in stopping noise. Double glazing will usually afford noticeably better protection than single glazing, but in areas of high external noise it might be preferable to have double windows with a large air gap and acoustic absorbent material in the reveals. A secondary acoustic window fitted inside the existing window, or a cheap alternative magnetic insert effectively double glazing the window.

Acoustic underlay:Everybody who has experienced apartment and unit living will know the annoyance of someone walking on the ceiling above them or playing loud music in the room next door. Current trends towards the use of timber floors often replacing carpets, has highlighted the problem of inter unit noise

There are many ways that noise from floors and ceilings can be correctly acoustically treated.  The easiest way to reduce impact sound transmissions is to cushion the blow. For example, carpet with a high quality pad is considered one of the most effective impact sound transmission reducers. It reduces both the impact noise of people walking on the floor and airborne noise from voices, television and radios. Other resilient floors such as vinyl, cork, and rubber have slight give which cushions blows and also helps to increase the IIC rating. In addition, "floating floors" such as hardwood or bamboo installed over a resilient underlayment also helps to increase the IIC rating of the finished floor. Quite the opposite, concrete covered directly with hard, unforgiving surfaces such as ceramic tile, stone, hardwood, and bamboo can create quite a noisy surface to walk on. This is because there is no give in the floor system.

Pads and mats:Are generally not effective if the basic flooring is transferring significant noise. The may help if placed under specific noise creating objects such as a piano, or a stereo.

False wall or ceiling:If someone has installed a timber floor above you without taking the correct acoustic measures and you can’t get it resolved form their end a practical solution is to install a secondary ceiling. Noise through common walls can also be reduced by the addition of a false wall. This is done by fixing a layer of sound insulating material, commonly plasterboard, separated from the ceiling or wall by a large void containing acoustic quilting or installation under the existing ceiling. The false wall must not be connected to the party wall because that would allow sound transmission paths. The quality of construction is an important consideration if optimal levels of attenuation are desired. This treatment can reduce both impact noise and air borne noise by over 80%.

Door seals:Noise from the foyer of modern apartments. For example most entry doors are solid core doors to achieve fire rating; however, many are missing the most important noise control - seals around the door. Once the seals are installed, the noise can be reduced dramatically.

Water pipe wrapping:Another noise common to both apartment living is noise from water pipes. If the pipes are accessible they can be acoustically wrapped with pipe wrap. 

5 Some relevant resources

There are many great sources that cover sound and noise issues within strata buildings, the legislation surrounding them and the technical details of their testing and measurement. Below is a list of some useful resources:

a)      NSW: Strata Schemes Management Act (1996)contains a broader range of powers both administrative and proprietorial in nature. View or download a copy here: www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/ssma1996242/

b)      NSW: Strata Schemes Management Regulation (2010)provides further details that are referred to in the Act. View or download a copy here: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/consol_reg/ssmr2010333/

c)       Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation (2008) http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/consol_reg/poteocr2008693/

d)      Australian Standards http://www.standards.org.au/Pages/default.aspx

e)      The Building Code of Australia(BCA) is not freely available on the wed. But there are many sourece that refer to the relevant details.  Section F - Health and Amenity, Part F5 Sound Transmission & Insulation.  http://www.abcb.gov.au/

f)       NSW: The Consumer Trade and Tenancy Tribunal - http://www.cttt.nsw.gov.au/Divisions/Strata_and_community_schemes.html

g)      Australasian Legal Information Institute[Austlii].  This database contains selected decisions of the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal of New South Wales from www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/nsw/NSWCTTT/

h)      The NSW Office of Fair Trading has produced a very useful booklet Strata living: What you need to know about living in your strata community (July 2011 FT045). It briefly covers all the important areas of strata living including the CTTT. It is available hardcopy and online www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au/pdfs/About_us/Publications/ft045.pdf

i)        A range of government, state and local council noise regulations and controls. Some examples include -http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/SafetyInYourWorkplace/HazardsAndSafetyIssues/NoiseAndHearing/Pages/NoiseControl.aspx

http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/Development/PlanningControlsConditions/Default.asp

http://housingcode.planning.nsw.gov.au/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=isMJL6TZTWs%3d&tabid=40

j)        Association of Australian Acoustical ConsultantsGuideline for Apartment and Townhouse Acoustic Rating (September 2010).  http://www.aaac.org.au/au/aaac/downloads.aspx

k)     Flat Chat ForumJimmy Thomson’s web site has a forum for strata issue discussions - http://www.flat-chat.com.au/forum/hard-floors-and-tough-decisions

http://www.flat-chat.com.au/forum/pet-hates-and-petty-politics

l)        Apartment Living (2004). A book written by Sue Williams. An entertaining and extremely insightful book about the pleasures and pain of living in an apartment. A copy is available for borrowing from the Owners Corporation Network of Australia’s library.

m)   Strata Community Associationis the peak body for strata managers in Australia nsw.stratacommunity.org.au

http://www.stratacommunity.org.au/strata-living/noise

http://www.stratacommunity.org.au/strata-living/pet-noise

n)     A range of technical sources covering noise and sound are easily found on the internet. Some good ones include:

http://www.science.org.au/nova/072/072print.htm

http://www.bradfordinsulation.com.au/Regulations/Acoustics.aspx

http://www.knaufplasterboard.com.au/Application/Sound-Performance.php

http://www.rockwool.com/acoustics/faq

http://www.tatasteelconstruction.com/en/design_guidance/structural_desig...

http://autex.com.au/Technical-Guides/Commercial-Acoustic-Design-Guide/4.-Understanding-Acoustics