Noise pollution is sound at a level that is annoying, distracting or physically harmful. This can mean different things to different people.
In residential areas, an acceptable level of noise for one person may be unacceptable to another. It can also depend on the time of the day and the nature of the noise.
EPA developed Noise control guidelines (publication 1254) for local council officers to use when investigating complaints, or developing permit conditions or local laws.
Any noise may be unreasonable
The Residential Noise Regulations list items and times when noise from their use is unreasonable, if they can be heard in a neighbour’s home.
However, noise not listed in the Regulations and noise occurring outside the prohibited times can still be unreasonable in some cases. Typical problems include noisy items such as subwoofers used throughout the day, poorly located air conditioners, equipment that is noisy because it is not maintained, or groups of people talking loudly outdoors at a late-night party.
What is unreasonable can depend on where you live, as residents living in apartments or attached houses expect to hear some noise from normal activity in neighbouring homes.
Neighbours should, however, be considerate of where they live, as closer living means a greater chance of music or general household activities impacting on neighbours.
Respect – think before making noise
Many activities around the home may be heard by neighbours, but not all noises are acceptable. A person’s enjoyment of their home must not unreasonably interfere with their neighbour’s wellbeing. This includes their ability to use both indoor and outdoor spaces on their property.
It is especially important to be considerate when using noisy equipment, as casual use can create significant and unreasonable impacts.
It’s good for neighbours to let each other know if they are planning noisy activities such as renovations or a party. People are usually less annoyed if they know in advance when the noise will start and end, and that they can approach someone if it causes a problem.
Understanding the impacts of noise
Over time, noise can cause significant impacts on anyone’s health and wellbeing – especially when it disturbs sleep. Noise can lead to anxiety, stress and other health impacts, even if it doesn’t occur all the time. It can also make people irritable or aggressive. It is important to be aware of these impacts, especially if a neighbour has been affected for some time before they approach you.
Vulnerable people such as the elderly or ill, parents with young children, shift workers or those who work or study at home can be most impacted by noise. It’s not always possible to avoid noise affecting these neighbours, because some noise is normal or may even be unavoidable during the day. However, it is important to be aware of the needs of others. If there is a conflict, both neighbours should agree on what reasonable things they can do to reduce the noise.
Tips to reduce noise
- With music, it’s often only the bass noise that bothers neighbours. Turning down bass controls or turning off subwoofers can control the noise, or try using headphones late at night.
- Try not to play loud music at times when your neighbours are most sensitive, such as early morning or late at night. Speak to your neighbours.
- Outdoor music should be kept to a reasonable level.
- For parties, keep night music indoors and move guests inside later at night. Ask guests to be quiet when they leave.
- Try to keep speakers and noisy appliances away from walls or floors shared with neighbours.
What to do if you have a noisy air conditioner
If you have a noisy unit, consider the following:
- Does the unit need maintenance or replacing? Older units may need a clean or maintenance, or you may find it better and cheaper to replace it with a newer model.
- Can you install a barrier or enclosure? These can be effective ways to reduce noise if a unit is well maintained and working properly.
- Do you have to restrict the hours you use the unit? If the noise is annoying your neighbours at night, then you may have to switch it off for certain hours.
- Move the motor? If you need to run the air conditioner and there are no options for maintenance, barriers or enclosures then you may be required to relocate the unit further away from neighbours.
If the unit is causing unreasonable noise, including if it can be heard in a neighbours home during night-time hours (even with their windows open), then you may be required to take action to reduce the noise. It is more practical and cheaper to properly design and install an air conditioner than to try to fix problems later. EPA has produced a guide to the installation and operation of air conditioners, Cool air - quietly and efficiently (publication 1176).
Review of Residential Noise Regulations
EPA is currently reviewing the Environment Protection (Residential Noise) Regulations 2008 before they expire in October 2018.