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Don't trust your senses when it comes to property noise

I speak from experience here. Determining if a property is free from noise is not easy. I have got it wrong a couple of times in my life and I have spent the last few years working out how you can avoid the same mistake.

25% of people report that noise is their biggest issue after buying a property and half of them say they would definitely not have bought if they knew about the noise beforehand.

Intrusive noise affects your ability to relax, to sleep, to work, your productivity and even your health.

Even professionals in the acoustics area can make this mistake. We tend to trust our own ears. 10 minutes of quiet time at a property does not indicate what the noise levels are over the 24/7 cycle.

NoiseNet provides a service for homebuyers allowing them to find out about noise at a property before they buy. Even these services are not a 100% guarantee, but they are the best approach available. Although reasonably priced, paying for this service is not for everyone. So what are some of the things that you can look out for yourself when buying.

Its a long list - but there is an easy solution at the end:

  • #1 Topography: Properties that are higher-up are exposed to more of the surrounding noise sources. So you may need to check for noise sources in a larger area around the property. If you are sheltered, the noise will be cut out (to some extent). Also look for hard surfaces (roads, waterways, concrete) versus soft ground cover (trees, grass). The latter absorbs noise and can reduce the impact of noise at a property.

  • #2 Proximity: In general, noise energy reduces by the square of distance. Unfortunately, our ears are logarithmic in how they hear noise - so this cancels the effect somewhat. But either way, the closer you are to a noise source the bigger the impact. If the noise comes from one point, this effect is more significant. If the noise come from a line source - eg a road or rail line, then the effect of distance is reduced.

  • #3 Traffic: Bigger roads and bigger vehicles make more noise. Understand the times that roads get busy. Also look at local roads, sometimes these are rat-runs or may be access to a school or business - creating a lot of traffic, and thus noise. Also steep roads can be noisy as cars rev. Beware the speed hump - these can create a lot of noise if cars go across them too fast.

  • #4 Aircraft: Most airports have a noise map that can be found on the internet. This is a decent guide, but not completely. They tend to underestimate actual nose levels. Also the noise can vary from day to day or season to season. Do not rely on what you hear at the property on a given day - you need to look at a full year worth of data. Also be aware of smaller airports - these can have a significant impact.

  • #5 Rail: Listen for the sound of a train passing. Corners, or places where trains accelerate or decelerate or sound horns will create a lot more noise. Also don't forget to find out If the nearby line carries freight traffic. Many lines have more freight at night so this can be very significant. If you don't buy a noise report then you need to hear a freight train pass at night and decide for yourself.

  • #6 Neighbours: Neighbour noise comes in many forms and is very unpredictable. Dogs barking, loud music, parties can all take place, but they are not necessarily regular. Generally summer is louder than winter as people have windows open and spend more time outside and do more socialising. I would say you need to spend a couple of nights during the week and a couple during the weekend to get a reasonable idea of the noise levels. But this is both not-enough time, and impractical for the home-buyer.

  • #7 Zoning: Go to your council website and access a zoning map. Look around the property to identify different zoning types. Look particularly for industrial (light or heavy); commercial; entertainment precincts or similar. If they are within 400-600m these zones can impact a property. You can try and understand the businesses, their opening hours. Then when you know this, go listen at the property during these open hours. Businesses like panelbeaters, warehouses, storage yards, engineering shops etc create the biggest noises.

  • #8 Nearby Businesses: Businesses create noise, but they also bring in people - look at the businesses nearby, their opening hours, how busy do they get. Particularly look for Pubs, Restaurants, Cinemas or other entertainment venues etc. Closing times can see large groups of people leaving at the same time, with vehicle noise and often public disorder.

  • #9 Public facilities: Sports facilities, hospitals, schools, places of worship, halls, theatres, gyms or even parks can be sources of noise. Understand who uses the facilities and when, what noises they attract. Helicopters at hospitals, sport activities can go all weekend at some schools and sports clubs. Some of these noises can be seasonal also.

  • #10 Background versus Peak: There is always background noise, but it can vary significantly - and can impact your ability to relax and your health (background is made up of lots of different noise sources, but none so loud that you can determine exactly what they are). But there are also peak noises - and these are measured by how much louder they are than the background (so yes, a higher background can hide peak noises). Peak noises are more likely to make you jump, to irritate you and most significantly to wake you (banging door, a barking dog, shouting). When you are thinking about how noise will affect you, consider BOTH.

  • #11 Your Timetable: When will you be at the property? Young families may have people at home all week, singles may just want a place to sleep. Are you gone early and back by 6pm? You need to assess the noise risks above in terms of your timetable. The more you are at the house, the harder it is to guarantee low noise levels.

  • #12 The Tradeoff: We all want the perfect property. Good quality construction, the right size, the right suburb, a nice view, nice neighbours, quiet and the right price. But the reality doesn't align. You need to compromise on some or all of these factors. Noise is not the highest priority in our minds. But if you cant relax, or worse, can't sleep in your new home, you know you have made the wrong tradeoff.

Too much work?

This all seems like a lot of work. True. And the risk of any one of these issues being a problem at your new property may be low. But overall there is a material risk that noise will impact on your enjoyment of a property.

You are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars here, so don't neglect to look into noise properly.


NoiseNet is a company that will do all this for you. From between $90 to $250 we can provide you with noise Risk Assessments or Noise Reports that help you better understand the noise at any property. And it only takes you a couple of minutes.

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