App to Measure Residential Sound Levels

There are lots of Smartphone sound level meter apps, but most aren’t accurate or free. Many pretend to be free but cost money to change the default settings to public health recommended settings for environmental noise. The noise scientists at the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health in the U.S. solved this problem with their free NIOSH Sound Level Meter Smartphone app.

Warning: Using this app is addictive and may turn you into a quiet society activist.

I’ve used the NIOSH app for years to grab sound level samples in my daily life. At home. At stores or restaurants. On the bus or Skytrain. To compare my dog’s dinner bark to the loudest dog bark reported (which is softer than my dog, but I digress).

Keep in mind it’s really hard to measure a single noise source with environmental noise, especially outside. For example, walking down a city street, the average noise will include constant, intermittent, and impact or impulse sound. Vehicle noise, horns, back-up beeps, people yakking on their cell phones, motorcycles, construction activities, equipment and vehicles, amplified music from venues, and so on. Not a problem, because public health limits are based on the average of all sound sources.

For basics on how the general public can use this app, click on the image or link below for my presentation.

How to Measure Community Noise using free NIOSH Smartphone Sound Level Meter App pdf by Jan L. Mayes

NIOSH has more information and videos on how to use the app at their website Noise and Hearing Loss Prevention page.


Kardous, C. A., & Shaw, P. B. (2014). Evaluation of smartphone sound measurement applications. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 135(4), EL186-EL192;

Fact Sheet 6: Reducing noise to promote health. World Health Organization (2017)

Kardous, C.A. & Shaw, P.B. (2014, April 9). So how accurate are these Smartphone sound level meter apps? NIOSH Science Blogs. Retrieved from

Environment and health World Health Organization

Environmental noise guidelines World Health Organization (2018)

Burden of disease from environmental noise. WHO/Europe, 2011

Night noise guidelines World Health Organization (2009)
Note: 2009 emergency night noise interim target of 55 dB LAeq still ignored internationally because noise control is not made mandatory in EU Environmental Noise Directive (2002). This directive requires noise mapping and reporting, but relies on “competent authorities” to control noise or develop noise control action plans. Where are the competent authorities?

Guidelines for community noise World Health Organization (1999)

Information on levels of environmental noise requisite to protect public health and welfare with an adequate margin of safety. Environmental Protection Agency (1974, March)

Note: environmental and public health noise level limits haven’t changed between 1974 to 2018, except some limits are more protective now than in the 1970s.

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