There have never been so many news stories on neighbour noise complaints about children playing outside. No amplifiers. Just kids being healthy, playing outdoors as recommended by medical experts. In a recent story from Global News in Calgary, the neighbour installed a sound activated high pitched alarm that goes off when 2 children, aged 5 and under, make sound while playing in their yard next door. The neighbour says it’s to stop barking dogs. But the alarm is only a few meters away, pointed straight at the backyard where the children play. City bylaw enforcement has done nothing so far, which is pretty typical.
In case you’re wondering, the sound of children playing outside is not a noise bylaw violation, even if their voices are loud. This type of sound would not disturb a reasonable person. Noise bylaws are meant to cover nuisance noise like barking dogs, loud parties, cars with high-powered audio systems, construction noise, noise from local businesses like nightclubs, industrial noise, etc. So neighbours making noise complaints about children are being frivolous and unkind. This includes the neighbours complaining about kids playing outside in Newmarket. This includes neighbours complaining about the kids playing basketball outside in Surrey. This includes the neighbours causing problems for the kids playing outside in Calgary.
The sound of children playing outside is not included in WHO (World Health Organization) Guidelines for community noise (PDF) residential day-night outdoor exposure limits. These exposure limits cover noise that is a public health risk like from airports and flight corridors, highways and traffic, transit, and trains. Chronic noise, the same noise from the same source, day to day and night to night. This is where the Calgary neighbours with the sound activated alarm are likely causing problems. WHO residential outdoor living area guidelines recommend maximum 50 dBA avg noise. I’d bet the neighbour’s sound activated alarm is louder than that in the children’s yard when it goes off.
Of course, the Calgary Community Standards Bylaw noise section is inconsistent with WHO and noise risk science. It’s unclear how the city came up with their noise limits. They list 65 dBA for continuous sound, and 85 dBA for non-continuous sound in a residential area, which are well over the 50 dBA avg public health risk level and above the 75 dBA avg level now known to cause permanent sensorineural hearing damage, especially if repeated daily over time.
Bylaw enforcement officers in Calgary should measure the noise in this case. If they don’t have sound level meters, then they can download a reputable scientific SLM app on their mobile phones to use. One accurate free scientific SLM app was developed for the general public and workplace community by NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health). The correct scientific settings to measure dBA avg [dB LAeq on app] are:
3 dB exchange rate
Fast time weighting
80 dB threshold limit
NIOSH standard if that’s an option (not OSHA)
Is the Calgary neighbour’s sound activated alarm 65 dBA avg or louder at the source? If it’s a continuous sound, that’s a noise bylaw violation in Calgary.
Is the Calgary neighbour’s sound activated alarm 85 dBA avg or louder at the source? If it’s not continuous, that’s a noise bylaw violation in Calgary.
If the alarm stays on while there’s sound from the children, doesn’t that make the alarm continuous?
Is the Calgary neighbour’s sound activated alarm 50 dBA avg or louder in the children’s backyard when it’s going off? That’s a health risk based on WHO Community Noise guidelines.
I hope this case can be resolved quickly so the children in Calgary can enjoy playing in their backyard without being hassled by a sound activated alarm that is both a nuisance noise and a public health risk.
Jan L. Mayes MSc Aud(C) RAud is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author, audiologist, and hearing healthcare educator. She specializes in tinnitus, hyperacusis, noise-induced hearing system damage, and darkly disturbing, macabre horror fiction.