Now that many of us are working-from-home, we’ve become accustomed to many distractions. One of which is the noise coming from outside including that from the neighbours or renovation sounds. Not only is it annoying, but there might actually be harmful effects of loud noises.
Between January and September last year, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) received about 11,400 noise-related complaints. As per CNA, this is a threefold increase compared to around the same time in 2019.
With all the noise plaguing Singaporeans recently, the programme Talking Point looked into the different types of environmental noise. They also explored the effects of loud noises in ways we would not have expected.
Types Of Environmental Noise
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According to Lim Lan Yuan, principal master mediator at the Law Ministry’s Community Mediation Centre who also works with the HDB to mediate between neighbours, most of the noise-related complaints are because of the following:
- Furniture being dragged in the unit upstairs
- Sound of running feet
- Playing loud music or musical instruments
- Renovation noise
With many people still working from home, there may possibly not be any drop in the number of noise-related cases. Lim explains that when there are more activities at home, people are still “bound to generate more noise” that could affect their neighbours.
At any given time, it’s found that renovation work like drilling and demolition can produce noise levels above 100 decibels.
Meanwhile, the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) noise limit for construction work is 90 decibels. This is measured as an average of over five minutes at residential buildings less than 150 metres from the construction site.
But in Singapore, outdoor noise levels can also be higher than the prescribed limit. In a study conducted by the National University of Singapore (NUS) back in 2017, it was found that the average sound level measured throughout the day was 69.4 decibels. This is higher than NEA’s recommended limit of 67 decibels over an hour.
In the HDB guidelines that also apply to condominiums, renovations are classified into two types which are “general” and “noisy.” So not much can be done when you complain about renovation noise as no one is breaking the rules.
Noise renovations such as drilling and demolition work can be carried out only between 9am and 5pm on weekdays. Meanwhile, general renovation like carpentry work and painting can go on until 6pm on weekdays and Saturdays. On Sundays and public holidays, any type of renovation is not allowed at all.
The Noisiest Neighbourhoods In Singapore
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In the span of over 10 weeks, researchers took more than 18,700 audio readings across the country. This is with the help of 52 volunteers going about their day while using calibrated phones.
It was found that the top four noisiest neighbourhoods in Singapore are the following:
- Serangoon (73.1 decibels)
- Orchard (72.8 decibels)
- Outram (72.8 decibels)
- Bukit Timah (72.6 decibels)
Meanwhile, residential areas higher on the list comprised mainly of mature estates. This includes places such as Clementi, Kallang and Rocher for they have a higher road density as compared to others.
Findings also showed differences between Singapore’s five regions. The north and west regions recorded an average of lower daytime noise levels as compared to the other regions. The road density is also lower in these two regions.
It was also noted that the north region encompasses the Central Water Catchment area as well as agricultural and industrial zones. The west region includes a heavy industrial zone as well.
Senior audiologist Diong Huey Ting from Ng Teng Fong General Hospital told Talking Point that the way that an estate is designed contributes to the acoustic environment. She adds that enclosed spaces can be worse since it “traps the sound.” Otherwise, the sound would dissipate in an open area.
She also notes that while flats on the upper floors are physically further from traffic and construction, they could be exposed to renovation noise.
Physical Effects Of Loud Noises
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According to William Hal Martin, the director of NUS’ graduate studies in audiology, too much noise can have a real impact on your health.
Prolonged exposure to city noise such as those from aeroplanes, construction and diesel buses can be associated with long-term health problems. This includes the following:
This is why Diong notes that the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for community noise in outdoor living areas are a limit of 55 decibels averaged out over the daytime and evening.
The study published this year then suggests that Singaporeans are “potentially at risk of adverse non-auditory health effects.” This is referring to non-ear-related issues.
Other harmful effects of noise include the following:
- Metabolic effects
- Cognitive impairment
- Impact on mental health
- Increase of the risk of hypertension
It was also noted that sounds loud enough to cause physical damage to the inner ear can pose a danger as well. Loud music at places like nightclubs or dance studios, for instance. Martin says, “It’s a combination of how high the volume is and how long you hear it that causes the damage.”
In one’s inner ear, the cochlear has thousands of hair cells and these can be damaged by loud noises which do not regenerate. This then may cause permanent hearing loss.
Warning signs of hearing loss to take note of
- Missing what other people are saying
Martin says that your friends and family will be the first to notice when you repeatedly go “Huh, what?” and miss a lot of what they say.
Another sign Martin notes is a condition called tinnitus wherein something is ringing in your ears. It is often a sign of damage to the inner ear and a hearing test is advised.
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