Measuring Noise

(Question from a reader living near a bus station)

A bus station's announcements a couple of blocks away from me actually wakes me up in the morning! In the tiny parking lot it is deafeningly loud!

I was wondering if my city may have a decibel level limit. The weekday noise ordinance is only until 7am, so that is of little help.

I was also wondering what equipment is used to measure in decibels and where this might be obtained.


Reply from Noise Help:

It sounds as though you've already found the noise ordinance for your city, which as you say is of no help for your situation. Different localities handle noise regulations differently (or not at all), so the best you can do is find out about any ordinances or regulations that pertain to noise levels. If your city has the text of the ordinances online, you can do a search for "decibels" or "dB" or "dBA" or "dB(A)", and that should find any references to a specific decibel level limit.

Don't be surprised if you don't find any, as the majority of cities don't specify decibel limits. This can be bad because there is no objective standard. Sometimes, however, if there's a decibel limit specified, it can be a disadvantage, because the standard of proof can be so strict that it becomes expensive and impractical to prove that there is a violation. (And the more specific the requirements, the easier it is for the violator to make a small change that technically meets the legal requirements but doesn't actually alleviate the noise problem.) So a decibel limit can be a blessing or a curse.

For measuring noise levels in decibels, you would want a sound level meter.
RadioShack sells one
for about $50 that does a great job for the price, for use by home audio enthusiasts and hobbyists. A step up from that is a meter that meets "Type 2" specifications; here is one on that is not a name brand but gets excellent reviews and is very reasonably priced at $70. A name brand Type 2 meter will be more expensive but carries more credibility and may offer more features. An example is this Brüel & Kjær meter. "Type 1" is the highest standard used commercially, and
these meters
run from several hundred to several thousands of dollars

If your city does have a decibel level limit, there may also be a specification about how the sound should be measured and the type of sound level meter to be used (Type 1 or Type 2), and possibly even the brand, so if you think you may be using it to prove your case in court, be sure to check into that before investing in an instrument. Otherwise the RadioShack or an inexpensive Type 2 model should be fine as long as you are not trying to measure impulse sounds (like gunfire). I would use a Type 2 device (like the $70 model above) for measurements that may be used to support a legal case, as that will carry more legitimacy than a hobbyist model.

Best of luck in your quest for quiet! If you check with some of your neighbors who are also being affected by the noise, they might be interested in lending their support.


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